Veteran, 84, fights to restore Afghanistan's prosperity

Adam LazzariA Second World War veteran from Norfolk has dedicated the last 13 years to restoring health and prosperity to what was once the most dangerous region of Afghanistan.Adam Lazzari

A Second World War veteran from Norfolk has dedicated the last 13 years to restoring health and prosperity to what was once the most dangerous region of Afghanistan.

Now aged 84, Peter Stewart-Richardson, a former brigadier in the Coldstream Guards is showing no sign of settling down to enjoy a quiet retirement at his home in North Creake, near Fakenham. Instead he is planning his next trip to Afghanistan in November to continue his work.

Mr Stewart-Richardson, who has even given the Taliban the slip, is the founder of the Afghan Mother and Child Rescue (AMCR) charity, which has been responsible for extensively renovating three hospitals and building 12 maternity units.

During November's trip he will be overseeing the building of another maternity clinic and he is also hoping to secure the money for another clinic to be built next year.

All of Mr Stewart-Richardson's work has been in and around the Panjshir Valley in the north of Afghanistan, where both the Russians and the Taliban once feared to tread. It is now considered one of the safest places in the country but is desperately poor.

Mr Stewart-Richardson said: 'For many years I'd had a big interest in Afghanistan and I made my first trip there in 1997. When I saw what chaos the Russians had brought to the country I knew that I had to do something to help.

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'I saw one patient who'd had his foot blown off by a mine. He rode for three days on a donkey to get to the hospital and made it, exhausted, only to die of dehydration. That shows the character of the people there.'

On one of his early trips to Afghanistan, Mr Stewart-Richardson was approached by a cousin of the late guerrilla leader Ahmad Shah Massoud, Commander Massoud had played a key role in driving the Soviet Army out of Afghanistan and is regarded as a national hero by Afghans of every tribe.

Brig Stewart-Richardson was asked to help renovate the hospital at Rokha, in the Panjshir Valley. He enlisted the support of three former military colleagues: Rupert Chetwynd, an ex-captain in the Grenadier Guards, Nick Gold, a doctor who served in the Coldstream Guards and Roddy Jones, a major who served in the Royal Welsh Fusiliers. All were in their 70s, but with the help of local workers ensured that a basic first aid post was transformed into a maternity clinic within three years.

This was the start of the small, but dedicated and hands-on AMCR charity, which is still run by the four men.

Mr Stewart-Richardson said: 'I've been out to Afghanistan virtually every year since my first trip in 1997. I used to make two trips a year, each for one month. I know the doctors there very well and now we ask them what they want and we tell them if we can do it. We use local workers also work with the Swedish Committee for Afghanistan and the Red Cross and get the most up to date equipment from the American army.

'We had problems in the early years as there was shooting and shelling every day in Kabul. We've had to keep our wits about us.

'I've had four encounters with the Taliban. They have searched our kit and were quite rough and heavy handed but were honest and didn't steal from us.

'Once, we were going to the Panjshir Valley, which has never been under Taliban control. We had to tell them we were going elsewhere and give them the slip. If they'd caught us we'd have been in big trouble.'

The charity specialises in building maternity units and is helping to bring down Afghanistan's high rates of maternal and infant mortality. AMCR also works to support Afghanistan's many war widows who often have several children and no income.

It has built five bakeries to provide employment and some widows have been trained as tailors and given sewing machines.

Mr Stewart-Richardson said: 'We've been very lucky in that we've managed to raise the money to do all of this work. Just last week a man from Switzerland who had read an article about our work sent �3,000. We welcome donations from anyone who can give anything, and the money goes really far out there.'

He added: 'I feel fit and healthy and I have a very supporting wife, Patricia. But I never let her or any other friends or family members come with me because it's too dangerous.

'I will keep going out to Afghanistan to continue this work for as long as I am able.'

People can make donations to the AMCR by sending a cheque, made payable to 'Afghan Mother and Child Rescue' to Afghan Mother and Child Rescue, 128 Kensington Church Street, London, W8 4BH.