Marastoons offer a safe haven for the homeless and vulnerable in Afghanistan

Published: 6 April 2017 5:31 CET

Naseem Sahar, Norwegian Red Cross


In his short life 14-year-old Baryalai has endured more tragedy than most. Baryalai lives in the town of Torghundai in the north of Herat, a province in western Afghanistan. When he was 12, he lost both parents to a roadside Improvised Explosive Device (IED) which exploded as they were driving to a wedding. With no-one to care for him, Barylalai was taken to a ‘marastoon’, a local refuge, run by the Afghan Red Crescent Society.


Initially Baryalai found it difficult to come to terms with the loss of his parents but as the months passed, he began to adapt to life at the marastoon and was able to focus on his studies and make new friends.


“My day begins early,” he says. “I wake up, pray, and repeat my lessons until breakfast time. After breakfast, I go to a normal school outside the marastoon and after lunch I return here to attend a tailoring workshop.”


Supporting and maintaining the Marastoon is no easy task. The Norwegian Red Cross recently began construction work to improve the facilities, including a common room, a kitchen, store room, toilets, and a dining facility which can also be used as a study in the afternoons.


The marastoon in Herat is one of five that were first established in 1930 in different towns across Afghanistan which were designed to serve as public institutions serving the poor and destitute.  In 1965 they were handed over to the Afghan Red Crescent and to this day they continue to provide temporary shelter for vulnerable individuals, particularly orphaned children, the poor, the disabled and the elderly.


The Afghan Red Crescent provides tailored programmes for the marastoon’s residents. While children living in the shelter are given access to primary and secondary education and subjects like English, older residents can learn vocational skills like tailoring, embroidery, tin manufacturing and carpentry. A special training programme for blind residents features alongside a number of activities catering to those with disabilities. The Norwegian Red Cross is also supporting a Gender and Diversity programme training for Afghan Red Crescent staff members to meet the diverse needs of the residents. This year, the Red Cross is planning initiatives that enable residents to find work other than the production and sale of traditional handicraft.   


The programmes at the marastoon were created to ensure that residents would be self-sufficient after they leave the refuge, able to generate their own livelihood from the skills they learned. The marastoon also has a basic health clinic and provides first aid and access to Red Crescent hospitals in the area. 


Baryalai believes that a good education is important to improve the lives of the children living in the marastoon. He dreams of becoming a heart surgeon, after discovering that Afghan Red Crescent has developed a programme to help children with Congenital Heart Diseases.


“I feel happy and blessed knowing that I can continue my studies, thanks to the marastoon,” says Baryalai. “Without it, I wouldn’t be able to afford an education.”


For more information about Afghanistan Red Crescent, click here 

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