Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Do you know about this project? Let us know if you do...

Opinion by Bonnie Henry : Putting others first

Tucsonan is committed to getting center for Afghan widows and orphans built

Opinion by Bonnie Henry

Tucson, Arizona | Published: 09.11.2008

Buy Daily Star photo reprints

AAnna Hacker has been working to raise funds for a new Afghan Women's Education Center facility in Kabul. The pictures are of children whom the center might benefit.

"I'll live here till I die," says Anna Hacker as she shows a visitor around her Tucson home filled with rugs, paintings and memorabilia from Afghanistan.

Yeah, maybe — if she isn't by chance in Afghanistan or Cairo or Qatar at the time.

"I'm an international expatriate," says Hacker, who has taught school everywhere from Laos to Brazil to Algeria.

These days, Hacker, 64, is focused on one cause, one group: the widows and orphans of Afghanistan.

In the early '70s, Hacker taught school in Kabul — before the Russians, before the Taliban, before the Americans post-9/11.

"The people were wonderful. We would go to the used-clothes bazaar. Carpet dealers would come to your house. I had a manservant and a bodyguard, since I was a single woman. He couldn't have guarded anyone."

Three decades later, in 2004, she returned to Kabul. "There were pockets of destruction, no electricity, the air was polluted."

There she met the widows and orphans made by war and terrorism. Unschooled, many of the children were working as peddlers, or cleaning houses or making carpets.

She also toured three centers in Kabul run by the Afghan Women's Education Center, a non-governmental organization that in 1991 began helping Afghan refugees in Pakistan.

Now in Afghanistan, it helps widows and orphans with vocational education and literacy training and serves as a springboard into government schools.

But the centers, says Hacker, were in terrible condition. "I said, 'We've got to fix this.' They said it would be better to build another center."

And that's exactly what she's doing. With donated funds from schoolchildren in the Middle East, as well as those in America, with money from Afghans, and even sales of her own jewelry, Hacker is realizing her dream of a new center in Kabul.

After presenting donated architectural plans, she signed a 10-year lease last October for an acre of ground in Kabul, donated by the government. The foundation has been poured and a well dug.

"We plan to open next May," says Hacker, who has raised about half of the center's $200,000 estimated building cost. Another $70,000 is needed to furnish and equip the center.

Born in New York City to German immigrants, Hacker worked for two years as a middle school teacher in New York state. In 1968, she got a job teaching in Laos with International School Services, which teaches an American curriculum overseas.

Hired through a shortwave radio interview, Hacker then transferred to Afghanistan in 1971, and in 1972 started working at the American International School in Kabul.

"I taught Palestinians, Saudis, Turkish, a few Afghans," she says. Most of the parents of her students worked for the United Nations or other humanitarian causes.

She stayed three years. "Afghanistan is not a beautiful country, but it is a strong country. It takes courage and strength to live there."

Kabul, she says, was bustling with everyone from "druggies" passing through to "narcs" trying to cut out the poppy fields. Russians, Chinese, even anthropologists were also there.

In 1974 she left for a two-year-stint teaching children in Brazil whose parents worked for a company that was developing a portion of the Amazon.

Tired of the "hot, humid" jungle, she then was hired by Bechtel Corp. to set up a school at a construction site in Algeria. "There were 50 women working there. We lived in big box trailers," says Hacker, who along with others taught 150 students, grades 1-8.

Next came teaching jobs with Bechtel in Venezuela and in Brunei, on the island of Borneo.

In 1984 she switched gears, moving to Germany and taking a job for 14 years as a representative for a school textbook publisher, traveling through Europe as well as the Middle East.

It was during a reading conference held in Bahrain in 2003 that Hacker heard a speech delivered by Shinkai Karokhail, then director of the Afghan Women's Education Center.

"She said, 'Don't forget about us. Don't forget about my country. Don't forget about the kids and orphans,'" says Hacker.

Touched, Hacker asked Karokhail — who's now a member of the Afghan parliament — to locate an Afghan girl she could support. She wound up supporting two sisters, ages 11 and 14. "Their mom was a widow and they were working."

She met the girls when she revisited Afghanistan in 2004. Since then, she's returned three or four times every year, paying from her own funds, not from donations.

"People ask me if I'm afraid of the terrorists," she says. "I see more violence in Tucson in the news."

In between trips to Afghanistan, she fundraises, giving programs to schools and also selling Afghan handicrafts.

Afghans in Dubai have donated $17,000 and Afghans in Long Island have pledged $27,000 to the center, while students at Qatar Academy have raised $14,000.

In April, Hacker visited three schools in Wisconsin, which raised another $4,000.

When she went to Wisconsin, she took wishes and drawings from the children of Afghanistan.

"They all wish for a house and a garden," says Hacker. "And they wish for peace."

Buy Daily Star photo reprints

Hacker sits with an Afghan worker's child during a 2007 trip. She returns to Afghanistan three or four times a year, unafraid of terrorists.with an Afghan worker's child during a 2007 trip. She returns to Afghanistan three or four times a year,

Courtesy of Anna Hacker


Since 1987, 223 Afghan refugees have resettled in Pima County.

Source: Arizona Refugee Resettlement Program.

To learn more

To see Kabul and its people through Anna Hacker's eyes, go to

For questions, concerns or donations, contact Hacker at

Bonnie Henry's column also appears Mondays in Accent and Sundays in ¡Vamos! Reach her at 434-4074 or at, or write to 3295 W. Ina Road, Suite 125, Tucson, AZ 85741. Bonnie's latest book ● To order Bonnie Henry's collection of writings about Tucson's rich history, call 573-4417. "Tucson Memories" is $39.95 plus tax, shipping and handling.

No comments: