Monday, April 27, 2009

A brave young Afghan woman's observations and dreams

I recieved this from Ted Achilles. I have obscured the women's names for this post since it will eventually get picked up by Google and could fall into the wrong hands. The young woman who describes her trip to Kandahar convinced the family of two girls to send their daughters to the USA for medical treatment after they were sprayed with acid for attending school. SOLACE for the Children is an organization bringing Afghan children to the USA for medical treatments.

Terry Dougherty

The following is from Ted Achilles:

17 April, 2009

Excerpted from a cover letter of mine back this last January.

Xxxxxxx is a YES alumna, who graduated from the 12th grade from a high school in North Bennington, VT last June. To ready her math and English comprehension for a liberal arts degree and then an MBA, she wished to have another year in a private school. This is the relevant part of my letter of introduction to the Director of Admissions of one of New England's top private boarding schools. Economic realities thwarted this effort. She continues as SOLA'S Executive Assistant and strives hard, ever so hard to keep me organized and focused. Ted Achilles

_________________________________

"… Xxxxx stayed in a low profile hostel for mid-wives in training next to the Kandahar hospital. She and Zzzzzzz (now at Lower Columbia Community College in Longview, WA) met with eleven of the thirteen girls and their families there. She got the story straight (quite different from some of the press accounts), photographed the burns and selected two to be sent to our extraordinary Charlotte, NC partners, SOLACE for the Children, next summer. Shxxxxxx with the most severe burns on her face was an obvious choice. That Xxxxxxx also chose her traumatized little sister who had managed to run away with "only" the back of her burka getting burned speaks volumes about how Xxxxxx sees things and who she is.

That Xxxxxx has a depth of resolve and courage is unquestioned. Few Afghans, male or female, would have done what she did last week. She is no ordinary seventeen year old. For that matter she is no ordinary woman. Quiet and confident, thoughtful and pragmatic, Xxxxxx carries herself with a certain presence. That presence conveys not just her strength of character but, even more so, the reserves of kindness and concern for others that define just who she really is. Who brought comfort to the weeping 40 year old mother of a boy diagnosed with leprosy?. Who brought the first playful giggle out of our 12 year old deaf-mute whose eyes used to dart about with worry? Who is big sis to Sana, age 14, crippled with polio, brimming with inner strength? This is our Xxxxxxx who lends of her strength to others and gains more, much more, by doing so.

American youth take much for granted. Not so Xxxxxxx She will teach and "they" will listen and learn. They will do so because they will want to come to understand what makes their Muslim sister the special, very special woman she is." Ted Achilles

_________________________________

Masha Hamilton is a writer co-authoring a book about Sally and Don Goodrich, a 9/11 family who have since dedicated their lives to helping the children of Afghanistan. Xxxxxxx was her translator and interpreter during her 10 day stay in Kabul in October, 2008. Here she responds to Masha's request to describe the "mood" in Kandahar.


Dear Ms. Masha:

I found Kandahar to be very quiet and isolated. According to people many middle class families have left the province to live in Kabul or emigrate back to Pakistan and Iran. A lot of the people I met were mainly complaining about unemployment and poverty. There were only a few restaurants and hotels in the whole city. According to the natives the only well paid jobs are with the foreign NGOs and many think it is a big risk to take.


I was staying in a dormitory along with eight other absolutely adorable girls from Uruzgan and Helmand who were studying to be midwives. Surprisingly all of these girls were Persian speaking Shia citizens of their provinces where they make a very tiny minority. While asking them about the conditions in their home provinces they told me that in Uruzgan Persian speaking people have their won communities, where government has more power and Taliban are not very powerful. The also told me that Pashtuns do not let their daughters to go to school or work that is the reason why majority of the doctors, nurses and teaches are Persian speaking Shias although, in these provinces Pashtuns make the majority. According to the girls they do not even wear a burqa in Helmand and Uruzgan while they are inside their own communities. Yyyyyyy from Helmand told me that her mother runs a special class in her house for the girls who have dropped out of school. The home school is supported by the government so her mother is paid about three and a half thousand Afghani (almost 60 USD) a month. This is a very good income in Helmand. She told me that because the government sometime helps the course students with some wheat and cooking oil, even some very conservative families let their daughters and wives to attend the class. (From this you can see how severe the poverty really is).


I was shocked when Yyyyyyy and I were stopped to enter a restaurant because we did not have a male relative with us (absolutely like Taliban rules).on the streets you can only see a few women after 12:00 at noon. Almost every woman wears a burqa and sacks to cover their feet. People over all but women especially looked so much scared of the Taliban. They were almost paranoid about it. They thought that Taliban follow each and every of them and can hurt them and their families anytime.


Unlike Kabul I did not see many signs of the central government (like our national flag, Posters of the President and etc..). The only photos even in the government owned vehicles I noticed were of the late King, Zahir Shah, and Kandahar's former governor Gul Agha Sherzoi, who seemed to be very popular. Surprisingly, a majority of the police in Kandahar were Persian speaking (looked to me more from Parwan and Panjshair) with little familiarity to Pashto language and Pashtun culture. While asking why that would be from a Taxi driver and a friend their reply was that the government does not trust Kandaharis because they can be sympathetic to Taliban.


I met eleven out of the thirteen girls (the media was wrong about fifteen or sixteen) from the acid attack and their families. All of them had great hatred for Taliban but meanwhile had no faith in their own central government. Asking some Shias about their religious freedom in Kandahar, they were very happy that they were being somewhat treated equally by the central government.


Just a very interesting story, one of the men named Naim who had sprayed acid on the girls was not caught by the police but his own mother called the police after watching the news and told them about her suspicions about her son's involvement in the attack. Naim was tortured and killed in Police custody.


Wearing a burqa was a very interesting experience. It was the first time I ever wore a burqa for that long. Just after getting out of the airport , my friend Zzzzzzz, who was already wearing a burqa, asked me to wear mine. I did wear mine but I pulled up the front part meaning my face was not covered. The plan was for Mr. Ted to go with a car that our contact from Human Rights commission sent. And for us was to go in a taxi, whose driver was a family friend to Zzzzzzz. We said good bye but suddenly my instincts told me not to trust the driver of the car. Wearing my burqa but not covering my face I ran to stop the car and go in the same car with Mr. Ted. Behind me Zzzzzzz was getting mad and shouting "You are not supposed to be running with a burqa on and without covering your face". But I did.


Of course wearing a burqa was uncomfortable but it was easy to deal with. The hardest part for me was that I had to wear a burqa because of fear of the Taliban and men's injustice in our societies. I was wearing a burqa not because I wanted to but because I had to. Finally I decided that I would not cover my face. And I would deal with whatever might happen. It was not really like Taliban will beat you or something they do not have that much power. But people would stare at you and gave you bad looks. Of course my friend Zzzzzzz did not let me do it all the time but whenever she was not there I did it. Once after dropping Zzzzzzz home. I got myself a Pepsi and asked the driver to go through Bazar. I uncovered my burqa, relaxed and drunk my Pepsi. Nothing really happened but made me feel much better. During the nights I slept in a room with four other girls. Till late we all would be chatting. These girls were of ages 16 to 18 and some married and two already mothers. In the first night they were shy and quite but the other nights we made really good friends. I asked them about different things in their provinces especially women rights. I was so mad when almost all of them thought it is fine for men to beat their wives and sisters. And the best thing for a Muslims woman is to keep quiet and have patience. I talked a lot to them about women in Islam. They looked so thirsty for information. I told them that if it is fine for Prophet (PBUH) to divorce his wife why not for us, who are nothing but ordinary followers of him. If in the Quran it says that Nekah is Sunnah (Actions Prophet (PBUH) has done and Divorce is Farz (Muslim's duty if husband and wife are not happy). Then who are we to do the opposite. While talking to them I felt that I would for sure work for women rights all through Afghanistan but especially in Pashtun areas. These girls told me that they are still very lucky to be born as Persian speaking. What would they do if they were Pashtun women? They girls absolutely loved the freedom we have in Kabul. It was just great for them. They had a feeling that they can not do anything, others need to change things for them. For example Yyyyyyy from Helmad told me that "I can not wait for Americans to take out every woman's burqa in Helmand and Kandahar". I told her it is only us, Afghan women, who can and who will do this. It taught me something. I wear my Islamic hejab and if Allah willing I will always but I hope every Afghan women would be able to follow their religion based on their own version and personal believes, They will do it because they want to not because they have to.


Over all I found Kandaharis to be one of the biggest victims of Taliban. They are very much in need of help. They are poor, illiterate and very easy targets for Taliban to use.


Xxxxxx

January 4, 2009


Friday, April 24, 2009

A reasonable and insightful proposal from Dr. Ehsan Entezar

The Afghanistan War: Huge Challenges for President Barack Obama

Dr. Ehsan Entezar

The new administration in Washington, led by a man who has focused on improving the security situation in Afghanistan, is facing a grave problem: The Afghan people are increasingly angry with their government and with the American presence, which they now see as an occupation.

The living conditions-lack of security and basic services including high prices of housing and food and other necessities- are so bad that some Afghans are nostalgic about the days of Communism and the Taliban. During the Taliban, roads were safe and citizens did not live in fear because there was law and order and very little corruption. Unemployment and the education of children, especially girls , were of course a problem but the people were safe. I was told in Kabul a couple of years ago that if I left my suitcase on the sidewalk during the Taliban, it would be still there the next day. Similarly, when the communists were in power, people had enough to eat and had a roof over their head; the government provided its employees with subsidized housing, food, clothing and other basic necessities. Like the Taliban, government officials were not as corrupt as they are now.

The current situation and continuous disappointment with the Karzai government, may soon reach a critical point in Afghanistan: The public may rise and resist what they see as an occupation to foreign troops. Portents abound: The migration of internal or local refugees to Kabul and to other major cities; control of more districts by the insurgency; the emergence of resistance groups in parts of the country; cooperation of some government officials with the insurgency; the dangerous rift between the U.S. forces and the Afghan populace in the countryside; the recent anti-American demonstrations; and desertion of some police to the Taliban.

These problems are the result of the mistakes made by the Bush administration, such as collusion with Afghan warlords after 9/11. The corrupt and dysfunctional Afghan government is the outcome of this policy. Picking Hamid Karzai to lead the country was another mistake. He was inexperienced, indecisive, opportunist and corrupt and had no political base; now he's referred as the "mayor of Kabul". Still another U.S. blunder was paying Pakistan's Parvez Musharaf billions of dollars to crack down on al-Qaeda with very little effect..Not only didn't he do much about al-Qaeda, he allowed the Taliban to cross the border and kill Afghans, Americans and other foreigners. Finally, the most serious mistake the US made was the invasion of Iraq, diverting resources from Afghanistan in the process; the money spent in Iraq was the money not spent in Afghanistan. Thus, it was because of these and other mistakes that the Afghan war may turn into a quagmire, making it very hard and costly to correct the situation and come up with an effective strategy for the war in Afghanistan. What are the US options?

The United States has three options to prevent an uprising : 1) a declaration of regime change as sufficient to victory followed by a departure of the Western presence; 2) to continue the current strategy with more emphasis on a troop surge; and 3) a drastic change of the current strategy focused not only on the suppression of al-Qaeda and the Taliban but equally on nation and state building together with poppy eradication and, more importantly, confronting Pakistan and the Afghan warlords.

Option #1 is to draw down troops and depart the field. However, this option is unlikely because President Obama has promised to shift the focus from Iraq to Afghanistan and Robert Gates' stated goal "to prevent Afghanistan from being used [as a base] for terrorists to attack the United States or our allies." With U.S. departure from the country now, NATO and other international players would likely to follow suit. The long-term consequences of calling regime change in Afghanistan a "success" and departing is clear: Al-Qaeda and the Taliban would return in force to take power and might well attack the U.S again.

Option #2, to continue the current strategy with some cosmetic changes, is the conventional wisdom but very dangerous that could turn Afghanistan into another U.S. Vietnam. Based on what has been made public on the new strategy in Afghanistan, there are similarities between these two options: vagueness of the mission, outsourcing tasks to others, paying insufficient attention to the root cause of insurgency, and doing it on the cheap.

The second option appears to be the new Administration's strategy and it has serious flaws. First, there is no guarantee that NATO will take on the task of state and nation building in addition to its security and other obligations. Second, there is the problem of coordination between Coalition forces led by US and those led by NATO. Third, in focusing efforts on "certain areas," within Afghanistan, deterioration may accelerate in regions where there has been relative security, areas such as the non-Pashtun regions in the central, northern and western parts of the country. Fourth, the presence of more troops in a particular area simply increases the number of U.S. casualties as it did in Iraq—the Taliban response will be to send more combatants across the border and simultaneously intensify road bombs and suicide attacks.

Fifth, there are serious doubts about the success of arbaki or "tribal militias," and what the Afghan ministry of interior now calls the Public Protection Force (PPF). The invasion of the Soviet Union in 1979 and the subsequent civil war replaced the traditional elite system throughout Afghanistan; prior to that, only the Pushtuns were tribal. That is why the new elite are no longer the Khans, maliks (village elders) and others but warlords, commanders, council members, government officials and so on. Thus, unlike Pakistani Pashtuns, the Pashtuns in Afghanistan no longer have tribal leaders as it is the warlords who dominate the scene. Besides, what has worked in Iraq may not also work in Afghanistan. In Iraq, the Sunni Arab tribal leaders had no choice but to form tribal militias to seek help from the U.S. since Baghdad was dominated by Shi'is and the Sunnis did not want to be left out of power. Unlike Afghanistan, the Iraqi Sunni tribal militias were fighting al-Qaeda and other foreigners, not their fellow tribe men. And, of course, the borders are very different: There is no Pakistan there to send the Sunni Arabs thousands of trained and armed militias to fight the US troops in Iraq. Of course Iran had some role in the insurgency, but it was mostly to help the Shi'is.

Additionally, in the Afghan culture, members of the same ethnic groups rarely take up arms against each other. The Taliban are Pashtun and so are most of the residents of the south and east. Fomenting Pashtuns to attack other Pashtuns is an unlikely road to success. The U.S. must deal with the warlords in forming such militias or PPFs, and outsource the task of fighting the Taliban; outsourcing of this type has been a conspicuous failure in the past. For example, when bin Laden and some other top al-Qaeda operatives were surrounded in the Tora Bora mountains, the United States paid three local warlord groups to capture or kill them. These warlords took money from both sides but let the al-Qaeda terrorists escape to Pakistan. Here it was a question of money and religion. Perhaps the Taliban paid them more or the warlords did not want to hand Muslims over to the infidel Americans.

Further, if the US troops join such militias on missions, there is no guarantee that American troops would not be killed by "friendly fire" in exchange for a ticket to Paradise or for money from the enemy. One solution to this problem would be for the U.S. and/or NATO troops to be stationed on the Pakistani borders or to assign non-Pashtuns as border guards or PPF; the Uzbeks, for example would likely fight a Pashtun Talib. Finally, non-Pashtuns (60%) are against arming Pashtun militias, fearing that they (Pashtuns, 40%) would use the weapons against other ethnic groups as soon as the United States leaves Afghanistan. Also, in case of any uprising against Kabul or the U.S. and other foreign forces in Afghanistan, these armed militias would be very dangerous. In short, arming militias is very dangerous now that the warlords are in power. Finally, this misguided approach may also serve a political purpose—aid to the PPF in Pashtun areas will also help Karzai get more votes in the upcoming presidential elections in exchange for hefty salaries paid in US dollars (In Iraq, militias were paid $300 a month; in Afghanistan a teacher makes about $70 a month). The warlords also lie about the numbers of their militia/PPF in order to obtain more money from the U.S. To this end, Hanif Atmar, the minister of interior and notorious for nepotism, has already appointed his own men in key positions in these regions to handle the PPFs. Therefore, instead of the PPFs, money and other resources should be used to strengthen the Afghan National Army and the Afghan National Police.

Option #2 then, though in some ways an improvement to Operation Enduring Freedom (the Bush strategy) is still problematic because it relies heavily on outsourcing, quick fixes and a failure of an analysis of the Afghan society, among other drawbacks. This option will be very costly to the U.S. not just in blood but also in treasure. The US public may have the stomach for a few more years of war and casualties in Afghanistan, but the Afghan public does not. Their patience has run out. They have waited seven long years for "peace, prosperity and security" and have found only a continuation of violence and economic deprivation. Unless they see some improvement in their lives in the near future, the resistance will swell, joined by ordinary Afghans, to fight the U.S. and NATO forces, just as their fathers did those of the former Soviet Union in the 1980s and their forebears the British in the 19th Century.

To remedy the situation, therefore, the U.S. has no choice but to go for a third option. Such a comprehensive strategy will involve not only counter-terrorism, but also state and nation building as well as agricultural reform in order to reduce the narcotics trade. Since terrorism, nation and state building and narcotics are interconnected, they must be dealt with simultaneously; progress or lack there of in any one of them affects success or failure in the others. This option also calls for more substantial funds and long-term commitment, good governance, economic development and, more importantly, confronting both Pakistan on border issues and the Afghan warlords, which are the primary source of instability in Afghanistan.

Both the Pakistani military and Afghan warlords share a common objective of instability and chaos in Afghanistan. Pakistan is the source of terrorism and the indigenous warlords a big obstacle to good governance. The United States, therefore, must confront these twin threats in order to establish stability in Afghanistan.

To understand why Pakistani military behaves the way it does, one needs to keep in mind that militant Islam is a mechanism for keeping its military elite in power. Ever since the invasion of Afghanistan by the Soviet Union in 1979, Pakistan has been counting on establishing "a friendly government" there—the terrorist attacks on the United States on 9/11and the consequential overthrow of the Taliban snatched victory from the jaws of defeat, something the Pakistanis will never forget. Militant Islam is in DNA of Pakistan and unless it becomes a threat to Pakistan's national security, the country will not do anything willingly to curb militant Islam . However, continuous U.S. air strikes inside Pakistani territory, killing al-Qaeda and Taliban operatives, could make militant Islam a liability rather than an asset. Further and more significantly, bombings of major Pakistani cities, the killing and kidnapping of Pakistani troops, the spread of "Talibanization" eastward into Swat is becoming a big security problem for Pakistan. Finally, one should keep in mind that Pakistanis and others in this part of the world understand and respect only one language: force. While money and persuasion can be useful, force must be used as a last resort. Only then will the Pakistani military uproot these terrorists. Making U.S. assistance conditional on a concerted Pakistani effort to weaken the infra-structure of militant Islam such as changing the curricula in the Pakisani madrasa, or preventing the Taliban from crossing the border to Afghanistan. In short, the Pakistani military and civilian should be told in very clear terms "Either you do it or we will." It is important to keep in mind that unless the Afghan Taliban become a liability and a national threat the Pakistanis would never be sincere in their efforts to push for true reconciliation with the Afghan government. As an asset to Pakistan, the Taliban's reconciliation with the Afghan government would be a Trojan Horse just as Hikmatyar's Hizb-e Islami's has become.

Finally, Afghanistan's internal problem, the warlords, dominate not just politics, but also business and the drug trade. Most Afghans wonder whether these former mujahideen had waged jihad against the former Soviet Union for the sake of God or for money and power. These warlords- along with some Western technocrats in the Karzai government-or their family members provide the foreign community with much of its housing, rental cars, translators, servants and other services and projects, amounting to tens of million dollars a month. For example, in 2002, Gul Agha Sherzai, the governor of Kandahar, was making $1.5 million a month for providing building materials, fuel and other items."(Ahmad Rashid 2008: 133) Thanks to the support from the United States, warlords are now the richest and most powerful elites Afghanistan. In addition to bodyguards, ownership of mansions, fancy restaurants, and bullet proof cars, warlords have purchased property in Dubai worth tens of millions of dollars and have fattened their overseas bank. It is not surprising, then, that a government dominated by Warlords is dysfunctional, corrupt, inept and unaccountable. They are preoccupied with power and money and since they have been empowered by the United States, they don't feel obligated to serve the Afghan people. "Although the Americans had liberated [the Afghans]from the evil of the Taliban, they had brought back another evil: the warlords, " says Ahmad Rashid.(Ibid 131) To many Afghans, the United States pushed the warlords twice down the throats of Afghans: in 1989 and 2001, each time for almost eight years.

In conclusion, for Option#3 or "Operation Enduring Obligation" to be successful, the two major obstacles Pakistan and warlords must be tackled. Using its hard and soft power, the US needs to make Pakistan military uproot both al-Qaeda and the Taliban and withdraw its support of the Afghan warlords. Afghanistan needs good governance and that calls for a drastic change in the form and makeup of its current system. To this end, it would be necessary to replace much of the top- and mid- level officials of the current Karzai government—warlords and Western educated technocrats who are a part of the problem, not a part of the solution. The number of top Sunni and Shi'I warlords does not exceed 40, according to Ramazan Bashardost, a former minister of planning and now a parliamentarian. Most of the Afghan people resent these elites and warlords and would jump at the chance for a change of government. A Loya Jirgah could be called to (1) pick the head of state who will then take over when Karzai's term is over next summer; (2) appoint a government advisory council; (3) amend the constitution to adopt a parliamentarian model of government, provincial autonomy and others, and (4) appoint a Special Court to decide on the fate of war criminals and root out corruption.

This third option will not be easy going, but staying the course with only minor modifications will almost certainly lead to failure. Unless the war in Afghanistan is handled properly it could become another Vietnam. One can only hope that President Obama will reject quick-fix solutions and come up with a comprehensive strategy to meet these huge challenges, restoring the dignity of both nations in the process.

The End

Report From Kabul

It's 3:33 am in Kabul, time to fill you in on yesterday's meeting with several of TIE's teachers. None have been threatened by the Taliban.That is very good news! In some areas, educating girls is a capital offense.Their main problem is capacity. Two teachers don't have enough room inside their homes to teach all who would like to attend. Both requested funds to expand their living rooms. Their request, like all the others I receive during my visits, has been added to "the wish list".

We then discussed the subject of class size. Farzana laughed and said "what should I do", "I have 49 students in one of my classes". I asked whether it would be better to find another teacher, rather than expand her living room. She wants smaller classes but I'm sure she knows there will be some serious lobbying by parents if we opt for the two teacher solution. Farzana is the most energetic, inspiring, and dedicated teacher I've met so far.

If you will recall, when I first met Farzana, we spoke for about a half an hour. I was sitting on her living room floor, surrounded by her students. At the end of our conversation she looked straight into my eyes and said, "Now I be a man. How much are you going to pay me"? I felt cornered and was forced to look away. Somehow I managed to escape without negotiating her salary in the middle of her adoring fans. I knew right then, however, that Farzana was exactly what the girls needed, whatever the cost.

Farzana

Lailuma, a leader among the women in Lalander, came separately with her husband. She has for the past two years met opposition from her husband's uncle, a village leader (malik). Why? Because his daughter had been teaching competing classes inside his home. His daughter, however, only has a third grade education. He recently approached Lailuma and said that he could obtain funds from another NGO (non government organization), and asked her to work for him. She refused, telling him she liked working for Trust In Education and that we had been good to her and the villagers. An Afghan woman does not easily refuse the requests of a malik, particularly when he is her husband's uncle.

Earlier, I was taken aback when I saw Lailuma and her husband, Sardaragha, walking toward our office. She was walking at least 15 paces behind Sardaragha.She waived to me from a distance, uncovered her face, and when she was close enough reached out to shake my hand. These three movements are inconsistent with the code of conduct that requires her to maintain her distance.

As they were leaving I told Sardaragha, in front of Lailuma, that when they walked home he should walk 15 paces behind Lailuma. We laughed and Lailuma said, "Budd, he supports us". They both left laughing, walking side by side to the gate. I suspect outside the gate Lailuma resumed her "rightful place". Lailuma may walk 15 paces behind but Sardaragha would be the first to admit that in many ways she is way ahead.

Lailuma, Sararagha, and son

More to follow.

Budd

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Check out the blog post 'Book Review by Donald Watts, RPCV Afghanistan 1973-75'

Blog post added by Donald James Watts:

Descent into Chaos: The United States and the Failure of Nation Building in Pakistan, Afghanistan, and Central Asia Ahmed Rashid Viking...


Blog post link:
Book Review by Donald Watts, RPCV Afghanistan 1973-75




Sunday, April 19, 2009

An Afghan Perspective

Agnello Blog Post #1

Sitting on the Buddha's Head

It was almost a right of passage. When we visited the lush, green, timeless Bamyian Valley, it was expected that we would sit on the head of the Great Buddha. We were the bright eyed, sincerely idealistic American Peace Corps Volunteers of the nineteen sixties and seventies experiencing and contributing to the calmest, most peaceful era in the history of Afghanistan. Today, what remains of the Great Buddha lies in a pile of debris at the base of the mountain that sheltered it for more than fourteen centuries. The rubble that was the Buddha could be a metaphor for the ruined Afghan homeland a victim of the legacy of extremism once disregarded as the West ignored Afghanistan's plea for help. Afghanistan was the first victim of the extremism that now preoccupies international policy.

How could we have known? This special time, our time, this period of cultural evolution when the Afghan nation and its' people were slowly making educational, technological and humanitarian progress even as they were looking westward with expectant hope and understandable fear, poised to join the community of nations as a peaceful partner, was just the calm before the storm?

Recent History

Linkage with the West never took place. On July 17, 1973 many of us heard and saw the Russian Migs as they flew low over Share e Nau, bombing the Palace and helping Mohammad Daoud Khan implement his republican Coup d'├ętat.Mohammad Zahir Shah, King of Afghanistan, was ousted in an almost bloodless Coup, ending more than two hundred years of Afghan Monarchy. But the die had been cast and the unrelenting wheels of history continued to turn. Five years later the final members of our Peace Corps contingent witnessed the Afghan Communist putsch known as the Saur Revolution displace the Republic with a Communist regime. The SaurPul e Ayraton (the Friendship Bridge) over the Oxus River marking the first time in history that territory acquired by Soviet expansionism was returned to local control. Then, on Christmas Day 1991, a little more than one and a half years after their catalytic defeat by the Mujahedin in Afghanistan and virtually a dozen years to the day after their ill fated invasion of Afghanistan, the nations that comprised the Soviet Union voluntarily ended their affiliation and the Soviet Union ceased to exist, Revolution was a gory counterpoint to the almost flawlessly executed and virtually nonviolent establishment of Daoud's Republic. The Communist Coup, was extremely unpopular with the Islamic authorities in Afghanistan, and faced a rural insurgency almost from the start. The faltering revolution was closely and nervously monitored by protectors and advocates from the North. The clarity of historical hindsight concludes that to some degree, these Afghan events had been a trap of international intrigue set up by Zbigniew Brzezinski and the policy of the Carter Administration. Then, on Christmas Eve 1979, the trump card of the International Great Game was played, and the Soviet Union invaded Afghanistan, the trap was entered, however reluctantly, by the Soviet Union and in so doing, Soviet Russia sealed its' own fate. Following almost a decade of conflict, with massive US and Saudi financial and military support of the Afghan Mujahedin, Russia's Vietnam came to an end on February 15, 1989 when Boris Gromov walked across the

What Can America & The West Learn?

Since then the people of Afghanistan have endured more than a generation of civil war, social struggle and the travesty of the infamous Taliban. So, what can Western policy makers learn if Afghanistan is viewed in an historical context? Perhaps we should soberly review historical lessons learned by the Persians the Greeks, Arabs, Mongols and Moguls, British and Russians over more than a score of centuries. All invaded but none could hold Afghanistan. What policy changes should the US implement tactically and strategically? Which positive policies should be retained, which policies should be modified and which should be discarded? I returned to Afghanistan in 2003 and in 2006 and saw an interesting trend. Early on after the US invasion there was great hope that the lives of the average Afghan man and woman would change for the better. Upon my second visit it was clear that despite a significant increase in new construction projects, dramatic post war infrastructure improvement and an exciting return to the classroom for Afghan children, especially girls who returned to school in prodigious numbers, the national psyche was depressed. Despite massive influx of capital the personal perception in Kabul and throughout the provinces was that security had declined, corruption had increased and the average person was now in greater danger from insurgents and no better off financially.

So, what should we do?

I will next post some follow up conclusions and policy suggestions based on my perspective as a former resident of Afghanistan. We, Returned Peace Corps Volunteers who served in Afghanistan, should have a special voice in the Afghan dialogue. There is no other community in America, with the exception of the members of the Afghan Diaspora, who have experienced Afghanistan e Sharif with the same reverence, respect, care, concern and love as we have. Perhaps ending with the passionate verses of the Mujahid from the unpublished song Ariana is the appropriate conclusion for today.

"There is no choice for the honest man,
There's no duplicity to Liberty.
Where Honor's more than illusion,
Passion burns in a Soul that's free.

Ariana you're mine,
The Lord gave you only to me.
And, it's my right
To fight and strive
To make you free."

Next, why do Americans owe Afghanistan a moral debt? And, why we must stay in Afghanistan.


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

DID YOU KNOW

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 picasaweb.google.com/anna.hacker.

For questions, concerns or donations, contact Hacker at anna.hacker@gmail.com.

Bonnie Henry's column also appears Mondays in Accent and Sundays in ¡Vamos! Reach her at 434-4074 or at bhenry@azstarnet.com, 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.



Fwd: Finally all the albums are on the picasa site, here is short information for those interested


From: Anna Hacker <anna.hacker@gmail.com>
Date: Wed, Apr 15, 2009 at 7:49 AM
Subject: Finally all the albums are on the picasa site, here is short information for those interested
To: Terry Dougherty


Dear Terry,
I have finally gotten all the albums in place...I had difficulty on the last one of the construction.
Attached are all items that will give too much information about the Kuchi Anna and her solo Kabul mission. Two items about the Afghan Women's Educational Center, and their achievements along with my bio and news article from Tucson paper last September. There are some inaccuracies in article but minor considering all Bonnie did include.
So far all of my efforts have been at my own expense...flights, purchases to resell, etc. But with all my savings being changed by economic downturn, plus no more consulting it is getting more difficult.
I would love to hear from anyone regarding the project...we are going to have a Center but will we have all the funding...it is an interesting question. Maybe there are some ex volunteers out there that might want to help. Please include my email address, and mention I have a home in Tucson, Az...and maybe I will heard from Bernie Sands, and some other volunteers I met in the 1970's. With my travel and involvement the last few years I have not kept up with friendships or such in the way I should.
I appreciate your efforts in keeping me posted and one day I will get the chat connection but right now just able to manage what I can via internet.
In the last Connections there was note re embroidery..this is one of my fund raisers, I buy in Kabul and then resell to raise funds. There is a book put out by the British Museum, Sheila Paine author, entitled Afghanistan Embroidery. She also did a travelogue entitle Afghan Amulet. Both are very interesting. Sheila is authority on embroidery from around the world, and one other book is The History of Embroidery. I use 2 different sites to find books, half.com and books@alibris , lots cheaper and they have been able to provide me with many books re Afghanistan..even an update Michaud book, Afghanistan, The Land that Was (new title).
Off to other emails.
Regards,
Anna

--
Anna

anna.hacker@gmail.com

UAE mobile 050 415 1624

Achievements of the Last 3 Years of AWEC Worker Children Centers


During the past three years the direct beneficiaries

of the two Centers were a total of 3,500 worker children.


650 children were introduced to government schools and are now

continuing their education.


Of the 650 children, 247 of them are girls, 403 of them are boys. A further breakdown shows 67 from the Kuchi tribe, and 12 from the Jugi tribe. The Kuchi tribe and Jugi tribe are the lowest two groups of Afghan society.


80 children have graduated from vocational training courses, and are no longer working in the market. They have their own private workshops and can provide for their family.


Success stories from the last 3 years:


  1. Khurma, from the Kuchi tribe, has been introduced to school and is now in grade 9. She also was trained in tailoring for 6 months, and is supporting her family by sewing clothes. Before she used to collect plastic and cans from the street.


When the Center wanted to introduce her to formal schooling, her

father and mother and brothers did not agree as they felt it was

shameful for an adult girl to go to school. After several visits the

family was convinced to send her to school and they are now very

happy with her success.

  1. Mehr Bebe is 16 years old, and she has been introduced to formal

school. She is now in 7th grade. She was trained in tailoring for six

months, and now she is supporting her family by sewing clothes.

Before she used to work cleaning houses. She is very happy and

wants to become a doctor in the future.


  1. Nasrullah, from the Jugi tribe, has been introduced to government school and is now in class 8. At the same he is teaching the younger children in his camp, and is get paid for his teaching by the elders of the camp. Nasrullah is the only person having secondary education in the whole camp, and people call Head Master. The rest of the camp is illiterate.


Sana Gul, from the Kuchi tribe, has been introduced to government school and is now in class 9. The Kuchis live in tents and in the winters when they travel to warmer places, he is teaching the younger children. He is receiving Afs 2,000 for his teaching. He is also attending English language and computer classes. Whenever Sana Gul faces a problem, he returns to the center to request help in solving his problem. Sana Gul wants to become a doctor in the future.

Anna Hacker


Anna Hacker, a semi-retired international educator, taught in Afghanistan at the International School of Kabul, from 1970 to 1974. Those years provided her with memories of proud individuals with open door hospitality for everyone. The majestic beauty of the mountains surrounding Kabul and Afghan’s rugged countryside plus her Afghan friends memories has always traveled with her as she moved around internationally since 1974.


Anna managed to keep contact with her Afghan families, and after 9/11 she decided to help and give back to a cause in her golden years. Her decision has been to work on behalf of the Afghan Women’s Educational Center, an Afghan NGO that works with widows and worker street children. She has personally visited Kabul at least 10 times; all her travel and efforts are at her own expense. Having spent time with the Center children, the widows, and the staff she recognizes their great needs, especially as international funds for NGO’s has become more limited.


Through her work with schools in the Middle East, where she now lives, she has worked with schools raising student awareness and community service in regards to Afghanistan. Through community service she has mentored fund raising activities for AWEC.


Anna’s vision has been to raise enough funds to build a Model AWEC Center, so AWEC can continue its outstanding programs for widows and worker children. They have been renting their substandard facilities, and rent continues to spiral out of control. The architectural concept plan for a Model AWEC Center was donated by a US architect, the actual building will be handled and cost controlled by an Afghan businessman who Anna taught as a young boy. The biggest project handicap was acquiring land. In October the Ministry of Education provided land at an existing girl’s high school. The AWEC Center will be walled and separate from the school. The construction has begun.


Anna does not apply any funds collected to her travel or efforts on behalf of AWEC. All donations go directly to the AWEC Building Fund or the donor-designated projects. Anna wants students, individuals, schools, and organizations to experience the personal side of giving as she shares her photos, worker children artwork, and their stories.


Donations contributed from Damascus to Cairo to Doha to Dubai to Tucson to Baltimore to Long Island to Washington, DC to Vancouver exemplify “THERE IS A WAY FROM HEART TO HEART” (Afghan proverb) and “A RIVER IS MADE DROP BY DROP” (Afghan proverb).


The building phrase of the Model AWEC Center hopefully will be completed by December 1, 2008. The interior might extend beyond this date depending on the Building Fund.

Monday, April 13, 2009

Friends of Afghanistan Vice President Nancy Cunningham


Nancy Cunningham shows a saddle bag she purchased while serving in the Peace Corp in Afghanistan. (Eric Curl/Savannah Morning News) (Photo: Savannah Morning News)


Former Peace Corps volunteer continues aiding Afghanistan

By Eric Curl
Created 2009-04-12 23:30
Published on SavannahNow.com
Former Peace Corps volunteer continues aiding Afghanistan

Nancy Cunningham's experiences in Afghanistan have stuck with her and play a significant role in her life today.

During a two-year Peace Corps assignment in Afghanistan in the mid-1960s, Cunningham worked as a scrub technician, which led to her working in a hospital beset by a serious lack of resources.

While in the United States, she prepped modern operating rooms. In Afghanistan, she found herself doing things "above her head" as a result of that nation's limited resources.

The resourceful Cunningham was forced to use bicycle spokes as stabilization pins to mend broken bones.

She had local tailors sew scrubs so medical staff no longer worked in their street clothes.

Now, Cunningham works as an anesthesiologist assistant at St. Joseph's/Candler hospitals in Savannah, but she has not forgotten Afghanistan's people. As vice president for Friends of Afghanistan, Cunningham continues to lend a hand to the war-torn country.

Friends of Afghanistan is a national nonprofit group with about 300 members. Most are former Peace Corps volunteers who served in Afghanistan - although anyone can join.

The organization, through annual dues and fundraisers, pays for outreach programs, medical intervention projects and educational support.

Some of the group's activities are simple, such as the purchase of a sewing machine for a woman. Other contributions are more widespread - the group recently gave funds to help build a school.

Cunningham's Peace Corps work took place in the eastern city of Jalalabad between Kabul and the Pakistan border. Afghanistan then had a flourishing fruit trade and was not known simply for opium poppy farms. Women had not yet been forbidden from pursuing an education.

Afghanistan also had not yet been overrun with the Taliban, who turned the country into a "nightmare."

"There is no such thing as a moderate Talib," Cunningham said. "They are serious as death."

When she returned in 1995, the fruit orchards had been destroyed from war. The Taliban were taking control, and civil rights were quickly evaporating. Then the U.S.-led invasion put the Taliban on the run in 2001.

Afghanistan native Habib Salih, a friend and co-worker, said he was impressed when he saw Cunningham's presentation on his nation after she returned from her 1995 trip. She had an understanding of Afghanistan that most foreigners lacked, Salih said. Her assistance to his homeland came as no surprise to Salih.

"She is a nice person," he said. "It is in her nature to help."

Cunningham said she would like to return to Afghanistan, but it is too dangerous now. She is hoping the U.S. government's renewed focus there will lead to beneficial and lasting changes. At least now, she said, people are aware of Afghanistan's people and its struggles.

"When I went to Afghanistan, people thought it was in Africa," she said.


Source URL:

Friday, April 10, 2009

Afghanistan - described in a letter home - 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.


by Terry Dougherty

Sargent Shriver at the 40th Anniversary of the Peace Corps September 22, 2001

Remarks By The Honorable Sargent Shriver
at the 40th Anniversary Peace Corps Vigil at The Lincoln Memorial Washington DC

September 22, 2001


Today I thank everyone who is here. I also thank all persons who would like to be here! I pray also that my few remarks may be helpful to us all…I begin with a few sentences I spoke long ago, but they still are accurate and important, I believe, for our thinking today.

Here are those sentences: “I recommend that we remember the beginning of the Peace Corps. We risked everything at our beginning in a leap of faith that the Peace Corps would succeed. We started in 1961—40 years ago. We risked everything in a Leap of Faith that the Volunteers would respond favorably to our call for Peace…We opposed the idea that war is inevitable. We believed that with God’s help we could get rid of war! We were a Corps—a band of brothers and sisters united in the conviction that if we worked hard enough to eradicate our fears, and increase the outreach of our Love, we truly could avoid War, and achieve Peace within ourselves, within our Nation, and around the world.

How and why could we hope and dream for such results? We could do so because the Peace Corps seeks peace through service, not through economic strength or military Power. Service is at the heart and soul and substance of the Peace Corps. Service, however, is a discredited word these days. Who wants to be a servant? No One!

Service implies servitude, failure to achieve even equality, let alone dominion! Yet the Peace Corps exists to serve, to help, to care for our fellow human beings regardless of race, color, education, or power. The Peace Corps works its magic from below, not from above. It concentrates on basics—food, health, education and community. Peace Corps Volunteers are rarely in capital cities, rarely seen with potentates. They are almost un-American in their willingness to serve in the boondocks!!!!

Peace Corps Volunteers come home to the U.S.A. realizing that there are billions, yes billions of human beings not enraptured by our pretentions or practices, or even our standards of conduct…billions with whom we must live in peace. Peace Corps Volunteers learn that there’s more to life than money, more to life than the latest style in clothes, cars or cosmetics.

Suddenly I realize I do have a response to the original title given me for my speech! They asked me to talk about “the challenge of the Peace Corps.” The challenge is simple to express, but difficult to fulfill—that challenge is expressed in these words:

“PCVs, stay as you are…be servants of Peace; work at home as you have worked abroad—humbly, persistently, intelligently. Weep with those who are sorrowful. Care for those who are sick. Serve your wives…Serve your husbands…Serve your families…Serve your neighbors…Serve your cities…Serve the poor…Join others who serve! Serve…Serve…Serve…that’s the end. That is the challenge! For in the end it will be the servants who save us all…that’s the Peace Corps!”

Wednesday, April 08, 2009

A washingtonpost.com article from: terry@afghanconnections.org

For Afghan Craftsmen, a Welcome Upswing After Years of Struggle
By Pamela Constable
KABUL -- For a moment, it sounds like Santa's elves are at work in the little cobbler's shop in a dingy part of the capital. Hammers tap out a rhythm on leather soles, heavy shears snip and snap, and a foot-powered sewing machine whirrs in the corner.


Wednesday, April 01, 2009

YES Afghanistan Exchange Student Success Story

Terry Dougherty and Asad at the SOLA confernece in VT
From SOLA Conference


This message was sent to me by Kara Lozier, the YES Afghanistan Exchange Student Coordinator in Vermont. Please contact her if you are interested in helping Asad build the Bamyan Library he has planned. I met Kara and Asad at Ted Achilles organizing conference in Brandon, VT last month.

Fwd: Asad's Journey - the latest chapter

From: Kara Lozier <karalozier@yahoo.com>

Dear friends,

Many of you followed Asad's activities while he was in the U.S. last year. He and I have not been able to keep in touch with all of you. Some of you have received news of this current year, but I wanted to be sure to reach all of you who had an interest in and affection for Asad.

Most of you know that Asad was given a full scholarship by the Lyndon Institute to return to the U.S. for his senior year of high school. He made a presentation there on March 13th of last year to promote his efforts to raise money for the Bamiyan library. First he spoke at an all-school assembly of approx. 700 people, then he had an exhibit with information about Afghanistan and about the library during all four lunch periods. After that he went to the middle school and made a presentation there. On our way across the parking lot, one of the organizers asked if Asad would be interested in attending their school this year. He said "sure" and the wheels started turning until May 8th when he received notice that the school would grant him a full scholarship.

Asad has had a great year at the Lyndon Institute (L.I.) up in the Northeast Kingdom of Vermont. He refers to it as the North Pole, but has maintained his sense of humor in spite of the ton of snow up there. It was a year to really focus on his studies and prepare for the SAT and TOEFL exams. This was necessary to improve his chances of getting another full scholarship to study in an American college. Unfortunately, that meant putting the library project on hold. That was a real struggle. After working so hard last year, it was a challenge for Asad to put the project on the back burner. He had hoped that some of the new YES-Afghan students would help, but that never happened. The cost of the project has increased and raising the rest of the money is his priority as soon as he graduates from L.I. on May 31st. It will be his summer job!

The GREAT news is - focusing on his studies paid off!! On March 4th he was notified that he was chosen for the "Make a Difference" scholarship at Green Mountain College in Poultney, Vermont. This scholarship was created to reward incoming freshman "whose unique sense of social awareness calls them to action; a person whose selfless devotion to a cause not only changes the lives of those in need, but inspires others to answer the same call to action." The scholarship will cover four years of room, board, tuition and fees at this small Vermont liberal arts college about 60 miles north of us (not quite the North Pole).

Asad has started making presentations again, is trying to secure scholarships for other YES-Afghan students and continues to mentor friends and relatives back in Afghanistan. On March 11th we learned that his younger sister, Adelah, was chosen as a new YES scholarship recipient. American Councils has allowed my family to host her, so she will be attending Mount Anthony Union High School in the fall of 2009. Asad and his sister will be able to spend holidays together and see each other during their school breaks as extended and very valued members of our family. We are all so happy and proud.

I know that many of you enjoyed following Asad's life while he was with us last year. Your love, support and kindness really helped Asad to reach his goals. It's what inspired him to set his goals so high and to undertake such an ambitious project. That project, though it's not complete, has rewarded Asad in so many ways. He met unbelievable people, his confidence grew, he was exposed to the warmth and generosity of the American public, his English improved, he got a scholarship to finish high school in the U.S. and now a full, 4-year scholarship for college. He views these not as personal rewards, but as the tools that will help him to be an instrument of change when he returns to Afghanistan. He remains committed to rebuilding his war-torn homeland and has overcome every obstacle placed in his way.

Asad's future is bright. It's been a joy to witness all of his growth and accomplishments. I'm only sharing this with people who I think will share that joy.

Warmest regards,

Kara Lozier
Community Coordinator - Host Mom
American Councils for International Education
http://bridgesofpeaceandunderstanding.blogspot.com/