One of my recent assignments for school was to write an essay. I choose the topic of poverty. As I sat down to write my essay I was reminded of my first days in Kabul. I was in a taxi on the way to downtown; I could see small houses on the slope of the mountains that were built without any order. I later learned that some of them at the top did not even have access to electricity or water.

As the taxi entered downtown Kabul there were lines of vendors spread out on the sides of the street shouting, “High discounts.”

But on the other side were women in blue burqas sitting on the side of the road begging for money: “Please, brother, help me, my child is sick.”

Behind them were ruined buildings and piles of broken brick and cement. It seemed as if the debris in the city talked to me:“Who are you?”

As I tried to write I could only think of how poverty in Afghanistan has forced children to work. I could not get rid of their images. The picture of these children in the streets is one that will never die out from my mind. There is one that stays with me brighter than the rest.

There is a boy named Reza, he carries a box of snacks—chewing gum, cakes, and biscuits—around the public transportation areas asking people to buy something from him. I have seen him on the buses in the winter when it is very cold.  He wears only a thin dirty jacket; its buttons have fallen off. His feet are almost bare, covered by yellow plastic slippers that are attached to his feet by black string. His nose is red and his hands are terribly dry, cracked, and bleeding from the cruel coldness of weather in Kabul.

One day I saw a passenger call to Reza for some biscuits. Suddenly, five other boys like Reza—seven to ten years of age—rushed to the passenger and begged him to buy something from them also. The passenger was confused and could not get rid of the persistent little boys.

Even if the poor man had bought all their snacks it would not have them happy or made a difference. There are hundreds of Rezas in Kabul. People see them in the streets but nobody cares who they are. Nobody wants them to be real children; so they are stubborn, strong, and rude. That is how they survive.

The children of Kabul are the visible signs of poverty, but Afghanistan struggles with invisible poverty: the hidden poverty. My friend Hashim is part of the invisible poverty. Hashim is a student in Kabul. He has a photo studio and his father is a tailor. His family is small, only five. Yet with two incomes Hashim and his family cannot afford to live in a house with plumbing and electricity.

Hashim says, “These things cost more than our wages. I want to quit my studies and find another job to help my family live in a better situation.”

Hashim is not alone. Government workers have the same problem. Government workers dress professionally. They must do this to keep their positions. They do not look poor. Yet their incomes are so low that they cannot afford suitable housing.

It seems to me that Kabul is crying out in deafness but no one hears the invisible poverty. And no one cares about the visible poverty.

by Mina M.

photo: Omar Sobhani/Reuters