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Tuesday, 23 October, 2001, 14:31 GMT 15:31 UK
Afghan aid delivered by donkey
Hermione Youngs (Unicef)
Hundreds of donkeys hauled aid over the mountains (Unicef)
British grandmother Hermione Youngs knows the plight of thousands of families and children in war ravaged Afghanistan and regularly makes her own contribution to ease the suffering.

Mrs Youngs, 56, helps lead aid convoys of emergency supplies by truck, jeep and donkey to Afghan children.

The latest Unicef Convoy of Hope from Peshawar, Pakistan, to the Afghanistan border was the first to depart for the country since the terror attacks on the United States on 11 September.

The children are very malnourished and very hungry

Hermione Youngs
It is the fourth time Mrs Youngs, an Education Consultant for the Unicef Afghanistan Country Office, has helped organise the trip.

She calls the Peshawar-to-Faizabad convoy "one of the last great adventure convoys in the world" and promises to continue to make the 1,000km journey as often as possible.

The convoy to Faizabad, in the remote Badakhshan region of northeastern Afghanistan, is a logistical test of patience, skill and ingenuity for Mrs Youngs and her convoy team mate Shafqat Munir, a Unicef Assistant Project Officer.

Mountain crossing

Unicef had intended to transport only educational supplies via the convoy.

But the emergency situation in Afghanistan prompted the charity to add 110 tonnes of high-energy food, emergency relief supplies, blankets, winter clothing and shoes, and essential drugs and medicines.

To negotiate the terrain, the 200 metric tonnes of supplies had to be transferred from 25 trucks to 95 four-wheel drive jeeps that continued up to the 3,800m village of Shah Saleem near the Pakistan-Afghanistan border.

Hermione Youngs (Unicef)
Mrs Youngs was the only woman among hundreds of men (Unicef)
The supplies were then loaded onto 700 donkeys and horses that crossed the 4,500m (14,400 feet) Shah Saleem mountain for the final, two-day leg into Afghanistan.

"It was a difficult trip, physically exhausting," said Mrs Youngs. "Sometimes, there wasn't much food available.

"We would have our breakfast at 3pm because we didn't have time to prepare anything in the morning. We would get up at sunrise and stop only at sunset."

The convoy endured freezing temperatures in the remote mountains and Mrs Youngs would often sleep in a tent at night.

Mrs Youngs said the using the donkeys was the only possible route across the mountain pass due to internal fighting in the last four years.

Food delivery (unicef)
A boy helps load the donkeys and horses (Unicef)
"Some donkeys could take up to 100 kilos, and some horses up to 200 kilos. I rode a donkey while Shafqat rode a horse.

"It was very difficult when we went through the Shah Saleem pass. Because of the altitude, we suffered from the lack of oxygen."

But with the approaching winter, Mrs Youngs fears only about three more convoys will get through before the onset of harsh winter conditions.

"And because of the military operations we may not be able to get aid in, then the cold will kill children."

Hospitable people

Mrs Youngs said the convoy received great support from international agencies, the Pakistan authorities and army. But from her previous experiences, she says the convoy would also have been well received in Afghanistan.

"People on the road were wonderful. They knew about the convoy and were very interested in what we were doing," she said.

The convoy finally arrived in Faizabad on 10 October where relief supplies were being handed over to local organisations working with camps for Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) in the city and former conflict-torn areas.

Despite the hardships Mrs Youngs says she will continue to lead the convoys into Afghanistan whenever possible.

"I love the Afghans," she said.

"They are an incredible people and are very resilient and hospitable and deserve all the help they can get."

See also:

18 Oct 01 | South Asia
Taleban return 'stolen' aid
11 Oct 01 | South Asia
Taleban 'demand tax' on aid convoy
09 Oct 01 | South Asia
Landmine threat to aid mission
07 Oct 01 | South Asia
Afghan aid: The supply problems
08 Mar 99 | South Asia
Donkeys cross Afghan frontline
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