Afghan Mother and Child Rescue (AMCR) was founded by Brigadier Peter Stewart-Richardson MBE, who retired from the Coldstream Guards in 1981.
Peter initially became involved in humanitarian work in Afghanistan in the early 1990s. During one such visit he was approached by a cousin of the late Commander Ahmed Shah Massoud, and asked to help finance the construction of a Mother and Child Health Clinic (MCH) at Rokha in the Panjshir Valley.
The former Guards officer set about raising funds, and enlisted the help of old military colleagues such as Rupert Chetwynd, an ex-captain in the Grenadier Guards and the Territorial SAS, and Nick Gold, a doctor who served with the Coldstreams. But the eruption of the Taliban and their capture of Kabul in 1996 made the task far more difficult.
The humanitarian situation deteriorated rapidly, information was difficult to come by and the Panjshir Valley, the base of Commander Massoud’s Northern Alliance, was under siege. Entry and exit to the valley had to be gained by Northern Alliance ex Soviet Union troop carrying helicopter or UN plane, or over high mountain passes, sometimes on horseback or on foot.
But in 1997, when a fourth retired officer – Major Roddy Jones of the Royal Welch Fusiliers – joined the team, work began on the Rokha clinic. Completed in 2000, it stands in the grounds of the former Rokha hospital, now a comprehensive health centre, or CHC. This is the template for other Mother and Child Health Clinics in the Panjshir – they are sited next to community clinics, but are separate, to encourage mothers and children to use them. They have water piped from a nearby spring, where possible, solar lighting and heating, to overcome unreliable power supplies, and vaccine refrigerators powered by gas or solar panels.
The solar array mounted with the vaccine refrigerator, Dr Shokohmand with
Brigadier Peter Stewart Richardson
AMCR has made visits at least once a year since 1997 to the Panjshir or the northern provinces of Kunduz, Takhar and Badakhshan, building and renovating clinics and equipping them with services. During the Taliban era, the region controlled by the Northern Alliance was extremely isolated. Fuel had to be trucked in from Tajikistan over the high passes of the Hindu Kush, making it expensive even when obtainable, and solar power was a boon.
With the demise of the Taliban in 2001, and the election of a new government under President Hamid Karzai, the work of non-government organisations (NGOs) was reorganised to avoid duplication of effort. At the same time Afghan Mother and Child Rescue was set up as a registered charity. The first action of the newly-formed AMCR was to donate an ambulance to the Rokha clinic.
The charity then turned its attention to constructing bakeries in some Panjshir villages which could provide employment for the valley’s many war widows. Five have been built and handed over to local communities, in the villages of Sangana, Malaspa, Sata, Tawakh and Astana. Other women have been helped to train as tailors and provided with sewing machines, giving them the chance to earn money from home.
The most important recent project has been the construction of a second Mother and Child Health Clinic at Safied Chihr, in the more remote upper Panjshir Valley. Completed in 2006, it is now in full operation in the grounds of the local Comprehensive Health Centre.
A third MCH is due for completion in 2008 at Darra, in a side valley leading off the Panjshir. Like Safied Chihr, the area is far from modern hospital facilities, and the clinic should bring a dramatic reduction in the risks of childbirth, both to the mother and the baby.