Girls on a tractor trailer in Afghanistan. Millions of children are not getting proper education in a country blighted by chronic violence.

Education or Food? The decisions still facing mothers in Afghanistan

Poverty, hunger and war are affecting children's education. 

By Action Against Hunger

Jan 24 2019

There is little hope for many who want to leave the refugee camps in the capital city of Afghanistan, Kabul.

Stranded in one of the fifty “temporary camps” in the town after having been displaced due to conflicts, mothers like Toorpikai, Fawzia and Gul have tried to lead their lives the best they can. Some men, women and children have been in the camps for decades. 

If they are unable to leave in their lifetime, their hopes remain in their children returning to the homes they were driven from one day. Different generations have ended up in these camps when new conflicts flare up in different parts of the country. The current surge in fighting between the Taliban insurgent group and the central government has exacerbated the refugee crisis gripping the country. 

Unemployment and poverty are widespread, making life difficult in the camps. The result is creating widespread hunger and undernutrition. 


Toorpikai and Fawzia have both seen their children suffer from undernutrition. They eat little but rice and potatoes, and Toorpikai and Fawzia are struggling to feed their whole family. The lack of variety in their children's diets has created growth deficiencies. In peacetime, feeding yourself and your family in Afghanistan is tough enough. With life-threatening drought in summer and cold hard winters, farming is a challenge. However, increasing violence has blighted agricultural work, and has fed the cycle of poverty and hunger in the camps. 

Their children's survival, rather than their education, is the priority of many mothers in Afghanistan. The children sell plastic bags and contribute with a meagre income. Gul Lalay, a refugee in Dewan Bigi, explains that she has never been to school and she doesn’t expect her daughter Zainab – still a baby – to go to school at the moment.  “Our life was like that in the past, it is like that now, and it will remain like that. What do you want us to do?” She said, before returning back to her chores.  

Her shelter is next to six other families, and these mud/clay dwellings insulated by a cloth door form an alley with a courtyard in the centre. In the corner, behind some old cloth coverings, there are some makeshift toilets. On a roof, there is a shattered solar panel that has been found and repaired so that they can have a little bit of electricity every day. In the background there is a small garden in which they have sown some vegetables with the seeds that were distributed by charities. The refugees, facing adverse circumstances, are enduring, but with hunger growing and children's futures at risk because they are not going to school, Afghanistan could face a generational crisis if the conflict isn't resolved. 


Action Against Hunger has been working in Afghanistan helping families like Toorpikai's and Fawzia's for over 20 years. Our teams provide a range of life-saving services to respond to the crisis, including nutrition, health, water, sanitation and hygiene programmes.

We are also creating food security and livelihoods in Ghor and Helmand and supporting mental health and care practices for those in need of psychosocial support.


Man sits in a building torn to rubble in Afghanistan
Man sits in a building torn to rubble in Afghanistan


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Images: Sandra Calligaro for Action Against Hunger