The guitar school for street children in Afghanistan

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Mursal, one of around 50 children involved in the 'Love kids' project
Image caption,
Mursal, one of around 50 children involved in the project

As renditions of a hit song by British music group Coldplay go, you won't have heard anything like it.

A group of tiny girls strum their acoustic guitars, belting out a self-made Persian translation of the hit Don't Panic in a flat in Kabul.

Playing along is a man very much in the mould of the Western rock musician, complete with wrist bands and bandana.

These are "The Miraculous Love Kids", a music school for street children set up by American guitarist Lanny Cordola.

On the day I visit I'm greeted by 20 or so dusty shoes and slippers in the hallway, a sign that the kids had a busy day on the streets of Kabul.

Media caption,

Learning 'songs of peace and hope'

Image caption,
The girls learn songs from musicians like U2, Coldplay, Bob Marley and Peter Gabriel

Haunting portraits

A pair of large photographs on the wall caught my attention. They show two beautiful, smiley girls, Parwana and Khorshid, two sisters who were killed four years ago in a suicide attack near what was then the Nato head quarters in Kabul.

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Parwana and Khorshid, remembered on the wall of the guitar school

It's their story that has inspired this small school.

Among the girls rehearsing their instruments is 12-year old Mursal, Parwana and Khorshid's younger sister.

Mursal was just seven when she went with her siblings to sell handkerchiefs, shawls and crafts near the compound of international troops in Kabul.

The movements of foreign soldiers were restricted, so many children sold their goods near Nato headquarters.

On 8 September 2012, the sisters arrived at their usual spot in the morning. Because there were a lot of children that day, they split up. Mursal was sent to a quieter side street, while the older girls stayed near the main gate.

Shortly after that a 14-year old suicide bomber blew himself up killing at least six children, the sisters among them.

Their death was widely reported, not least because Parwana and Khorshid were part of Skateistan, Kabul's first skateboarding school and a charity which combines skating with education for street children.

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Lanny Cordola has swapped Los Angeles for Kabul to work on the project
Image source, Lanny Cordola
Image caption,
Lanny Cordola has played in numerous bands in the US over the years; here he is with Blues legend B B King in 1993

No protection

"They were the most beautiful little girls," Courtney Body, a freelance reporter who knew them well says.

"I'll never forget the day I took them shopping for girly things in Wazir Akbar Khan bazaar, and they held my hands as we walked to the store," she recalls.

"I was so angry that they were allowed so close to the Isaf gates. I felt they had to be there to make money selling things to the foreigners, but they should have been protected."

The story came to the attention of Lanny Cordola, a US rock musician from Los Angeles who read about it in the New York Times. The story stuck with him.

"I never ever thought of coming to Afghanistan, but two years ago I came here to meet the family of Parwana and Khorshid," Cordola told me.

He says he was travelling in Asia at the time. Four months later he was back with a radical idea: To open a guitar school for street children in the capital.

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Mursal gets ready for another lesson

'New World'

"The plan is to make this an entity where they can travel the world, play music, tell the story about their lives and the people of Afghanistan," Lanny says.

"And then to collaborate with other girls with similar backgrounds, with kids from different parts of the world and turn it into an international, global phenomenon."

It's a big ambition for the girls, many of whom have lived through personal tragedy.

One lost her entire family in a suicide attack in Kabul; another 13-year old was forced to work on the streets by her parents.

For Mursal, the "Miraculous Love Kids" project has already changed things for her.

"It was some years after the death of Parwana and Khorshid," she says, describing her first meeting with her tutor. "We went to a restaurant and they told me, 'this is Mr Lanny'. He gave me a guitar and now that I started learning to play and sing, it has changed my life and opened a new world."

A few months on and the guitar girls are preparing to take their music outside.

"We have been invited to play some concerts but they are not ready yet," Cordola says, adding that they have been out to play informally already.

"We went to Wazir Akbar Khan one day and Mursal and I played. There were about 30-40 [people], mostly males and they were marvelling at the fact that here is this American man and a little Afghan girl singing a song in Dari."

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Mursal at home. The project contributes to the family's housing costs and her schooling

'Three little birds'

When I visited Mursal's small family home, her mother, a policewoman told me she raised her children amidst the constant insecurity of conflict, working to feed them with one hand and bringing them up with the other.

She dreams of her daughter becoming a doctor or an engineer.

But Mursal says she now wants to become a teacher and "teach guitar to all the girls in the world". And she hopes for a peaceful future.

"I believe in my mother, she is a policewoman and lots of people like her are working hard to bring peace," she says.

I asked Mursal if she has a favourite singer or song. "Bob Marley", was her answer before giving a rendition of Three Little Birds:

"Singin' don't worry about a thing, oh no, 'Cause every little thing gonna be alright."