On Saturday afternoons, sometimes with a coworker or two, Siavash Rahbari drives up a rutted side street in Kabul to visit the Window of Hope orphanage.
In the living room, there are a dozen boys and two girls. Some are playing, while others lie around on mats on the floor, clearly suffering from a range of disabilities. Rahbari, a Texan who works at an NGO in Kabul, gives the children a cursory inspection.
“A lot of times, when people come and they hang out with the kids, they’re kind of shocked about the whole situation,” Rahbari says. “But, again, this is Afghanistan. This isn’t Texas.”
Afghanistan, after decades of war, has thousands of orphans. The government runs 30 orphanages across the country, housing about 5,000 children.
The Window of Hope is one of the country’s private orphanages. Rahbari has become its unlikely benefactor.
The facility certainly wouldn’t pass a safety inspection in the U.S. There is a primitive wood stove in the middle of the playroom; the backyard is full of random debris, including razor wire; and sickly looking chickens wander the yard.
It’s not ideal, but Rahbari points out that it’s common to see young children, both healthy and disabled, roaming the streets of Kabul begging or selling trinkets.
“These kids have it pretty good, as compared to a lot of people,” he says.
He introduces some of the children.
“Baktash has a genetic skin disease,” he says. “His legs don’t work. And his family doesn’t want him.” The rest of the children have no family. Many have epilepsy, others have different physical or cognitive disabilities.
Helal cowers in the corner like a scared dog. Abdullah lies on a mat suffering from some severe form of palsy.
Rahbari got involved with the orphanage three years ago, when a friend sent an email soliciting contributions to help pay the rent.
“So, I met up with some people and we collected some money and we got the rent money, and of course we started visiting at that time,” he says.
Next thing he knew, he was overseeing the finances and helping train the two young Afghans, Frozan and Naseer, who run the place on a daily basis.
Rahbari taught Naseer how to prepare monthly financial reports, which he audits.
“Even that, checking it for example, takes time,” he says. “And all we’re kind of busy; we’re all doing development.”
Running an orphanage is not Rahbari’s area of expertise. An Iranian-American, Rahbari came to Kabul to do rule-of-law development.
“Right, I probably shouldn’t be doing this,” he laughs. “We’re not professionals at this. If somebody else were, that would be better, and hopefully there will be.”
But for now, there isn’t anyone else to do it. The Afghan government provides no support to Window of Hope, and the founder lives in London and has minimal involvement in the orphanage. Rahbari was able to get a grant from a foundation to cover the rent, but that money runs out this summer.
The primary caretaker of the children is 19-year-old Frozan, who is disabled herself and came to the orphanage at age 13.
“When she was 2, her house was bombed and she lost her parents, and one leg is basically gone and the other one is slightly mangled,” Rahbari says.
He hopes to get Frozan into some sort of school so she’ll be better able to run the operation when the time comes for him to leave Afghanistan.
Rahbari also knows some of these kids won’t make it to adulthood. He says he tries not to think about that and instead focuses on doing what he can to make their day-to-day lives as happy as possible.
“So as far as what’s going to happen in the future with these kids when they’re not kids anymore, I don’t know,” he says.