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ISAF Mission, The Netherlands, Nederland, Uruzgan, Kamp Holland, Opiumfields-Afghanistan (c) Bart Coolen

Opiumfields Afghanistan

Reconstruction mission Uruzgan, Afghanistan

“Gentlemen, we are entering a combat zone!”, the pilot of the Canadian Airforce calls over the radio on board of the Herculesplane. He also reports that a day before half of the Canadian troops had a hangover while landing which, to put it mildly, goes quite violently. In order to minimize the chance of attacks, the plane drops almost vertical out of the sky just before landing. A few minutes later, we arrive in Uruzgan, a province in centre of Afghanistan. The tent where visitors and soldiers are registered reports “the beginning of the end” for moral support. Welcome to Kamp Holland.

In addition to the Dutch, Australian troops and American special forces have been stationed on the enormous army camp. Two soldiers from a logistic company are looking for shelter from the merciless burning sun in the shadow of an army truck. “Fuel is very expensive, we use 25,000 liters per day”, they say. “Afghanistan has no harbors, so everything has to be transported by ship and truck through Pakistan. Recently there was a driver who left on january 10 and arrived in mid-april. Along the way he had been under fire a few times. This was for him once but never again”.

Sergeant Joost runs his service at the watchtower on the edge of the camp. All Afghans working at the camp are searched at entry and departure. Joost shows the harvest of the day: “Look, jammed knives, a radio antenna and about ten bags of drugs”. The guard posts are also the first to deal with wounded Afghans at the gate. “Last week there was a five-year-old girl with wounds from gunshots. Locals dropped her a the gate of Kamp Holland. She survived thanks to the camp hospital”.

It soon turns out that there are major concerns among the troops about the destruction of the poppy fields by the Afghan government, which is being assisted and advised by the Americans. “The timing of this operation is very unfortunate. We have just accumulated a little bit of confidence. This drives poor farmers who are completely dependent on poppy towards the Taliban”, Captain Twan of the Provincial Reconstruction Team says. According to Minister of Anti-Drug Affairs Khodaided, the Dutch do not have to be afraid: “We have all the support of the people”. That turns out to be somewhat euphemistic. When we take a look at the destruction of the opium fields with American marines the next day, we walk into an ambush of angry Taliban and farmers who empty their AK-47 rifles at us and shoot with rocketgrenades on the helicopters. One of the helicopters is hit and we can barely get away. The evening after the shooting I notice that I see the camp with a different feeling. More then before, I realize how dangerous the work can be at just a few miles outside from the camp. A soldier of a combat unit came across the same: “After my first fight, I was nervously leaving the gate, suspicious of the people on the streets”.

A week later, the campaign to destroy the puppy field is demolished after new Taliban-attacks. Of the planned 2000 ha, only 140 ha has been destroyed. The commander of the Dutch reconstruction team, does not want to speak of a failure. “The message has arrived with the population, they have now been warned. There are even farmers who have informed about alternative forms of agriculture. That is the profit. We must give people alternative ways of life. Many people here happen to be Taliban-minded, sometimes out of opportunism, sometimes because they are forced”.

The fact that poppy cultivation is playing right now is not a coincidence because it is full of harvest time. This is mainly experienced by the inhabitants of the city of Chora, located on a strategic junction of roads in the north of Uruzgan. The Taliban uses the poppy to buy weapons and is committed to getting the city of Chora in its hands. A few days there is heavy fighting around the city, with the Dutch to prevent the city falls into the hands of the Taliban. I travel to Chora with a logistics convoy. The policy of the Dutch is to gain confidence from the local people. Smile & wave is the motto. But with the risks of roadside bombs and suicide attacks that is easier said than done. When a car arrives on the convoy in the capital Tarin Kowt and ignores all stop signs, there is panic in the bushmaster that we use to transport the convoy. Only at the last minute does the car stop.

Like all men, we sleep in armored containers, transformed by some into complete living rooms. The American former Marine Jay stays in our accommodation for a few days. He tells how hard it is to be away from home for a long time. “I was in Iraq for six months and was back in time for my son’s delivery. Still, it took three months before I became part of the family again. It was as if I was looking from the outside to my family “. Dutch troops who have been away from home for a long time have the same experience. “At home, life goes on without you. When you come back, you have to find your place in the family again. That is sometimes difficult, “says Major Eric. “In the beginning everyone is interested in your story, but after a few weeks they say: there you have it again”.

Bart Coolen is a freelance photojournalist and member of the International Federation of Journalists. He stayed with the Dutch troops in Uruzgan for four weeks. At the request of the dutch Ministry of Defense, the troops are only designated with their first name. The text has been checked in advance by the Dutch Ministry of Defense. No changes have been made. Photos can be seen on

india, solidair met india, aid, poverty, family, nederland, india, netherlands, bart coolen

Hope for thousands of families

If you browse through a photo book about India you will likely to see colorful people in beautiful robes, Hindus who bathe in the Ganges or huge crowds in the streets of Mumbai and New Dehli. That there was a big contradiction between rich and poor, I had also factored it in. But that it would be so distressing, I did not expect that either. In March and April, I spent four weeks crossing India, looking for the other side of India. That means visiting the slums and traveling across the extensive countryside. I have mixed feelings about my journey through the slums. On the one hand it was distressing to see how people live together, sometimes with ten people in a space of 3×3 meters. Devoid of electricity, running water and sanitary. Many people are infected with HIV/AIDS and almost everyone unemployed. In some places it was more like a rubbish tip. During my first visit to the slums, a man committed suicide by setting himself on fire. On the other hand …  Children play hide and seek, the parents try to make something out of nothing, the elderly drink tea and make a game of cards. There was more fun than I have ever seen in the Netherlands.

The Dutch foundation “Solidarity with India” works with dozens of projects to improve the living conditions of poor children, young people and the sick in India. With good education they try to reduce the growing gap between rich and poor. I was able to visit the slums of Bombay a few times through the contacts of Solidair with India. Without escorts you can not show yourself as a Westerner, too dangerous and also embarrassing to walk around with photo cameras without explanation as a wealthy Westerner. For example, the money from the organization “Solidarity with India” is used for education. “Good education is crucial for these children. Without training they can never find a job later. If we manage to have at least one child study in each family, he or she can later maintain the whole family and no longer depend on third-party help “, says a street worker in Bombay.

Good education. The idea is simple, but in an overpopulated country like India with age-old traditions such as the caste system and belief in reincarnation, nothing happens automatically. Bernard Kersten (61) coordinates the projects and is committed to the fate of the poor Indians. “I saw the terrible poverty and that made me sad and rebellious. Something must be done about this, I thought to myself “. The organization is now active with more than 100 projects. Kersten: “Our approach is focused on bundling different projects in one place. When we build a school somewhere, we also make sure that there is a doctor’s post or a small hospital and we try to start small businesses with microcredits, for example. Through this combination of projects we can work very effectively and we give thousands of families a good future perspective. So never say that our work is just a drop in the ocean. ”

In de centraal Indiase stad Indore ontmoet ik Sunita Goshwami. De 24-jarige vrouw is infected with HIV and lives with her three small children in a slum dwelling on the outskirts of the city. Her husband died of AIDS three years ago. To save their honor, the in-laws accused her of an extra-marital affair and put her on the streets with the children. Thanks to the Vishwash (trust) program, which is supported by Solidair with India, she has taken the thread of life again. “I now get medication that makes me feel good again. Sometimes I even forget that I am infected with HIV. Thanks to the Vishwash project, my children are going to school again. Their future will be good “.

The facts

  • With 1.1 billion people, India is the country with the highest number of inhabitants after China. More than 350 million people live below the poverty line. In addition, there are over 5.6 million AIDS and HIV patients in India.
  • The “Solidarity with India” helps underprivileged children, young people, the sick and disadvantaged groups, irrespective of caste or religion;
  • The organization cooperates with various other organizations and donors. They have a joint budget of more than 1.4 million euros. This means that more than 100 projects are carried out. The money is used for concrete, small-scale projects in the field of education, health, labor and housing;
  • The projects are visited twice a year to check the results and the accounts and to set out new projects;
  • More info:

Journalist and photographer Bart Coolen traveled through India for four weeks to make a report about the work of the Dutch foundation ‘Solidarity with India’. He is member of the International Federation of Journalists. Photo’s can be seen on