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German Help for Afghan's Amputee Bike Messengers

In a country fraught with land mines, a program supported by a German aid group is helping amputees in Afghanistan find work as bike messengers. Couriering packages around Kabul gives them a rare chance to make a living.

A group of Afghan amputees

Amputees are an alarmingly common sight in Afghanistan

Afghanistan is thought to have more land mines than any other country in the world. The estimated 30 million mines are a dangerous legacy of decades of war that have maimed approximately half a million people. Those who have lost limbs because of the mines find it nearly impossible to earn a living.

The German Development Service (DED), which is Germany's foreign development aid agency, has partnered with the Afghan Amputee Bicyclist for Rehabilitation and Recreation (AABRAR) organization to give amputees in Kabul a chance to earn a living.

Going without

A man tries on an artifical leg at a center in Kabul

Life as an amputee is difficult in Afghanistan

Gone to run errands for his mother in Kabul, Qahar was 11 years old when he stepped on a mine and lost both his legs. From then on, he was considered a burden on his large family, since he couldn't earn money to help his siblings. He sunk into a deep depression.

"I was mostly unhappy because I saw many people my age who could play volleyball and soccer," Qahar said. "They went to school and to the university. Sometimes I cried and my mother comforted me. She told me that I should stop crying, that everything was in God's hands and that this was my destiny."

Qahar is now 23 and wears prosthetics. He has found new hope with the AABRAR, an Afghan non-governmental organization that gets financial support from the DED. The organization offers war invalids something that would normally be impossible in Afghanistan -- the chance to work and be independent.

Employment for amputees

A land mine exploding in Kabul

An estimated half million people have been injured by land mines in Afghanistan

The organization opened Afghanistan's first bicycle messenger service in Kabul in November of 2002, which exclusively employs people with physical disabilities

The DED and AABRAR came up with the idea while trying to think about what kind of employment opportunities could be given to amputees, said Andreas Schneider, the DED's regional director for Afghanistan and Central Asia.

The program employs 15 bicycle couriers. Formerly, these amputees would have spent years sitting at home without jobs. Now, in a normal day they deliver letters, packages and merchandise around the clock through the streets of Kabul. They wear protective masks because of pollution problems in the city, which has a million inhabitants. They also wear helmets and have specially-designed bicycles.

"These are essentially specially-developed bicycles," Schneider said. "You could say they're a type of mountain bike that are designed so that they can be ridden with a prosthesis."

Afghan businesses skeptical of service

A man bikes by an American soldier

Biking through Kabul

Qahar has worked as a bicycle messenger for five years. He brings home approximately 70 euros ($95) a month. Qahar has also participated in international competitions for bicycle messengers, competing against those without disabilities. He said he's thankful he found this work, but he knows that other Afghans are less fortunate.

"In Afghanistan there are more than 300,000 disabled people and none of them have jobs," Qahar said. "Our neighbor boy who's 12 or 13 years old has just lost his legs. He can't work and also doesn't have money to go to school and get an education."

International organizations in Kabul use the bicycle messenger service. Local businesses have been more reluctant, although the service is relatively cheap. Delivering a pizza, package or letter costs 25 Afghani, approximately 50 euro cents. Until the project can become self-sufficient, the DED will continue to help out financially. The program hopes to help more people like Qahar get a chance at a new start on life.

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