Thursday, June 4, 2009

How I Found Afghanistan

<From Cambridge to Karachi". We are extremely grateful to Nadia Naviwala for allowing us to share her blogpost with you. This post has been taken from her blog "From Cambridge to Karachi." The post below accounts for a day from the recent trip we made to Afghanistan>>

In Jalalabad, we visited Save the Children. I wanted to know what programs were in place to deal with children traumatized from the effects of war.

In thinking about international security, I have never thought much about children. But that changed in January, when I spent time in Lebanon's Palestinian refugee camps. It was during Israel's operations in Gaza, and I watched as children in the camps struggled to cope with the graphic images and stories that were being constantly reported. Aggressive behavior was already a common problem. It did not take much guessing to figure out how at least some of the kids I met would end up, as they grew up into an atmosphere full of militant groups, weapons, and anger.

U.S. airstrikes take place around Jalalabad in eastern Afghanistan, the most famous of which was "the wedding incident."

TIME Magazine reports: "According to U.N. figures, 2,118 civilians were killed in conflict-related violence last year, a jump of nearly 40% compared to the year before. Of that figure, pro-government [coalition and Afghan] forces were responsible for 828 deaths."

Save the Children told me that the kids in a nearby village still wake up in the middle of the night crying, "American bombs are coming!" They also showed me pictures of child soldiers recruited by local commanders (anti-Taliban) in the area. But when I asked if there were any efforts to help these kids deal with the trauma, they were confused.

We are already seeing the effects of post-traumatic stress at home, in the soldiers returning from Iraq and Afghanistan. But nothing seems to be in place to deal with the generations coming out of war in our overseas combat zones. If it only takes one person, or a few, to produce a suicide bomber, then the violence we are seeing today might only be a foreshadowing of the instability and global terrorism that is to come.

Similarly, among IDPs from Pakistani military operations in the tribal areas and SWAT, I worry about the effects of war trauma. But Afghanistan and Pakistan are struggling just to provide medical care to the victims of war. They are not equipped to provide specialized psychological care to children. The international community must lead the way, starting in urban IDP camps and training locals to provide long-term care.

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Sad Sight

"There is no sadder sight than a young pessimist"

---Mark Twain---

Monday, June 1, 2009

Our Second Day in Afghanistan

From email sent by Umaimah on May 24, 2009:

We drove to Jalalabad this morning – a 90 min drive that took us 4 hours b/c of accidents and road blockage, which it seems is very common on this road. We visited a government school where the kids were taking their exams under the tree b/c it was too hot in the classrooms. The school had 1800 children and just over 35 teachers. It was a boys school.

We then saw a private school – nursery to grade 2, which was co-ed, and full of energy and life. it was for the upper-middle class of Jalalabad. The school was established by a lawyer-turned-educationalist/entrepreneur from Pakistan. The school fees were over AFG 1000 per month.

We then visited WADAN’s community based schools, separate for girls and boys. The schools were run in a make-shift building that a local businessman had allowed WADAN to use for the time-being. The school was just a few throws away from Tora Bora.

On the way to Jalabad we saw coalition forces in sniper mode, pointing their guns to what seemed like a plain beautiful innocuous mountain. We were told that they might’ve gotten the news that there were Taliban in the mountains as this was known to be a troubled spot. After another 4+ hr drive back, with a new set of road blockages, we got back to our hotel in Kabul and then joined for a dinner hosted by WADAN at the WADAN office.

We met some great people there including Rachel Lehr, the founder of Rubia. WADAN’s MD Mr. Naseeb and Jean Kissell then introduced dreamfly to Afghanistan’s Minister of EDU who sat with the Minister for a very good conversation around the ministry’s priorities, most critical challenges, and areas that they need dreamfly’s support in. Mona made sure she asked some tough questions of the minister on behalf of dreamfly!