Thursday, February 23, 2006

Come Back to Afghanistan: A California Teenager's Story

Has anyone read this book? Let me know what you think of it.
Terry Dougherty

Young Afghan-American Visits His Damaged Roots
By Gary Thomas Washington 22 February 2006 VOA
Since the ouster of the Taleban from Afghanistan, Afghan expatriates in the United States and Europe have been returning to their homeland. Some of them stay, looking for business opportunities, while others decide to move on. VOA correspondent Gary Thomas talked to one young Afghan-American who went home, and found a reality far different than his dreams.

It is a long, strange trip from California to Kabul. But, even at the age of 17, it was one that one young Afghan-American named Said Hyder Akbar was compelled to make.

"I felt really guilty for having the kind of life that I had, for managing to escape and to get an education," Mr. Akbar says. "And that also kind of drove me to go back to the country because I had this deep passion for it, but had never been there. And I felt like to sort of validate or to sort of back up my interest in Afghanistan with action, I would have to visit there and spend time there."

Now 20 and a student at Yale University, Akbar has penned a memoir of his visits to Afghanistan after the 2001 fall of the Taleban. The book's title conveys his dual heritage. Called Come Back to Afghanistan: A California Teenager's Story, it spins out a tale of adventure and sorrow.

Akbar was not even born when the Soviet Union invaded Afghanistan in 1979. His parents fled to neighboring Pakistan, where he was born, and later made their way to the United States, ending up in California. There he grew up as a typical American teenager.

But, as in many expatriate families, Akbar grew up with an intense interest in a homeland he had never seen, but had heard of in stories of Afghanistan's former glory spun by relatives and other Afghan expatriates.

"Afghanistan was definitely painted in my mind, and it gave me images of this place of orchards and gardens and mountains and the beautiful, peaceful countryside," Mr. Akbar says. "I would have these kind of pristine images when I would think of Afghanistan."

His father, Fazel Akbar, was deeply involved in the anti-Soviet resistance from abroad, and was close to key figures in the resistance. So when Fazel Akbar was called to Kabul in 2002 to become President Hamid Karzai's spokesman, and then governor of Kunar province, Hyder Akbar felt he had to go along to offer Americans a different perspective of Afghanistan.

"There was interest in Afghanistan, but I felt like most journalists were reporting on Afghanistan, but not really looking at it in a nuanced way and not really looking at it from all sides," he says. "So I kind of wanted to offer a perspective that sort of looked deeper into Afghanistan and gave explanation to things people here that most people would not understand, and sort of looking at things through more that just the war on terror or post 9/11."

But the destruction, corruption, and political intrigue startled him, and it was a far cry from the idyllic images of his youth.

"It is incredible to go through it and look at it and breathe it. It looked like, for me, a giant wrecking ball had sort of come over the whole country from one end to the other and just broke everything," Mr. Akbar says.

Akbar went for summer of 2002 and two more, filing dispatches for National Public Radio that formed the basis of his book. He saw up close the political machinations. Another family friend, Haji Qadir, was assassinated while he was there.

If there is anything Akbar wants people to know about Afghanistan, he says it is that it is not yet quite the success story proclaimed in some quarters. He says it is still a fragile state that could collapse under the weight of narcotics production and insurgency.

"I see insurgency, I see opium, as being the two main problems facing Afghanistan right now," Mr. Akbar says. "And it is deeply worrisome for me because I do not know how much longer the situation can be in the balance like this."

Fazel Akbar had to leave Afghanistan to return to the United States for heart surgery. But his son plans to go back. For all of his California upbringing, Said Hyder Akbar remains the child of a homeland it took him 17 years to find.

Tuesday, February 21, 2006

Afghan Connections from Friends of Afghanistan

Date: Tue, 21 Feb 2006 11:26:38 -0500
Dear All Salaam,
I am pleased to invite you to look at the Afghan Connections newsletter through the link provid below. I have two ideas that I would like to discuss with members of the Clarence Sister City Committee. I hope that some of you will be able to continue addressing the worthy decision that you made following; the attacks of September 11, 2001 that has done so much for Afghan; children in your sister city. The decline of Afghanistan and its capture by the Taliban took a generation to occur. I sincerely believe that the solution will take just as long and require a; continuing effort on the part of the US and the West:

First, can one of your members write up an article to be published in Afghan Connections? (See web address below.) Your school construction project in Pul e Khumri is a special expression of American concern for reasonable dialogue with Islamic nations. Afghan Connections wants to feature community groups and individuals who have made a tangible difference in the lives of Afghan children and in so doing have made a significant contribution to the nation of Afghanistan as it struggles against powerful forces of international extremism, to build a civil society for its people.

Second, please consider using your talents, energies and community networks to find a family in Clarence willing to host an Afghan student next year, as a part of the US Department of State's pioneer exchange program with Afghanistan. My partner in Kabul, Ted Achilles
> is the Afghanistan Country Director for this program. I sincerely believe that if we get an early enough request from a Clarence family and confirmation from the schools, we could find a boy or girl from your Sister City to live with you in your community for a whole school year. You have been special in what you have done for Afghanistan so far.

If your community does nothing else for Afghanistan you would have left a legacy greater than 99% of America. I sincerely believe that hosting a student from your sister city would be news of national interest. Please rsvp with ideas or to contribute an article for publication. Thanks in advance for any attention to the above requests.

As a predeparture alert, I plan to return to Afghanistan this summer to support a project that will transform an elementary school into a middle school in Wardak province. Shirin Ebadi the 2003 Nobel Peace Laureate mad a large contribution to this project. I'll keep you updated.

Sincerely, Tony Agnello

-----Original Message-----
Sent: Mon, 20 Feb 2006 12:00:27 -0800
Afghan Connections from Friends of Afghanistan

Dear All,

Tony Agnello, President of Friends of Afghanistan, has asked me to forward copies of the latest Afghan Connections to each of you. Please let me know if it doesn't come through and I'll make sure you get a copy some other way.

Anyone who wants access to Afghan Connections online can get to it on our web page

The link to AC is at the top of the page. Enter the ID and Password when prompted.

If you are a member of Freinds of Afghanistan, contact us at: to obtain the password.

Jessie Schilling
Membership, FOA

Thursday, February 16, 2006

Fw: Clotilde Query and Recontact for Summer Project Info.

Hi Clotilde,

I'll be sending you a copy of a message that I am finishing up to send to the Coalition encouraging them to stay the course and giving them huge props for work already accomplished.

As the US ponders its role in Afghanistan and considers a force reduction for very pragmatic reasons, we (folks like you, Khris and I) have to redouble our work to keep the issue fresh in the minds of the American people. It would be foolish to think that if we abandoned Afghanistan again, like we did after the defeat of the Russians, that the outcome today would be different than the downward spiral that led to the Taliban and the extreme repression suffered by Afghan women and minorities.

Keep me in your quality circle. I'm working on a list of Afghanophiles that I will share with you. Also, FYI
OP Outreach just won a $1,000.00 communication grant. We plan to contact politicians, celebrities and all of the schools in NY State plus selected schools in North America and Europe. Any other suggestions?

Keep up the good work,


Khris Jaan Salaam,

We have to reconnect regarding the needs of the Wonkhai Valley project. Exactly what has to be done to transform the elementary school into a middle school. And I shudder to ask; what do you project the cost per room to be? I plan to visit Afghanistan this summer and your Wardak program will be one of my top priorities. I hope to work through the University of Nebraska @ Omaha to oversee implementation of my students projects.

After the elem/MS project we intend to refocus on your Wardak girls' school and rejoin the effort of Clotilde's Coalition in Buffalo. Speaking of which, I just got an email from Clotilde regarding establishing an organization at Harvard to address women's issues. She ask me what organization awarded your project the "Most Proficient NGO in Afghanistan" title a few years ago. Drop her a line at her new school address,

(Let's chat soon. Did you get a copy of the Afghan Connections newsletter? Let me know and I'll make sure that you're on the list.
Peace, Tony

WNY Girls' School Coalition Meeting Update

I want to commend you and your member schools in the WNY Girls' School Coalition for your continued support of educational equity projects in Afghanistan. Character can be defined as persevering in a worthy cause after the emotion that caused you to act has faded. The events of September 11, 2001 seem like a long time ago. In the aftermath of the attacks, thousands of American students and schools offered a sincere effort to help provide opportunity for the millions of disenfranchised Afghan children. When in the course of time, new needs arose; they abandoned their once strongly held dedication to Afghan students and moved on to other worthwhile efforts.
You have been different. You have stayed the course. You have persevered in your especially worthy decision long after other organizations have moved on. You have maintained a single-minded focus and have kept you eyes on a special prize. And you have made a difference in the lives of thousands of Afghan girls who otherwise would have been deprived of educational opportunity.
OP Educational Outreach wants to share our good foutrue with you, our closest allies in the continuing struggle to provide educational and civil equity for Afghan women and children. To this end we have the following opportunities to share:
  • We won a $1,000.00 communication grant, and we would like your suggestions regarding individuals and organizations to contact which may be interested in copying the WNY action model.
  • There are five Afghan exchange students including two girls who are willing to speak at your schools or at an organizational meeting.
  • You are eligible to host an Afghan girl next year if you and your school meet some simple criteria. Please spread the word.
  • We plan to fund a transformation project building a middle school from an elementary school this summer in Wardak Province on the same educational campus where you will build your next school.
  • Following this project we plan to join your effort through "Kids 4 Afghan Kids" and help you build a girls' high school on the Wardak campus. This will be easier to coordinate and fund as we recruit more allies into the "Kids 4 Afghan Kids" program.
Together we have done some very special thing in our regional coalition to provide opportunity for Afghan girls. Please review the above possibilities and see if your school or the Coalition is interested in more information.
For all that you have done, I am most sincerely yours,
Tony Agnello
President, Friends of Afghanistan
Director, Schools and Futures, Inc.
Advisor, Western New York
Sister School Coalition
Peace Corps, Afghanistan 1972-75

-----Original Message-----
From: Veronica Couzo

Mon, 13 Feb 2006 14:31:20 -0800 (PST)
Subject: Meeting Update

Hey ladies, Happy Valentine's Day! I am sorry I havent replied to any of your emails.. my computer has been down for a little bit. I just wanted to let you know that our next meeting is the 21st of february at Sem... unless someone would like it at their school. I also wanted to give you a heads up that I think we are going to limit our fundraising to some more jeans days if possible and to chocolate selling for Easter. I will let explain my reasons for this at the meeting but if you have any problems with this or any suggestions/ ideas please feel free to let me know.

Fwd: kabul travel UNO assistance

Yaseer Jaan Salaam,
I need your advice on a few issues related to Afghanistan and our continuing program to offer educational opportunity for Afghan kids.
It's probably not too early to begin talking about my upcoming return to Kabul and summer program for late July or early August 2006. It usually takes about two years to generate enough funding to carry out a construction project. We are ready to fund the transformation of an elementary school in Wardak, Province into a middle school this summer. This will be the fourth construction project (as well as other support programs like Ted's well at Tajwar Kakar's school and support for PARSA and AID Afghanistan when we were there in 2003) with the support of the Western NY community. As you know, the University of Nebraska at Omaha has player a crucially supportive role in each of them. This summer's construction project will be completed in part, through a contribution from Shirin Ebadi, 2003 Nobel Peace Prize Laureate, from a presentation she made last year in Vienna, Austria.
Additionally, a small team (three people, a host mother, son and physician from the Noor Eye Clinic) from WNY will visit Kabul this spring to research the possible support of an orphanage and to offer a scholarship to Zubair Trapzada, one of our exchange students from Kabul, whose mother died while he was an exchange student in the US. Does UNO have a relationship with AISK or another school serving the international community in Kabul? Does UNO have any insight into supporting an orphanage?
Would it be possible to have this small group stay at the UNO Team House, two rooms? Also, how do I begin to make arrangements to stay at the UNO facility this summer? If our visits don't time up with the availability of the UNO facility, can you suggest a safe, reasonably priced quest house?
Wow, I sure just asked a lot of questions. I hope that you can address them soon because our spring team is trying to set up their own procedures and I can't think of a better safer more central location than the UNO facility. Ensh'Allah, we will talk soon.
Peace, Tony
PS Orchard Park students just won a $1000.00 communication grant to help us spread the word about US students supporting Afghan educational projects. Any suggestions from the UNO staff about whom we might contact regarding expanding our program to support Afghan education?
President, Friends of Afghanistan
Director, Schools and Futures, Inc.
Advisor, Western New York
Sister School Coalition
Peace Corps, Afghanistan 1972-75

Fwd: Amin Jaan Afghan project , Buffalo NY

-----Original Message-----
From: Samangan72

Sent: Sun, 12 Feb 2006 08:34:18 -0500
Subject: Amin Jaan Afghan project , Buffalo NY

Amin Jaan Salaam u Aliekum,
If your ideas are impressed by the Tablighi then you are sustained by the purest living waters, the source of your nourishment is the fountainhead of God's river of life. What Mustan probably can't appreciate is how deeply his conclusions are influenced by the rigidity of interpretation imposed on helpless refugee children (he may have been one himself) by the Saudi mentors of the Taliban in thousands of Madrasas in Pakistan during the Soviet invasion and the Civil War years.
He would also be baffled that the Compassionate and Merciful allows Hindus and Buddhists as well as Christians, Jews, Muslims and others, to drink from this river that is known as Sufism in Islam and by other names in other traditions. Your critic seems to have been ripped away from the tolerant Afghan Hanifi traditions that I experienced more than a generation ago, when I lived in a peaceful pre-war Afghanistan and was a respected guest and teacher in Samangan Province. I may be waxing somewhat nostalgic, but rather than Afghans being taught Islamic principals by Imams from other Islamic nations, the beautifully accommodating principles of the Islam practiced for centuries in Afghanistan that united a nation of diverse cultural, linguistic and ethnic origins should the measure for rebuilding a tolerant, civil Afghan society once again.
"More Deeds than Words" reading the various servers and sites leads me to the conclusion that everyone has an opinion about the best course of action for our beloved Afghanistan. Let's try to agree that action has power that can help transform the world. Malcom X sited education as the passport to the future. Lets offer Afghan children the opportunity to get the best education possible. Let's try to build a broad consensus and build an action initiative that unites concerned individuals in North America, Europe and beyond to actively provide the means for Afghan children to take charge oft heir own destinies.
My students in the Buffalo, NY area have raised sufficient funds (with a large contribution from Shirin Ebadi, the 2003 Nobel Laureate) to transform an elementary school into a middle school in Wardak Province this summer. They have also received a communication grant of $1,000.00 to instruct other schools in NY State and North America about the steps that we have taken to provide educational equity projects for Afghan children in four provinces Kabul, Kandahar, Ghazni and Baghlan.
Are there schools in the Toronto area that would be interested in contributing to an international effort to build schools for Afghan children? How can my students contact them? Are there other Canadian groups interested in this type of initiative? If not how can we make them interested? Would any schools be interested sending students to the Buffalo area to hear a presentation from an Afghan exchange student from Mazari e Sharif?
Encourage articulate young Afghan-Canadians to spread the word about educational needs in Afghanistan, and please have them contact me and join with American and European students as we continue to expand our international effort to provide educational opportunity for Afghan kids.
Faith is better measured in kind deeds than in the most brilliant rhetoric, Shakespeare said, "Action is eloquence." Let me know if there are contacts in Toronto or Southern Ontario interested in supporting the new Canadian initiatives in Afghanistan by, "building schools for Afghan children so they can build futures for themselves."
Peace, Tony Agnello
President, Friends of Afghanistan
Director, Schools and Futures, Inc.
Advisor, Western New York
Sister School Coalition
Peace Corps, Afghanistan 1972-75

Fwd: afghan project

Jill Jaan Salaam,

Let your students know that we are on track to build this summer in Wardak province. Our anticipated project is especially relevant to your sixth graders; we plan to fund the conversion of an elementary school into a middle school at the Wonkhai Valley campus in Wardak. (See Also, tell them that last years' contribution from Ticonderoga is being joined with funds from a rummage sale organized by a second grader, a large contribution from a dance held by a coalition of seven high schools in the Buffalo, NY suburbs, proceeds from faculty basketball games at two different area high schools, direct contributions from students, funds from car washes and a significant contribution from Shirin Ebadi the 2003 Nobel Laureate, who offered the proceeds from an international conference on Islam and the West held in Vienna, Austria. The Ebadi contribution was made through the efforts of a former student who is now working in Europe following a year as a Fulbright Scholar.

You may also be interested in seeing if there is an interest among your students, in hosting an Afghan exchange student for next school year. It would require finding a local coordinator (you?) and then recruiting a host family and a host school district, plus a few support families and organizations to act as Aunts/Uncles etc. Ask around and see what shakes out of the bushes in there in the Northland, hey, you never know!

Also please give your students, peers and administrators my personal thanks for their interest and effort on behalf of the children of Afghanistan. We know all too well that schools can be a forum for rhetoric and ideas that go nowhere. You are providing your students with an active learning opportunity that will have powerful real world results and offer the gift of education to students who would otherwise be denied. Shakespeare said, "Action is eloquence." You, your students and your school district deserve kudos for your care, concern and action on behalf of Afghan children.

Peace, Tony

President, Friends of Afghanistan
Director, Schools and Futures, Inc.
Advisor, Western New York
Sister School Coalition
Peace Corps, Afghanistan 1972-75

> -----Original Message-----
From: Jill Vickers

Sent: Fri, 10 Feb 2006 06:06:56 -0500
Subject: afghan project

Any news from the sister school project? I am meeting with sixth graders at Ticonderoga Middle School later in Feb and would like to give them some update. The pen pals deal didn't work out for last year's class as they never heard back. So, the teacher won't be keen on that aspect, but feels the her students should make a contribution to a project in Afghanistan.

Thanks for your help.

Jill Vickers PC
Afghanistan 68-70

Friday, February 10, 2006

RPCV (Afghanistan) Unjustly imprisoned in Ecuador

I'm receiving emails from RPCV Ron Dizon (Afghanistan in the 70s) in Ecuador. His wife is in prison in the Galapagos on trumped up drug charges. She has been there for 11 weeks. According to Ron, she has been declared innocent by the District Attorney, but they won't release her.

Ecuador wants tourist dollars. According to Ron, Diane Dizon (RPCV Afghanistan) is the 6th tourist to have this happen. He doesn't say over what period of time. One of them was 16 and she was held for 50 days. The US consul is involved, but there is no action. Ecuador, after all, is a sovereign country. But - if this is what we can expect as tourists, maybe we should write them off as a destination.

Ron thinks the only way Diane will be released is if this gets into the news. Maybe a little blogging will help.

Thursday, February 02, 2006

Afghanistan RPCV's with the PC Director

Afghanistan returned Peace Corps Volunteers with Gaddi Vasquez at the 2002 NPCA reunion in Washington DC. September, 2002. Were you there? We would like to hear from you. What are you doing now? Posted by Picasa

Help us indentify these people

Attendees at the 2002 Reunion in Washington DC.
from the left Second row: Tony Agnello, our fearless leader, next to him is Dennis, Bones, Hamilton our Treasurer. I am in the back row just right of center wearing flowered shirt.

Do you know any of the others? Please enter a comment below the picture. Posted by Picasa

Afghanistan during peaceful times

A letter home from a PCV in Taloqan, 1973

The days are hot and dusty. The green of the earth wilts under the glaring rays of the noonday sun, but the morning and evening bring refreshing breezes. The cool waters of irrigation bring new life to the withered plants. Rugged mountains stand out, defiant of man, against the cloudless sky or shrouded in the dark clouds of a coming storm. They dare men to discover their hidden riches. Below the mountains are lazy valleys, friendly to man. Here man and beast, land and water, work in unison to create fields of wheat and rice, fruit trees, cotton, cows and sheep.

From the dusty land and wandering streams, man has organized fields where water flows from one to the next with seemingly little effort. Out of plentiful mud and scarce trees, he has fashioned houses that are dry when it rains; warm when the weather is cold and cool during the hottest days of summer. Men have lived under these mountains for a thousand years. Their cities stand above the surrounding fields on top of an ever-rising mound of clay. As an old house is finally washed to the ground, a new house is erected on top of the old and so it has been since people arrived in this valley. The present city lies atop the burial mound of the preceding generations.

Hidden in the surrounding hills are the remains of other people, no longer tending these fields. For some reason, they moved on or died and their hill is no longer growing. Under some of these hills are marble columns, the remains of Mogul kingdoms. Under others lie the victims of conquerors and marauding nomads. Alexander the Great passed through with his army. Genghis Khan murdered the inhabitants of entire villages for their Buddha worship. Archeologists have discovered Buddhist monasteries in every area and the two Buddha’s of Bamiyan were too great ever to be destroyed or hidden. Today, nowhere can a native Buddhist be found and the people care not at all for the history of the hills. Their religion is different now and besides, those other people lived under the same mountains, tended the same fields and built houses out of the same mud. Too little has changed for the past to seem interesting or important.

The pleasures of the people are simple and the pursuit of happiness is unhurried. Students, enraptured by the smell of a rose, dream on oblivious to the attempts of their teachers to enlighten them. Teachers spend their days playing football with the students. Administrators while away the hours watching their cows and sheep graze on the public lands surrounding the school. There is no need to hurry. Both problems and pleasures will wait. There will always be another chance. Life is not exciting but it has its' pleasures, pleasures that would be lost in excitement. What excitement there is comes unexpectedly and is quickly over, such as a chance encounter with two dogs fighting in the street or the killing of a chicken for the evening meal. The pleasure of the moment is important. The past is forgotten. Life will go on unchanged in the future.

The mountains remain unconquered, but man and animal, land and water, live on in pleasant harmony.

New editor's first Editorial

Qatra, Qatra Dariab Mishawad

“Drop by drop, a river is formed.” That’s my favorite Afghan saying. It is interesting to me how many times over the last forty years that saying has been exquisitely appropriate. Nothing just happens. Every thing we experience in life is the result of specific, individual occurrences that ultimately combine as cause to have an effect. Sometimes the effect is hardly felt; sometimes it’s joyous, sometimes tragic. It’s what we do with that effect that counts.

Take, for example, an effect that is HUGE, something neither our minds nor our emotions are immediately able to come to grips with. Sometimes they are wonderful things like the birth of a child or living in another culture. Sometimes they are terrible things like the Pakistan earthquake, or Hurricane Katrina.

Have you wondered, as I have, how to deal with effects such as these? I have come to believe it is consistent action that makes the difference. It is the little drops that we do in our everyday lives that add up to the big river. It is so with us, our families and the world. As Peace Corps Volunteers, we couldn’t all build bridges, houses, or schools. Nor can we all, today, do things that make a big splash on the planet. But we can act.

If you foster a student, family or even a pet, send blankets or clothing, pray, or even give so much as a dollar, then you contribute to the billions of drops, without which there is no river of help. There are many ways we can all still help Afghanistan and its people. Some are discussed in this newsletter. There will be others in future editions. Please share your way with us. . . . The Editor (Dianne Holley)

Wednesday, February 01, 2006

Green Village Schools

I am the volunteer development director and a board member of Green Village Schools. We have built and are operating a K-7 school in Shin Kalay in Helmand Province. We started three years ago with 15 boys and girls and now have an enrollment of over 800.

Check us out at

Bob McSweeny