Charity Helps Fight Poverty and the Taliban – with Weddings

In war-torn Afghanistan, the country’s youth believe that there is something much stronger than a life of poverty and the Taliban regime’s oppressive rule: love.

Although banned by the regime, Valentine’s Day is becoming a popular, albeit secret, celebration among Afghanistan’s romantic young couples. In a country where most marriages are arranged, Suliman and Farzana Sharifi’s marriage is unique, as the 23-year-olds met and married for love and consider Valentine’s Day a special celebration of their relationship, and hopefully even a way to reduce hate and violence in their country. Farzana said, “when love comes even the Taliban can’t stop anybody.”

An American charity operating in the region had the same outlook and has been using weddings as a tool to fight against rampant poverty and against Taliban recruitment throughout Afghanistan. The act of marriage can be prohibitively expensive in the country, where the average annual income is a mere $500, and a dowry to the bride’s family for marriage can reach up to $10,000, making a wedding financially impossible.

Comfort Aid International recognized this conundrum and organized the weddings of 38 couples last year alone, which local representative Sayeed Saleh Qasimi says is a vitally important way to keep young men away from Taliban recruitment: “We did this to prevent our youth from joining the Taliban side. They often join the Taliban because they are single and poor.”

Comfort Aid International has collaborated with local NGOs to negotiate dowry prices down to make it much easier for young couples to marry, and so far has coordinated weddings for more than 1,000 couples in Afghanistan. One beneficiary of the charity, Sayeed Hussaini, is young and unemployed but maintains that he would not have been able to marry without the charity’s help. He also points out that young men do not have many choices financially, saying “a lot of people are doing bad things for money like joining the Taliban.”

The Taliban have been known to target regions where severe poverty is rampant, using poor and uneducated youth who have minimal opportunities for survival other than to join the extremist cause that promises food and shelter.

Hussaini goes on to state that he is still very poor, but will not join the Taliban and risk his life, because of his new wife.

Christina Mattos Kindlon

Source: NBC News