Mahbooba was studying in Kabul when the violence following the Soviet withdrawal from Afghanistan intensified.
The insecurity that followed meant that Mahbooba’s family were forced to move and her schooling came to an abrupt halt. As they moved from place to place, Mahbooba’s dream of becoming a doctor became ever more distant.
Mahbooba tells us that when she got married, her husband was keen for her to pursue her education. But they too were unable to stay in one place and she was soon on the move again. When Mahbooba fell pregnant her own wants gave way to the needs of her children. With the selfless love of a mother, Mahbooba nurtured and cared for her four children. But her desire to care for others was left unsatisfied.
The family eventually settled in Puli Charkhi, east of Kabul and it was here that Mahbooba found her opportunity. She was trained in maternal health and childcare by a Swedish NGO. When Muslim Hands opened its Motherkind clinic in 2011, Mahbooba was invited to meet the Medical Programme manager. Along with twenty other women, she was chosen to become a community health worker (CHW).
As part of the programme the CHWs receive ongoing training in maternal and child care, ante and post-natal care, anaemia, nutrition, breast feeding, diarrhoea prevention and vaccinations.
Mahbooba reflects on this period with a humbling gratitude. For many years, circumstances had shattered her dreams. And suddenly, aged 34, God presented her with the opportunity to re-build them. Proof that you are never too old for second chances. ‘Now’, she tells us proudly, ‘I am making about 100 home visits per month’.
The provision of health workers that can visit women in their homes provides a vital lifeline to the mothers of Afghanistan. Mahbooba explains the difficulties faced by women in her community. She tells us that many face restrictions on their movements outside of the house and that even in the domestic sphere many mothers do not always have authority over the decisions made regarding their children.
Even for those who do not face such obstacles, the nearest medical centre is over 20 miles away. And many families know very little about maternal health.
Health workers like Mahbooba are highly respected by their communities. Mahbooba jokingly tells us about the fact that she is referred to as doctor by other women and that the best seats at engagement and wedding parties are reserved for her.
The impact on her own family is also evident. Her children and husband are all very proud of her and Mahbooba’s daughter, inspired by her mother’s work, will qualify as a midwife in two years’ time.
When asked, what she would like to say to those who have supported the Motherkind clinic, Mahbooba simply says, ‘Thank you. Your money reaches the right place and your generous support saves lives’.