“Leave it if you don’t need it, and take it if you do” is the simple phrase written on walls in Kabul and Balkh, where clothes hang, free for the asking.
These “Walls of Kindness” are an initiative of young social media activists who want to spread a little cheer in a time where insecurity, corruption, poverty, and exile have driven many people to despair.
“We started the Wall of Kindness to promote humanitarian culture,” said Mohammad Esa, one of the organizers of this program. He added that helping the people in need does not cost much, and is much appreciated.
“People welcomed this initiative warmly, in a way that we did not expect,” he said.
The Wall of Kindness is a new concept to the people of Afghanistan. It was initiated in Mashhad, Iran and was so applauded in social media that it soon spread to other countries.
The first Afghan Wall of Kindness was organized in Mazar-e-Sharif, in Balkh province, at a crowded intersection just 100 meters away from Mazar’s iconic Blue Mosque, the Rawze-e-Sharif.
It is a simple idea: just choose a wall, paint it, and put hangers on it. In Mazar, people washed and ironed their unused clothing and brought it to the wall for anyone who needed it.
“Things will not be okay if we don’t promote kindness, sincerity, and acceptance of each other,” said Maria Rahin, a lecturer in Balkh University and one of the people involved in this program.
Rahin asks everyone to get involved in the initiative to help others and put their unused clothes on the wall so that people can take them without any middleman.
“This is a good program to help those in need,” said Fereydun Hemat, a resident of Mazar-e Sharif. “Everyone can at least donate one set of clothes. The income of many families is very low and there are many who need our kindness.”
More than a third of Afghans live below the poverty line, according to a survey conducted with the World Bank and Afghanistan’s Ministry of Economy. They are unable to provide for even the most basic needs of their families.
“The Wall of Kindness is a big step towards implementing a culture of helping each other, and is a better way of communication between people in need and the donors,” said Mursal, another Mazar resident who brought some clothes to the wall.
Just two days after the Balkh Wall of Kindness began, Kabul started its own. The first wall was in the western part of the capital, soon joined by several others. Social media has been instrumental in promoting this act of civic charity.
Ghorban, 13, makes his meager living out of “Ispandi” — a practice of blessing people and their vehicles with incense in the hopes they will give him a little money. His area of activity is Golaiy Dawakhana, and he has seen the Wall of Kindness take shape. He himself, however, has received nothing so far.
“It was very crowded on the first day and I couldn’t take anything except this notebook and pen that the organizers gave me,” he said. Most of those who take clothing are widows and addicts, he added. But all who wish to take items get permission from the organizers.
Golaiy Dawakhana is just a few dozen meters away from Pol-e Sukhta, a notorious hangout for drug addicts, where they can take shelter under a bridge and indulge their addiction with ease. They have no money for clothes; what little they might earn by gathering and selling empty cans or boxes is spent on drugs.
One of the addicts could be seen approaching the wall. He was dirty and scruffy, and his shirt was no longer wearable. He picked a white shirt off the Wall of Kindness and walked away, satisfied.
A middle-aged woman was also looking at the offerings. After spending some time picking through the clothes, she chose a pair trousers.
“I want these for my son,” she said.
Another Wall has been set up near Habibia High School, in 5th PD of Kabul city.
Halima Behrooz, who teaches 11th grade at Habibia, started the project with seven of her colleagues. She knows this is not the first, but she does not care about such things.
“It is not important who started this or where, it’s important that we help each other,” she said. “We can use our limited facilities and make this into a culture, spreading kindness and love among people.”
One small boy, no more than seven or eight, was in awe of the wall. He was poor, and not in school — his appearance was dirty? and underfed?, and he was working for a living??? But would not take anything.
“If one day we had clothes or other things that we didn’t need, I would like to bring them here,” he said. “If the wall is still here, that is. This wall and the clothes may disappear after a while, but kindness and love should always be among people.”
Zahra Khodadadi and Belal Noori also contributed to the story from Kabul.