22-year-old Sharifa is one of the thousands of Afghan mothers struggling to overcome the hurdles that are posed by a healthcare system weakened by decades of war, poor facilities, and social and cultural barriers that are difficult to break.
Cecilia Strada is the President of EMERGENCY and writes in the aftermath of the shooting at the American University of Afghanistan.
One siren is followed by another. A helicopter is followed by another. All coming from the same direction. What is happening? EMERGENCY’s international workers glance around, expecting a call that arrives a few minutes later: “An attack on a hospital or a school – this is unclear – but let’s be ready.”
“It is just about dinnertime, we left the hospital a little while ago, some of us have had a moment to take a shower, and it is already time to return.
The sirens have changed direction, now they are approaching us and stop immediately in front of the hospital. Over the radio, Sara calls it a mass casualty; this translates to “everyone at their operational posts”. Each of us – surgeons, cleaners, nurses, guards, stretcher carriers – knows where to go and what to do. Sara goes to the triage area, pulls out the first aid kits and lays down the mattresses – everything is ready. The wounded, however, are only arriving a few at a time – one, then two, then another two. It’s better this way.
From the first stories the wounded tell us, we understand what happened. “The campus was full, we were all there!” says Daud, in perfect English. He is 26 years old and was on the fourth floor when the Taliban blew up a wall and entered, opening fire.
“We hid ourselves, and put benches against the door, but they got inside anyway. One of them fired, and I thought, ‘look, these are my final moments…’ but then he left, and I was still alive.”
His friend pointed out two young men to him: “Are they dead?”
Then a professor arrived, running.
“He told us to jump through the window, and that this was the only way to save ourselves. I did not know what to do. I thought that I could die from the fall.”
It was then that the Taliban came back to his room.
“As soon as I heard the bang of gunfire, I stopped thinking entirely. I made a run for it, fast.” He dashed until he ran into a campus guard: “He was about to shoot me! He did not understand anything. I shouted, ‘I’m a student, I’m wounded, I need help!’ He protected me until medical help arrived.”
Daud came to the EMERGENCY hospital with ‘only’ a fractured elbow – these scare quotes are required.
“I do not believe that I will recover very quickly from this story.”
He is a handsome guy, with an intelligent and kind disposition, studying Business Administration. What are his plans for the future?
“I studied six years to get into this school! I truly believed, and still believe, that education is the key for us to become a good class, directed towards the future. I will tell the university Dean, and all the teachers: we must not give in. Otherwise, all of this will be useless.”
The Dean came to visit the students today.
“A tragedy, a tragedy,” he said.
A couple of weeks ago two professors from the school were kidnapped, and still there is no word of them. The Dean thanked EMERGENCY for taking care of his students – “It is simply our job” – but he did not run into Daud. With ‘only’ an elbow fracture, and discharged this morning, Daud is now happier and so are we, because our hospital was too full. We will see him again to follow up. When we, the staff, were greeting each other, we spoke about him. We all agree that the school must never, ever give in.”