Theater of Cruelty


Unni Rustad went to Afghanistan to work on children's rights. She came back and found that the children had helped her.


- Think, on the dream day, the children will get up at four in the morning. They want an exam, and dream of having a trained teacher.

Unni Rustad gets warm in the eyes when she talks about the children she met when she was in Afghanistan for Save the Children. Now the experience has been book; On the day of the dream, we get up at four in the morning. Voices and stories from Afghanistan.

- You were in Afghanistan from August 2002 to December 2003 and organized conferences on the rights of children and young people. How did the project work in practice?

- We created local conferences put together with children and young people from as many ethnic groups, geographical areas, classes and disabilities as possible. At least half should be girls. They received support and encouragement through local groups, and the following year we organized a large conference in Kabul where the children spoke to the government. The ministers did not understand anything, and asked how in every day we had achieved this. Had we listened to them when we first came down, we would have given up in the first place. But it turned out that everywhere we went, there were kids and parents in buckets and buckets who were willing to continue working.

- Afghanistan is in acute shortage of basic things such as peace and transport. Why is it important to listen to the children in such a context?

- Half the population of Afghanistan is under 18 years old. We do not usually count on the children – they are never allowed to speak, but are still crucial for the country's future. This project recognized their right to speak and participate in a new way. It showed the potential for an enormously strong peace movement, with an incredible commitment and motivation.

- What did the children say themselves?

- These kids have only experienced war and refugee life, worse than some parents treat their children. Yet they have a hope of a normal life, where they can learn, connect with the world and build their country. They think ahead and talk about how they can get over bad memories, they will be driving forces in their own lives. These kids are heroes, it's just bending in the dust for them.

- How did the parents and the mullahs, who were also present at the conferences, react?

- The children gave enormously strong speeches and used a lot of humor in the role plays. They said most things, and it was the first time they had a public opinion about their own situation. I was very proud of the parents who were able to sit there and receive it, it actually went easier than I thought beforehand. Sitting in an assembly and hearing your daughter complain publicly that she is being beaten and not allowed to go to school… This made the internal discussions in the families public. And when young people show up this way, there is always someone knocking on the door. Another child who has heard about children's rights, a mullah or someone else.

- In such contexts, there are often big words. What kind of concrete results did you eventually find?

- In retrospect, it was an independent representative who traveled around and interviewed the kids about what had happened after the conferences. Many of the groups managed to end violence at school and at home. The adults who were taught the children's rights came back and said they felt completely changed – they wanted to be better parents. Yes, everyone is talking. Not all parents stopped beating, but there was a new discussion that highlighted the problem. Many of the groups also started campaigns to let girls go to school, to provide water, build bridges to make the school road safer and include the disabled. Ten of the children came from a refugee camp in the desert near Kandahar. They do not know when they can leave the camp, and there are droughts and hopeless conditions. Through the course, they mobilized 400 kids to start an English course, raised money for a teacher and demanded one from us. When the elderly in the camp were interviewed afterwards, they said that when they get an idea today, they first go to the children's committee. The parents saw what the kids did and got up afterwards.

- What was the most difficult part of this work?

- It was purely practical, that planes did not go anyway and that roads were closed. You have to give up all the usual expectations and calculate a day for what usually takes 20 minutes. The most important thing is not to think about that with culture and such. Talk to people, listen to them, see that there is an incredible difference between close neighbors. Do not get hung up on your own prejudices about so-called Afghan culture.

- You are also known for having held porn lectures for soldiers. Is it your common thread, to do untraditional and controversial things?

- "In the lion's den", wrote Dagbladet as a headline. Pooh! These were scared 19-year-olds who did not dare to shower because they thought they had too small a dick. Who's talking to these guys, then? About insecurity, loneliness… And with all this pressure on technically perfect sex. No, it was far from some lion's den, but it was important to talk to them.

- Focusing on the children in Afghanistan may be controversial, but the case you say they want to work for is the same case that the international aid organizations are also working on. Is helping children help society?

- I will protest in one word in your question; help. We must always be aware of who our country is, who should decide and decide on development. That's exactly what this is about, and that's why I liked the project. You only get the opportunity for such a job once in a lifetime. Children are authentic voices who speak and are aware of their own possibilities. Now they also think of themselves as actors, says Rustad before she puts the spotlight on herself. It is not easy to maintain ground contact, she says.

- It is difficult not to fall for your own vanity, when you are received like a queen everywhere, admired in your home country and greeted with gratitude wherever you go. We who travel get well paid, good protection and live well. Then we come home and can sunbathe in the splendor of having been a bad place. It's dangerous business. Besides, these kids have helped me. I have had a writing ban since school, but now I have written a book.

- You are probably also proud of what you have been involved in?

- Yes of course. I am incredibly proud of these kids, they are amazing, she says and wipes away a tear.

- Do not write it, but I can hardly talk about them without starting to laugh. Of the schools that burn in Norway, most are attended by students. In Afghanistan, children dream of getting up at four o'clock and having an exam. They present the kids at school with a thirst for knowledge and sky-high ambitions. But lacks pencil and teaching staff. What will happen to them if no one sees them and gives them recognition?

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