When Sunia was just a teenager, she was left with a huge responsibility of taking care of her mother who was hospitalised for four months after being involved in a car accident. As she is an only child and her father worked long hours as a school teacher, she had no choice but to leave school to care for her.
Although she was devastated about missing out on further education, her time in the hospital turned out to be an unlikely source of inspiration, ‘Being with my mother in the hospital, I saw the ladies in their white coats every day and thought, ‘one day I want to be like them. I want to help others the way they are helping my mother’.
The nurses taught Sunia how to look after her mother during her time in the hospital. Sunia knew how to properly dress injuries and administer injections by the time her mother was released. Sunia discovered a new-found interest in healthcare, however it would be many years before she could pursue it. She cared for her mother for a few more years and then at 21 she was married. Sunia was constantly on the move as her husband worked as a military officer which meant that yet again, her dream of training as a health worker was put on hold
In 2000, the Afghan civil war reached new levels of destruction. Sunia, her husband and five children were forced to flee to Pakistan where they had to live in a refugee camp due to the deteriorating security situation. Life at the camp was difficult, but remarkably once again, in the most unlikely of places, Sunia found an opportunity for learning. Sunia began taking lessons in midwifery and family health whilst at the camp. She was determined to take her learning further when she returned to Afghanistan with her family in 2005.
Sunia was one of twenty women trained by Muslim Hands to become a Community Health Worker in Puli Charkhi, east of Kabul. This team of dedicated women provided much needed care and advice to mothers and pregnant women in the privacy of their own homes. There are many women who are restricted in the distances they can travel to the nearest hospital or clinic which is sometimes more than 20 miles away so this is a vital service for the local community.
When the health workers first began their visits, Sunia says they faced a lot of hostility, ‘It was really hard for us because some people didn’t trust us when we knocked at their doors and they wouldn’t allow us in’. However, the women’s attitudes towards the team began to change once they saw the impact of their work. ‘Now they even offer us food and tea when we visit them and the community comes to my home to seek advice on health problems’.
It’s been three years now since Sunia has been a Community Health Worker. She says she can't describe how happy she is to finally be fulfilling the dream that began in a hospital ward in Kabul so many years ago