Watching news of Afghanistan disintegrating as the Taliban took over Kabul last month was a “heartbreaking” experience for Heather Bellamy who resided there for seven years and has deep ties with the country and its people.
The former relief worker and Terrace resident, who currently works with the Dr. R.E.M. Lee Hospital Foundation, said she like most people was “stunned” to watch the events unfold in Afghanistan.
“But you know 20 years ago that’s exactly what happened,” said Bellamy about the history of violence and fear repeating itself as Afghanistan went from Soviet control in 1979, to the Taliban era in the 1990’s, to the U.S. led invasion in 2001.
“It’s a beautiful country with such dear people, and the simple folk just want to raise their families to work, find a job feed their kids and have them go to school, have a future and hope,” she said, saddened to see their lives descend into chaos once again.
After America announced its withdrawal from Afghanistan in April this year and the Taliban gained control of its cities, including Kabul on Aug. 15, chaos erupted throughout the country, especially at airports as people desperately tried to escape.
Many of Bellamy’s friends and former colleagues sent her messages from Afghanistan. Her contacts lamented about their beloved country fragmenting once again and informed her that it was logistically impossible to get out of Afghanistan at this point.
Even the Afghan people who worked with the Americans and other foreign missions, who hold official letters and who have the potential to get told her that there’s no means for them to get to the airport with roads blocked and checkpoints set up.
“So, it seems impossible and America is talking about opening a corridor, how are they going to do that?,They don’t even know themselves,” said Bellamy.
Another woman told Bellamy that even though the bazaars (markets) are open in Kabul, she is afraid to send her four sons out to pick up groceries fearing they will get picked up by the Taliban as recruits.
“So they’re sitting at home, hungry and without any money,” said Bellamy who felt helpless as she heard from all her friends, former colleagues and people she taught and trained in Afghanistan.
“How do you respond to when people say ‘Can you help me?’” she said.
In the years that Bellamy spent in Afghanistan, she was involved in re-building efforts where she created gardens and income generating parks with women, children and the youth in Bamiyan and Kabul.
The Bamiyan family park they built in the central highlands of Afghanistan was complete with a restaurant, a horticultural training centre and a greenhouse. Bellamy spent years training the community members.
The park was built on a land where previously the Taliban had rounded up men and boys in mosques and shot them.
When Afghan refugees came back to this area after U.S. led occupation began, it was barren land and people had just about begun rebuilding homes. At this point the women came to Bellamy and spoke about their desire to eat fresh grown beans and vegetables. So she set about creating this park with them.
“God had put this dream of healing gardens for women and kids in my heart and the park was the result of that,” she said. This was also a period in her life when Bellamy had lost her partner. So reclaiming that land and building a park there with the help of the locals who had endured years of war, loss and hardship was a journey of healing for all of them.
But now as the Taliban take over, the plight of that park, so lovingly built and nurtured by them is uncertain.
For the sake of all the people who live in the Bamiyan valley, Bellamy hopes the Taliban does not come for them.
But there’s a slim chance the park will survive the coming years.
“I think it’s a bit too obvious that it was foreign money that built the park and the local people might need to distance themselves from it too,” she said.
But while the fate of the Bamiyan park remains uncertain, Bellamy said that it had its season of “real excitement and rebuilding and hope.”
“I don’t believe any of that is lost.The Taliban can blow up the walls, they can burn the gates, but none of that is lost because those were very valuable precious years to the people of that area.”