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Afghanistan 10 Years On: 'By Working, We Have Managed To Change Our Lives For The Better'

Mohammad Kabir Anwari, and his wife, Rabia (right), pose with three of their six daughters at their home in western Kabul.
KABUL -- Suicide attacks. Assassinations. A resurgent Taliban. "Considerable political volatility and disconcerting levels of insecurity," according to a UN report.

The news from Afghanistan these days -- 10 years after the first salvos of the U.S.-led invasion -- offer little evidence for optimism. But look more closely, in the shadows behind the headlines, and success stories do emerge.

Take Mohammad Kabir Anwari, his wife, Rabia, and their six daughters.

In November 2002, Anwari was working two jobs and 18-hour days to make ends meet. He was a schoolteacher and a shopkeeper. Life was difficult and money scarce. The family was so poor they used to all drink tea from the same cup.

The toppling of the Taliban, he told RFE/RL back in 2002, offered hope for a better future.

"We are very optimistic about the [current] situation. The Taliban period was really a period of terror," Anwari said. "We suffered a lot in the past, but now we are optimistic about the future. Now we can work freely, and I hope that things go like this in the future, as well."

Anwari, Rabia, and their six daughters in Kabul in November 2002.
Anwari, Rabia, and their six daughters in Kabul in November 2002.
Rabia, too, believed that the future held promise, after enduring years of gender discrimination by the Taliban.

"I have six daughters, and under the Taliban they could not go outside of the house. Their rights were fully neglected, and we had lots of problems," Rabia said. "And I felt that my six daughters and I were the unluckiest people. It was very difficult for us in the past and we suffered a lot, but after the change [the fall of the Taliban], I feel that we are the happiest family. I was mostly thinking about the future of my daughters. Now, fortunately, all of my children are busy with their lessons and school."

In 2002, the couple's eldest daughter, Husnia, said she had felt like a prisoner inside her own home during the days of Taliban rule.

"Now I feel very happy," Husnia said. "We were at home during the past five years and the doors to school and education were closed to us. And we did not have the right to go outside. But now we are very happy that we can go to our school after a long delay."

Nine years later, the hopes of Anwari, Rabia, Husnia, and the rest of the family have largely been realized.

Anwari, 56, dressed in a pinstriped charcoal-colored sport coat and slacks, his face not as careworn as it once was, is now the principal of his old school, the Abdul Ali Mustaghni High School. Fifty-two-year-old Rabia is elegantly dressed in a black dress called a "pirahan", a pale-blue scarf covering her head and shoulders. She teaches biology at the school.

Anwari's daughters play outside their home in Kabul in November 2002.
Anwari's daughters play outside their home in Kabul in November 2002.
After the fall of the Taliban, Anwari says, "we started from zero." Today, he says, his family is doing just fine.

"Fortunately, today, my children are in a better situation," Anwari says. "My eldest daughter [Husnia] brought home a master's degree from France. Another has graduated from university. Two are pursuing philosophy degrees at university, and I have two young daughters in grade 7 and 9. They are all top students."

Anwari says he works only 12-hour days now as principal and brings home about 25,000 afghanis per month (about $525), compared to the 3,000 per month ($60) he earned as a schoolteacher in 2002. It's enough to live comfortably, he says. Rabia earns about 11,000 afghanis ($225) as a biology teacher.

"Every person who works does it in pursuit of a bright future," Anwari says. "Through teaching or any other profession, you can achieve what you want. This is how I became the principal of this school -- through hard work and believing in myself."

In 2002, the family ate, slept, and played all in one room of their small, war-damaged house in the Kart-i-Sei district in western Kabul. He had to sell that house, Anwari says, when work dried up and money got tight. He now shares a house with a neighbor, paying 7,000 afghanis ($150) a month in rent. Any leftover money goes toward buying furniture and appliances.

"Today I solve one problem and I solve another problem tomorrow," he says, expressing a philosophy that has served him well over the past decade.

Ten years after the U.S.-led invasion, 140,000 foreign troops -- 100,000 of them American -- patrol Anwari's country. But he remains steadfastly focused on the big picture, which for him is not the longest war in U.S. history but the fate of his family of eight.

"The reason why my children currently live like they do is because of the work me and my wife have done," Anwari says. "By working, we have managed to change our lives for the better."

written by Grant Podelco, based on reporting by Abdul Hameed Rasheed Khan and Mohammad Seend in Kabul; translation from Dari by Frud Bezhan

Anwari poses with some of his students at the Abdul Ali Mustaghni High School in Kabul.
Anwari poses with some of his students at the Abdul Ali Mustaghni High School in Kabul.
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