Witnessing the events in Afghanistan at the end of the summer left me angry, baffled, enraged, fearful, helpless, infuriated – there just aren’t enough synonyms for the fury and shame I feel so personally.
It’s personal because my brother did two tours of Afghanistan. It’s personal because I co-chair, with General the Lord Richard Dannatt, the Soldiering On Awards. Many of our participants and supporters are physically or mentally impacted, or are the family, friends and supporters of the wounded and dead. They have to contend both with their wounds, the loss of comrades and loved ones and now, for many, a huge sense of betrayal.
It’s personal because as a woman and a feminist I have a deep visceral fear and dread for the women and girls left behind.
But then I remember who I can be proud of. Those who step up to feed, to clothe, to home, to soothe, to support, to comfort, to restore, to campaign, to fight for those left behind.
Because here’s the thing. While the attention of the media, governments and the public may come and go, charities have an enduring commitment to those they serve. It does not sway with popular opinion or public narrative.
During the evacuation we witnessed an outpouring of support from many of our fellow citizens – but the truth is that it won’t be long before Afghanistan is overlooked again. Governments don’t want narratives that place them in a bad light, so they will divert attention as quickly as they can.
By the time this column is published it’s likely the events in Afghanistan will have become a side story, because the public’s memory is very short.
But the memory of charities is very, very long.
Charities have been working on causes that are out of sight and out of mind of politicians and the public for centuries.
So when the public have forgotten the veterans, veterans’ charities will still be looking after them. International humanitarian charities will still be supporting the 18 million Afghans dependent on food aid.
While Western governments dither about being pally with the Taliban, human rights, LGBTQ+ and women’s charities will continue to campaign about abuses in Afghanistan.
Churches, mosques, synagogues, temples, gurdwaras and all charities that welcome and assist refugee families will do so, unheralded, for years to come. Mental health charities will be quietly mentoring and supporting the traumatised children of Afghan families.
While Western governments will happily put out of mind the millions of Afghan refugees in Pakistan and Iran, charities will not forget. They will raise awareness, insist on the rights of those displaced and press for policies that are welcoming of refugees.
The cost of this will not be borne by the government, but by volunteers, donors and funders. Because governments know full well that charities will stay the course long after they move on. Our economic structures rely on that.
This is why patronising lip service by politicians to our contribution to the nation infuriates me. But we get on and do our work anyway.
We can be proud to say: when others walk away, charities stay.