Not my choice of headlines - but an honest interview...
He had to save YES | The Journal Gazette, Fort Wayne, Ind
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Not a Moment to Waste: Foreign Operations Appropriations Mark-Up Thursday, June 11
Last week, we took a big first step towards a bold new Peace Corps. Congressman Howard Berman, showing tremendous political courage, tossed out the Administration's request for a 10% increase ($34 million) for the Peace Corps and substituted a 35% increase ($120 million) for 2010. This is the authorization level in Congressman Sam Farr's (Colombia 64-66) Bill which now has 120 co-sponsors. Our strategy is working.
If your representative is not a co-sponsor of Mr. Farr's Bill, please go to our website and use our sample letter to contact your representative to sign on as a co-sponsor. Every new House co-sponsor is a signal of growing support.
Now comes the hard part: winning the appropriations struggle. On Thursday, June 11, the House Foreign Operations Appropriations Subcommittee will mark up its budget for 2010. The appropriations subcommittee, true to its name, decides on the amount of money in the bill. This subcommittee is chaired by Congresswoman Nita Lowey (NY-18) and without her support we will struggle to keep the $450 million appropriation recommended by the House Foreign Relations Committee. If you are a constituent of Chairwoman Lowey's, please take action.
In the past, it is in the Appropriations Committee where recommendations for increased funding are whittled down. This is where authorization bills, such as Mr. Farr's get taken out, and lower amounts of money are substituted. However, this year is different. First, Mr. Berman is a senior member and his endorsement of Mr. Farr's request is powerful. Second, in the past, there has been no way to mobilize the grassroots base of RPCVs. Now we have thousands of supporters around the nation who care about this issue and are educated on the process. We have two weeks before the vote. If you are a constituent of any of these 14 members of Congress that sit on the subcommittee, please try to visit them in their district office or at least call and urge your representative to become a co-sponsor. Here is a copy of the sample letter to use with the 14 House subcommittee appropriators:
Dear Representative ,
I am writing to you from ______ to request you, in your role as a member of the Foreign Operations appropriations subcommittee, to support $450 million in the FY 2010 budget for the Peace Corps. A bill introduced by Congressman Sam Farr (Colombia 64-66), the Peace Corps Expansion Act 2009 also authorizes this funding increase and now has 120 co-sponsors. Moreover, the Foreign Affairs Committee led by Representative Howard Berman recently authorized this robust increase in HR 2410. We need your leadership in providing major resources to build a bold new Peace Corps for a new century at a time when 25 countries including Indonesia and Sierra Leone have made requests for new Peace Corps programs.
Peace Corps currently enters into service 3,600 volunteers per year, making it half the size it was in 1966. It is a valuable but small entity compared to President Kennedy's original vision of 100,000 Americans serving in the huts and villages of the world. Peace Corps can rejuvenate itself by entering boldly into countries where person-to person contact is important in our own hemisphere; Colombia, Venezuela, Haiti and Bolivia. There are also many opportunities for Americans to volunteer to serve in communities where the Islamic faith pre-dominates. Examples include, expanding the Morocco program; newly enter Libya, Algeria, Lebanon and Egypt, Indonesia, Bangladesh, Uzbekistan, Tajikistan and the non-conflicted parts of Afghanistan, Pakistan even India. All of these would bring a new face of America to young people in the Islamic world and America would gain new understanding of areas and communities critical to the United States and world peace.
The Peace Corps had a profound impact on my life and US community. I served in _______________.
I hope you share my view that the Peace Corps is a vital component of our public diplomacy toolbox. Since 1961, nearly 200,000 Peace Corps volunteers have provided meaningful, small-scale development assistance, reversing stereotypes about Americans and returning stateside to enrich communities domestically with new language and other skills. Peace Corps continues to be one of America's finest expressions of friendship and solidarity across the globe.
The Obama-Biden Administration is working diligently to reinvigorate our foreign policy and burnish America's image. To do this, we must maximize every element of soft power. Investing in Peace Corps in the manner outlined in HR 1066 and the White House transition report would help to reestablish our credibility and moral standing abroad, while exposing people to the core American values of peace, progress, tolerance and prosperity. To meet the President's stated goal of 16,000 volunteers in the Peace Corps we need your leadership at the June 11 mark-up of the Foreign Operations Bill.
I appreciate the support you have provided to the Peace Corps in the past and welcome your full support in the subcommittee this year.
The All-Important House Appropriations Subcommittee on State, Foreign Operations, and Related Programs
MorePeaceCorps Campaign. Copyright © 2008. National Peace Corps Association (NPCA).
Posted: 26 May 2009 05:27 PM PDT
It was a nice summer day, during the Taliban regime, my mother wanted to go to bazaar. I was too much bored at home. I asked my mother, "Would you please let me go with you?"
She replied, "Umm, well … it's better to stay home. I will bring you whatever you need."
"Please mom, I am very bored at home …" I said, and she accepted.
We were going to buy some materials for our kitchen and some clothes for my elder sister, who always preferred to stay home rather than going outside and buying clothes of her own choice. She hated wearing a bukra. I was very happy. Finally it was my turn to go for shopping with my mom. No matter what my mom wanted to buy, I loved to be with her while she wanted to go outside. At that time I was around twelve-year-old. I was not wearing a bukra, though my height was tall enough.
We take a bus and went to "froshga." It's the main or the center bazaar of Kabul. I was out shopping after very long time. I was looking around surprisingly. Every piece of clothing was looking nice to me. I was looking for something good for my sister. It was really enjoyable!
Suddenly we saw a big crowd of people, running away. My mother grabbed my hand and told me hurry up go fast. I was shocked. I asked my mother, "Mom, why all of the people are running?"
With a loud voice she replied, "Didn't I tell you don't come. Now, be fast–"
We start running away too. Then I saw the Taliban's car! Their car was moving slowly two of them jumped out of car and start beating a girl. She was around my age. They were beating her in foot and head, because she didn't have a bukra. I had heard of, but had not seen such as event before. I started crying. I was not able to run. My mother hid me in her bukra. She was afraid too.
Finally their car passed. They didn't beat us, but we completely lost our selves. She told me, let's sit somewhere. I cannot walk any more. I feel my feet are not mine.
Our clothes, our shoes were totally dirty. We didn't know how that happened. We didn't buy anything. We took a taxi to go back home. On the way, I was just thinking about that girl… she was running while they were beating her. Another woman was with her, she was trying to hug the girl, she was saying "Don't beat her, don't beat her." The girl's hands were on her head. She was trying to secure her head. She was crying. It was very terrible; no one was helping her except the woman who was with her.
It was around 1:00 PM that we arrived home. My sister opened the door with a smile on her face.
She said, "Salam, mother Jan, welcome, lunch is ready. I was waiting for you to come –!" Both of us were quiet. We didn't reply. She looked at us surprised. "Mother Jan, what happened? Why your clothes are dirty? Didn't you buy anything? Did someone steal your money?" I started crying and told her the whole story–she was laughing at me while I was crying! She told me, what do you think, am I a fool that I am staying home? In my heart I thought no, you are not; you are a mature girl who understands it's better to stay home rather than going outside.
After that I promised that I wouldn't go outside without having a bukra, but having a bukra is awful. You cannot breathe under that.
This was one of the thousand memories that I have from the Taliban regime. It reminds me of those awful days again! Those days went away, but their footprint will stay in our hearts forever.
Posted: 26 May 2009 12:06 PM PDT
A heroine is officially defined as a woman who is endowed with great courage and strength in the fight for her country. We always look for heroines in our history books while forgetting to look for them around us. A heroine is not just someone with a sword in a battle or a political leader leading a revolution, but is anyone who sacrifices her life for the service of others. We meet many heroines in our everyday life serving their society as doctors, engineers, police officers and, to be sure, even the teacher who is willing to leave all else behind to teach. One of these heroines is Maryam, an elementary teacher at Zarghuna high school, one of the best schools in my country, who chose to continue nurturing little minds at the expense of everything.
Maryam entered the big, blue and red striped main gate of the school. There was a group of watchmen and police officers standing on each side of the gate for security reasons. As she entered, she looked up and saw the big, two story reddish building with the paint coming off. She looked at the windows of the building and saw a few students. " I must be at least 30 minutes early," she said to herself. But she did not know exactly why she was early. She could not sleep last night. She had wanted so badly to come to the school. She was missing the school. Yes, that is what she was feeling. Everyday a group of ten students with two teachers were responsible for the security check of the school. They would look for poisoned water, matches, gas, guns and love letters. But today, it was still too early for them to be there. On her left there was a big, green tree. Under the tree was a table and the attendance clerk was sitting there, having the attendance sheet open and ready for the teachers to sign in. "Salam Alikum Maryam Jaan, you have come so early, is all okay?" asked the clerk, knitting her brows together.
"Sure, all is fine. I just had to finish some work in the office," she said, looking around. Her eyes caught a glimpse of the big board close to the tree that had the picture of Ms. Zaaher, an Afghan-American who financially supported the school in the construction of new buildings, with two other girls in their black and white uniforms. Three of them looked as serious as if they were about to go to war. Their backs were straight and their eyebrows up. There was also a statement, "We will make you, Afghanistan, with a pen." She had read that statement before, but it had never had the same kind of influence before. She looked down at the earth. She felt like a traitor. Maryam moved on, going towards the main building. On her left there was a small garden. Although the whole school was kind of green, this garden was particularly very beautiful. On this side of the garden there was three tents that had written on then the word UNISEF. These were classrooms for sixth and seventh graders. "The kids will get sick sitting in the sun all day," she thought, "but in a few months, the new building that Ms. Zaaher is paying for should be ready". The thought brought a few drops of tears to her eyes for she knew that she would not be here till the summer.
She kept walking, keeping her head down until she arrived at the place where all the students would gather in the morning. A group of students would sing the national anthem and one student would read a part of the holy Quran. Maryam never did any. She recalled a memory from when she was in twelfth grade. She was standing in the second line with her best friend Naima. Naima got married just after school and settled down somewhere abroad. One day while the students were singing the national anthem, she turned her face to Naima and said in her ear, "You know what Naima, when they read us holy Quran and the national anthem everyday before going to class, I feel like we are going to a battlefield". Naima laughed out loud and they both had to see the principle after the class, a man whom the whole school referred to as "the old ghost".
While crossing in front of the principal's office, she walked slowly, trying not to make a noise. She remembered three years ago when she was first appointed as a 2nd grade teacher .She was standing in front of a principal named Alia Jaan, a widow in her early sixties. It was a big office and all the walls were colored yellow. There were two desks, one at the right corner near the window where the principal would sit and the other on the far left corner where her assistant would sit. While the principal was talking, Maryam was looking at her and nodding, but she was not listening. She was too busy thinking about her students, what to teach them and what they might call her. At the time of her appointment to the school, she was twenty-five years old with no college degree because of the Taliban gap in women's education. She felt proud of herself for having gone back to college and thanked God for giving her the father He did. But she would not be able to continue either her education or her work after marriage. Shabir and his family would never allow their daughter-in-law to work.
Shabir was one of her relatives. He was in the family business and was relatively rich for Afghanistan. Every one was surprised when two weeks ago Shabir's family asked for her hand for their youngest son. One of the first things Shabir's mother said was, "Child, let me make something clear. I know you are currently working in some kind of school, but in our families women do not work. Our men are able to take care of them." Maryam's mother immediately said, "Of course, Bibi Shirin Jaan, a woman needs to adjust to her in-law's rules. Since your family is Masha Allah and is well off, Maryam has no need nor desire to work." Maryam looked up but did not say anything despite wanting to say that a woman is not only in need of food, accommodation and clothing but also in need of an identity in her society. She has a desire to help and to achieve. It was obvious that all the family members were very happy for the marriage proposal. She as a "perfect" Afghan woman who was supposed to go along with the happiness of her family. But somehow it did not feel right. " I should be happy, I will marry one of the richest people among my relatives, but why am I not?" she asked. "God, am I stupid or what?"
All of a sudden, she remembered that it was class time and she had better hurry up. She went down the stairs to the class. The class was on the right hand of the hall. It had a wooden, blue door. The walls were colored white. There was a big black board attached to the front wall. As she opened the door, Sana, who was wearing her black and white uniform called loudly, "Stand up." All the students stood and Maryam asked them to "Sit down please." She asked the girls to put their hands on the table so she could check for nail polish, which was banned for students of all ages. She went around the class checking. "Sailai, you are wearing nail polish again," she said.
" I am sorry teacher Jaan, I forgot to clean it. It was my sister's wedding yesterday," she said, rolling her eyes and looking around.
" I thought you were the eldest of your siblings Sailai," said Maryam.
" That is true but God Jaan gave my sister a month ago and my mother forgot to tell you."
" And the baby is getting married at age 10 months! Stop lying, Sailai".
"Sorry, Teacher Jaan!"
Maryam was mad at her and at the same time wanted to hug her. Sailai looked so cute with her scarf tight around her fat face, and with her round, black eyes. Maryam looked at her, but no harsh words came from her mouth. She had never loved anyone as she did these little students. Maryam went to the front of the class. She wrote some fractions on the black board and asked who wanted to do them. The students raised their hands and Maryam asked Sana to come and do the first one. Sana was always on time, did her homework, controlled the class and never complained. She was just a perfect student. Sometimes, Maryam thought, "Poor kid, she will miss being a kid sometime." As always, Sana got her answer right.
While the students were working on their class work, except for Sailai who was playing with a ball, Maryam looked at the roof. There was nothing new about the roof, but she could not take her eyes off it. She thought about her mother. She was a great mother and a great wife. She gave all her life for her family. But this was not what Maryam wanted to do. She wanted to help the children in their education. She also wanted to be the great teacher and member of the society. She heard a voice inside her like the voice of God and all of a sudden she knew it was God's call for her to continue the path of educating the future leaders of her country. She looked at the students, who had their faces down and who were counting with their small fingers. "There is no way I am going to leave them alone," Maryam said to herself.
That day she went back home like a fighter, like someone who had a destiny to achieve. She had turned into someone who would not accept defeat for an answer. She knew her parents would not be happy, but she would convince them. "My father will support me. He will understand," she thought. Maryam also knew that at age 27, she was too old for marriage in Afghan society and this might well have been her last chance of getting married. None of this mattered. The only thing that mattered was that she was doing something for her people. After that Monday, she spent every hour of every day, every minute of every hour and every second of every minute with the dream of building Afghanistan with a pen.
Posted: 20 May 2009 10:42 AM PDT
I was waiting for this evening for a long time and counting down the days. I bought the tickets two weeks before that. This was my high school Prom. It was my first time participating in such event. I was very excited. I had to get ready to go to prom.
I had to buy a prom dress, a pair of shoes and other stuff that girls usually need! I went shopping for a week looking for a nice dress. I did not want to buy a very open dress so I had to look for a longer time. I went shopping with my friends. They also wanted to buy dresses and shoes. I tried on many dresses. Finally I found a nice dress that I liked and I bought it. Now I needed a pair of shoes that would look nice with my dress. I went shopping for shoes with my host dad. He has good taste in shopping. I got a nice pair of shoes. It was a masquerade prom party so I had to have a mask as well. I looked for a mask but I did not find any that went with my dress and more importantly, that I liked. I found a good one at home that looked nice with my dress. It was two days before prom, I had a pedicure and manicure in a nice beauty salon. It was my first time. It felt so good to sit on that chair and put my feet in the warm water. After the manicure and pedicure was done, the lady applied nail color on my fingernails and my toenails.
On the day of the prom, I went to a hair salon to have my hair done. When I went home I called my friend who was a photographer to come and take some pictures. Then we both went to my other friend's house. There were my two other friends that I was going to the prom with. We started posing for the camera as my friend was taking pictures. It was so much fun, we enjoyed it a lot. After taking photos, we headed toward a restaurant that our friends were waiting for us to have dinner together. During the dinner, we talked and we took a few pictures.
Finally I got to the prom with my friends. Inside it was a little dark. There were colorful lights spreading color around. There was a DJ playing the music very loud. Most of the girls and boys were dancing, some of them were sitting and talking and some other were eating candies. My friends and I went and sat down holding our masks. After a few minutes, since I do not like sitting down especially when I am at a dance party, I asked my friend and we both went and joined the dance crowd. A nice music was on and everybody was enjoying it. Although I had very high heel shoes on, I did not stop playing around and dancing. I saw a few of my classmates and my friends among the crowd. We made a small circle and danced together. Then I got thirsty, I went and had a drink. There was a small chocolate fountain too. I went there, took a strawberry on a stick and dipped it in the flowing chocolate. It tasted really delicious. When I had a few, I went to my friends. We started taking pictures again. It was so much fun. Then we started dancing again. After a while, I went upstairs, WHERE there were some boys and girls playing a game. I played with them for a while. Then I heard someone was talking on the microphone. They had a game like a lottery. We all had tickets and they were announcing ticket numbers. If somebody's ticket number was announced, they would go and take their prizes.
They also announced prom queen and king whom I did not see because I was upstairs! It was near mid-night that the party was almost over. Everybody was going to his or her houses. My friends and I also left to go home. My friend had invited us to spend the night at her house a week ago, so we went to her house.
In her house, although we were a little tired, we started taking pictures again. We posed for the camera again and again acting like models. We were three girls having fun together by posing for the camera, which was set on self-timer. We took many pictures that way. It was early in the morning that we finally went to sleep.
That was one of the evenings that I will never forget. The wonderful time that I had with my two friends will stay fresh all the time in my heart and my thoughts.
Posted: 20 May 2009 10:39 AM PDT
The Khaharan Afghan Moving Association (Afghan Sisters Moving Association) was just established in the Farah province. This association is for educated and uneducated women, who do not have enough information about their rights. About 180 women became members of this association and registration is still going on.
This is a social organization which has activation in Kabul and some other provinces. In the first days, they have run workshops for women about their rights, and how women might participate in up-coming elections in Farah province
This organization also goes school to school and gives information for women.
Rabiha Ayoubi, provincial director of the association said, "This is an independent union and aims to help women stand on their feet. To get information about their rights in life, we are planning workshops in different fields. We also plan to provide job opportunities for the women who are jobless and have no income. This association defends women's rights in the Farah province."
When women heard about this program, they started coming to the Women Affairs Department to become a member of this association.
Mina a young girl, 20 years old, said, "I became a member of this union, because there is opportunity for me to get more information, I also can share my knowledge with uneducated women. This is a step up for women's progress. We all know that Afghan women have lost everything during the civil war. We have power, but we need more assistance. All women should come together to fight against injustice."
Malali is uneducated, but she is also a member of this group, and she said, "The opportunity did not exist for me and my sister to go to school and become educated. We married when we were very young. We have no information about everything. Our first workshop was about elections. I learned a lot of information about elections and voting, even I thought that I should vote for whom my husband is going to vote for, but now I know that every one can vote for separate person, I am so glad for The establishing of Afghan Sisters' Moving Organization.
Liloma Sadiqi, a Women's Affairs department director said, " Establishing this organization could be a successful way for women of Farah to grow. By working in this association, they could learn how to be together and how to find solutions to problems. From the name of the association, we understand that this organization wants to unite the women and that is very important work in Farah."
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