By: Ali Reza Yunespour
The COVID-19 pandemic has resulted in more ‘giving’ and stronger social solidarity in Afghanistan. In recent weeks, more and more individuals and charitable organisations inside and outside Afghanistan have been sharing their wealth and time with those in need and providing care for individuals and families who have been severely impacted by the lockdown. This is a welcome development amidst ongoing social, political and economic crisis and must continue once Afghanistan and the world recover from the COVID-19 pandemic. As Rumi, the great Islamic spiritual master, said, “There is no such a thing as separation between those (the givers and recipients) who love each other with heart and soul.”
When the daily loss of lives and failure of political elites, those in the Afghan government as well as the Taliban- are seen to be routine, the ‘news’ cannot be more killings and more political failures. Rather, it should be little things like the recent social solidarity that gives hope to an impoverished and broken society.
The nature of giving
Since the first positive case of COVID-19 in Afghanistan in late February, the spread of the virus and associated lockdown have severely impacted the urban population more than rural ones, especially those who have been reliant on daily incomes. Like the worst-hit countries, most confirmed cases in Afghanistan have been in the capital Kabul )824) and major city centres like Herat (630) and Kandahar (434). Despite this, there are encouraging reports of wealthy individuals who have provided cash and food donations to poor individuals and families during the lockdown. Most community donations as well as Afghan government-sponsored free bread distribution have predominantly benefitted poor families in urban centres.
At the same time, some of the leading media organisations have produced public information about COVID-19 and started ‘solidarity campaigns’ to help poor families during the pandemic. While there are no official statistics about the impact of diverse solidarity campaigns, there is sufficient evidence that community solidarity has been stronger than many expected at the beginning of the pandemic lockdown. Pleasingly, it has been reported that thousands of wealthy individuals have joined the public campaigns and provided support for individuals and families in needs. For example, the Daily Etilaatroz has published stories of those that have reduced their house and shop rents for families that are poor or who lost their daily income because of the lockdown. There is also encouraging community solidarity from individuals and groups that have shared their wealth with others without reporting it publicly. Further, some people have given their time to help others including making phone calls to the elderly, sick and poor families or helping with the distribution of donated money and food in their local communities.
Finally, individual and collective donations and remittances from Afghans, who have been living in Australia, Europe and North America, have continued during the lockdown. There are many positive and heartening cases where individuals and families have made every effort to provide financial and social support for their families and friends in major city centres and rural areas of Afghanistan as well as for Afghan refugees in Pakistan and Iran.
More significantly, some poorer families have helped each other:
Husain, a poor shopkeeper in West of Kabul, received a little donation from a family friend in Australia. He kindly and generously acknowledged his family friend’s support but gave the donation to his neighbour who was in more need than his own family.
Why giving matters
Giving of one’s wealth, time or other fortune matters for several reasons in Afghanistan. It provides a necessary social service for individuals and families that have been the victims of a failing state; ongoing conflict; economic inequality; family breakdown; and perhaps unwise personal choices in life. Giving offers hope for the recipients during difficult and growing social, political and economic challenges. This is the common notion of ‘giving’- which considers it as a charity or donation- that mostly help the recipients. For the givers, the usual notion of giving is that they give their money or time to others to maintain respect, prestige, social status and for personal benefit.
However, giving has enormous personal and social benefits if one considers it as a mutual act of empathy or compassion between the givers and their recipients. It is this notion of giving that allowed prominent scholars and leaders in history to encourage more giving in the world. As Mahatma Gandhi said, “The best way to find yourself is to lose yourself in the service of others”. Both givers and recipients genuinely and generously accept and respect each other and the act of giving becomes a mutual bond, – a social solidarity- that nurtures their true ‘self’ and awakens their humanity. In this notion of giving, everyone feels pride in what they do, and they seek to sustain their mutual love, care and respect. Specially for the givers, once they reach this state of being, there is no better joy and happiness in their lives than giving or sharing more of their wealth and fortune with others. Giving simply becomes part of them and defines who they are. As Rumi has wisely put it:
The universe is not outside of you. Look inside yourself; everything that you want, you already are.
In addition, some economic and other studies have emphasised the benefits of compassionate giving, especially for the givers. In 1989, economist James Andreoni presented the concept of ‘warm-glow giving’, which describes the ‘utility’ or positive emotional feelings that givers receive from act of giving their wealth, time or other fortunes to others. More importantly, a growing number of neurologist researchers have been studying the biological impacts of giving on ‘givers’ brains. Although more research is required in this area, Moll and colleagues have observed brain reactions in the anterior prefrontal cortex, an area of the brain towards the forehead, that suggests positive biological bases for the act of giving and the ‘givers’ pleasure and happiness.
In short, giving is an important social bond between the givers and recipients. In recent weeks, there have been positive and encouraging stories of giving in Afghanistan and they must be maintained until the spread of COVID-19 is contained, and more importantly, after the pandemic is over. Giving reveals the shared human needs between those with more fortune and those that have been less fortunate in life. It is imperative that it be cherished and maintained in Afghanistan’s broken society during and after the COVID-19 lockdown.
Ali Reza Yunespour, PhD Scholar and Academic Internships Coordinator, The University of Melbourne. You can reach at him at: [email protected]