Former head of UNDP, Helen Clark, visits Afghanistan with World Vision

08 Mar 2019 by Chloe Irvine, Head of External Affairs
Former head of UNDP, Helen Clark, visits Afghanistan with World Vision
  • Helen Clark witnessed the effects of drought and conflict, such as forced child marriage and severe malnutrition, in one of the world’s largest and most underfunded crises.
  • Lack of international presence and investment took the Former New Zealand Prime Minister by surprise. 
  • Child protection and women’s entrepreneurial programmes bring hope but much more needs to be done.

Former New Zealand Prime Minister and former Administrator of the United Nations Development Programme, Helen Clark, has returned from a visit to Afghanistan with World Vision (returned 07/03/19). Afghanistan is currently in the midst of a severe drought, exacerbated by ongoing conflict, which has left 6.3 million people in need of humanitarian assistance and some 1.6 million children acutely malnourished. This crisis is one of the largest, most underfunded and under-reported in the world. Helen Clark said the lack of international presence and investment took her by surprise, and efforts must be stepped up immediately. 

Approximately, 46 per cent of girls are married before the age of 18 in Afghanistan. There are fears that number is increasing as more Afghans fall below the poverty line, and drought leaves families unable to support their children's basic needs.  
While in-country, Helen met with a group of Imams who recently participated in a World Vision programme designed to educate families about the consequences of early marriage and marriage registration laws. She also met with several families who had been considering early marriage for their daughters as a negative coping mechanism for drought and poverty. 

“I’ve seen that there are women who care deeply about their daughters and are under great pressure to allow them to be, in effect, sold into early marriage because that would relieve some financial difficulties. We sat with two families and the mother’s had decided against that after talking to the Imam and other senior women in the community. It is a brave mother who does that to defend her daughter” 

Ms Clark also travelled to Badghis Province, a highly conservative part of the country where she noted World Vision was working in a place no-one else was, and performing ‘minor miracles’. Among those miracles, was a Women’s Market, full of tailors, bakers, artists and other entrepreneurs and a beekeeping initiative ran by women. 

“If you are embedded in the community and the (World Vision) staff are mostly from the community, you are being guided by the community as to what its needs are. You can perform minor miracles. It was wonderful to see the women beekeepers, a task that women had never done before. There they were in their trousers, not burkas, working with bees. That’s a project that World Vision is supporting. So you see hope in these things and you just hope that they can be scaled up to give people a chance for development” 

Chloe Irvine, Head of External Affairs, World Vision New Zealand  |  ​+64 22 340 4271