Jalalabad Rotary School
Daily Trip Journal
By Stephen R. Brown
Rotary Provides Hope for Children of Jalalabad, Afghanistan
Journal entry November 5, 2002-Peshawar, Pakistan
Leaving on a Boeing 777 from San Diego on the first leg of the trip to Afghanistan I wondered to myself "how was it that I am traveling with two Muslim ladies (Fary Moini and Flouran Wali) from San Diego to go to Jalalabad, Afghanistan to put together the final details to build a school, vocational training center, and medical clinic for a village on the outside of Jalalabad" No time to answer that question now but it is worthy of reflection.
Fary Moini has been a member of the La Jolla Golden Triangle Rotary Club for three years. She was born and trained in Iran as a nurse and has lived in the US for 20 years. Flouran Wali was born in Afghanistan and has lived half her life in that part of the world and the other half in the US. Both are fluent in Farsi and both are U.S. citizens. Fary spend two months at the beginning of 2002 working in Afghan refugee camps in Peshawar, Pakistan as a Rotary Volunteer. Flouran works for Doctors of the World in San Diego and specifically deals with victims of torture. She is an official representative of the Afghan government in Southern California.
Well, our plane left San Diego on November 3 at 4 in the afternoon and we arrived at Peshawar at 8 in the morning two days later. The time difference is 13 hours ahead so we spent approximately 27 hours in transit connecting through London and Dubai in the United Arab Emirates.
Our Rotary host (and Fary’s previous host when she was here before), Zamarud Shah, greeted us at the airport in Peshawar. With him was Usman Kahn, President of the Peshawar Uni-town Rotary Club, and two other Rotarians in his club-a medical doctor and a general contractor.
We went to Mr. Shah's home, which is only about 10 minutes from the airport. I tried out the Iridium satellite phone and was able to receive e-mail messages--the San Diego Chargers got blown out by the New York Jets. I called Susan. If we have this phone figured our right, her calls back to me through a US number result in the charge rate of only a US long distance call.
We had breakfast at the Shah's and were met with a parade of their extended family living in their lovely home. Their eldest daughter was visiting from London, but her daughter continues to live with the Shah’s where she attends 10th grade. Their niece, husband and two young children live with them while a house Mr. Shah is building for them is in the final stages of construction. Also here is a house girl who works for the Shah’s and whose needs, including education, the Shah's provide. There is also an individual who drives the car and an individual who attends the front gate.
The Shah's home was built in the mid 90's by Zamarud over a 2 and 1/2 year period. It is a two-story structure with a beauty salon run by Mrs. Shah in the basement. It abuts buildings on both sides and the compound is fully enclosed. One can hear the clatter of donkey hooves as endless carts go down the streets surrounding the compound. The home has many bedrooms and a large dining room, living room and family room. They have cable TV with CNN and BBC news. Zamarud has a computer with Internet connections. All the comforts of what we are used to in the States are here but with unmatched hospitality.
After a breakfast and some conversation, the three of us crashed for some rest. We all had been able to sleep some on the flights but more resting was necessary.
Late in the afternoon, Rotary Cub President Usman took us to two projects in which Rotary is involved in Peshawar.
The first project was the Afghan Women Skills Development Center. Ms. Mary Akrami, an Afghan from Kabul runs this Center. The Center presently teaches English to Afghan women. I believe some other classes are also taught and some children also are students at the center. The facility also used to teach computer skills and sewing skills to the ladies but the computers and sewing machines have recently been transferred to Kabul.
Mary and her staff all work as unpaid volunteers in the afternoons. They all have paying jobs in the morning as teachers in Peshawar. Two teachers we talked to hope to return to Afghanistan in the next few months. One will continue teaching and the other wants to find different employment. They advise that a teacher's salary in Afghanistan will probably range from $50 to $70 per month. They cautioned that finding/providing housing for teachers for our school project may be difficult.
The second facility we visited is an orphanage for Afghan Children. On her previous visit, Fary had visited these children but then they were housed in a different facility. There were about 50 kids present I would guess ranging from ages four to eight. Although the children are Afghan, most spoke Pashtun and did not know Dari. Because of being orphaned early in life, they were not exposed to this native Afghan language. Most were orphaned as a result of the hostilities in Afghanistan. Some still had an immediate relative but had been abandoned. They looked very healthy and did not carry sad looks. Their living quarters consisted of empty rooms where about a dozen or so would sleep on a mat on the floor. Each had one plastic bag about the size of a small grocery bag that contained all of their worldly possessions.
Rotary's Afghan Refugee Relief Effort Committee (ARREC) is providing operating funds to sustain the orphanage but those funds will only last about 6 months. The Uni-town Rotarians and perhaps other Rotarians in Peshawar are also trying to provide financial support for these two facilities.
Upon returning to the Shah's home, Fary, Flouran and I talked about the possible need to provide housing for some of the staff at the facility we will be developing and also housing for volunteers in the medical field and teachers who may come from the States to work at the facility. If we are to do this, additional fundraising will be needed.
We also talked to Zamarud about the anticipated costs of construction of the facility. He advises that some items will cost more than he previously thought. Costs may run in the range of $10 per foot. That would have the facility drawn up on our plans cost around $140,000 and right now we have commitments of $95,000 and a good chance of getting another $15,000 or $20,000 of construction funds from the Colorado group. We still would need an additional $25,000 to $30,000 to build out the entire facility if the $10 per foot estimate is good. Since the facility can be developed in phases, this new information does not affect the viability of the project nor is it unexpected.
That evening we attended the meeting of the Uni-town Peshawar Rotary Club.
They meet at a military garrison that was a private country club developed by the British. Many Rotary dignitaries and visiting Rotarians were in attendance including 4 Past District Governors from the Pakistan Rotary district. Included in this group was PDG A.A. M. Moshin who chairs the local Pakistan Committee for the Rotary Afghan Refugee Relief Effort. (It so happens that we had previously met in 1998 at Rotary's Council on Legislation in New Delhi, India.) With Rotarian Moshin was Muhammad Faiz Kidwai who is also on the ARREC Committee. He is an architect in Karachi, Pakistan who is interested in helping with this project. I provided Muhammad a set pf plans developed by Rotarian Rick Clark -who is a member of my club in San Diego. Muhammad offered to take the plans to the next stage whereby he would revise them to best fit local customs and would provide the specifications necessary for the contractors to work from. Additionally I provided the Uni-town Rotarian who is a general contractor a copy of the plans to get his input. Both Zamarud Shah, a retired mechanical engineer, and Usman Kahn, who is a civil engineer, intend to devote a substantial mount of their time over the next year to make this project a success.
At the Rotary meeting I was offered the opportunity to provide some background information regarding the project and explain Fary's and Flouran’ s roles--many of those present had previously met Fary when she was here before and all were familiar with her valuable work in the refugee camps.
We also heard from PDG Moshin regarding the work of the ARRE Committee and PDG Abdul Haiy Khan regarding the status of the Polio Eradication efforts. Abdul is Chairman of the Pakistan National Polio Committee. We heard from the most senior PDG in Pakistan who was involved in the Chartering of the original Rotary Club in Kabul, Pakistan. (We learned at this meeting that provisional club is in the formation stages today in Kabul.) Then we heard from the immediate past PDG with a few reflections on his year as District governor. We learned that Pakistani Rotarians have been deeply involved with cataract surgeries. I mentioned that I am vice chair of Rotary’s Avoidable Blindness Task Force and that the Donor Advised Fund we set up may be able to provide funds on a matching basis to support matching grants for additional surgeries down the road. We also heard from Abdul Rauf Rohaila who will be the District Governor for Pakistan in Rotary year 2004-05.
Fary had the opportunity to say a few words to the group many of whom she had come to know on her previous visit.
After all the speeches, we dined and then returned to the Shah's.
It was a very interesting and long day--I'm not even sure when the day started.
Journal entry Nov 6--9:30 PM
Today started with getting the preliminary U.S. election results from Susan on the Iridium phone through e-mail and direct contact. That put me in a pretty good mood.
The current Pakistani District Governor, Muhammad Ashraf Baig, joined us in the morning. We left for Jalalabad around 9:30 AM but when we got close to some Pakistani military checkpoints learned that we did not have proper exit documentation. So we spent the next couple of hours traveling in Peshawar to get the documentation we needed and saw much of Peshawar in the process
Once we received the proper documentation, we were given a stamp permitting us to leave Pakistan through the route to Jalalabad. This issue related to the fact that the Pakistani government does not control the territory we were going through (Khyber Pass). That is controlled by a local militia --I believe named the Khyber Rifles. Thus, we needed to sign documentation relieving Pakistan of all responsibility for us while within Pakistan but in territory their military does not control. As part of this process we were given an armed Khyber Rifles Militia escort while traveling through the militia territory. As troubling as all of this sounds, to the credit of the Pakistani government, they were just letting us know the situation and through some arrangement they have with the local militia arranged for us to have protection. This all went without incident. In the militia controlled territory we were still among the masses and had no hostility directed toward us.
The driving was harrowing-- sensations like what are probably the most scary Magic Mountain rides--which I have never taken-- while at the same time feeling like one is in a real life Indiana Jones movie. Our drivers were unbelievably skilled as they negotiated the roads at fast speeds with much congestion on conditions I best not describe.
At the Afghan border we needed to change vehicles and driver. I found it ironic that it was at this location where I received the phone e-mail that the Republicans will have control of both the House and the Senate.
Initial and continuing impressions of Afghanistan were all positive. It was hard to really believe that we were in this country. The driving was a little easier to take, the landscape was pretty and in some cases lush and the people seemed very much at ease.
We didn't get to Jalalabad until around 3:00 after adjusting for the half hour time change.
We were late for our meeting with Hajidean Mohammad, Governor of the Ningarhar Province. He replaced his brother who had been the Governor and was a Vice President of Afghanistan until his assassination a short time back.
Most of the conversation with the Governor was in Pushtin or Dari--similar to Farsi--but all Greek to me. He had been aware of our school project and was fully supportive. He agreed to provide us a letter advising that the site contemplated for the school is owned by the government and will be dedicated for our project. He advised that decisions for funding teachers and administration would need to be made with the Education Ministry in Kabul and we would have his full support in encouraging the same.
He advised that a school is sorely needed at the proposed site. Children are going to school there now sitting under tents. Some schools in Jalalabad have 6,000 students but only 2,000 under a roof.
The Governor advised that we should meet with a local NGO-- ABDUL HAQ Foundation--that can be of assistance to us. He also suggested that we meet with the Education Department in Jalalabad and offered to help set up these meetings.
The local TV station then interviewed Fary for their news that was to be played that evening. We did not have the opportunity to see the interview on TV.
We then adjourned to the Speen Ghar Hotel where we would spend the night.
After dinner at the hotel, Mohammad Ishaq who works for the NGO Abdul Haq, joined us. He invited us to go to their office meet with Nasrullah Baryalai Arsalai, their Executive Director, that evening to talk about the school project.
It was a very productive meeting. Although we met with the director, most of the discussion was directed to Mohammad. He is trained as a civil engineer and has studied in Kansas for two years. His job is to help facilitate projects such as ours. His NGO can literally supervise the entire construction project for a 10% fee. After the meeting we discussed this and it seems like a good fit with Zamarud Shah and Usman Kahn working with this NGO for the development of the project.
Tomorrow offices will be closed having something to do with the beginning of Ramadan and the normal day taken off for the week. From the best I can tell Ramadan does not start until some committee spots the new crescent moon. Some cloudy skies had delayed the sighting and I think it eventually gets started regardless. It also may vary some from country to country. (The electricity in the hotel just went out. I thought that wasn’t scheduled to happen until 10:00.)
I requested that Mohammed set up the following meetings when we return to Jalalabad in a few days:
Jalalabad Department of education;
US Social Services Dept-affiliated with US military
University at Jalalabad
Additionally he will review the plans and provide some cost estimates.
Tomorrow we drive to the site and then go on to Kabul. My immediate challenge is to figure out how to charge my batteries in hotels that only have the electricity on for only short periods of time.
Journal entry November 8 6:00 AM
Yesterday Usman and the District Governor returned to Peshawar and Zam, Fary, Flouran and I traveled to the school site. On the way we stopped at a bombed out facility which was Osama ben Laden's compound. It was huge. I couldn’t help but smile in thinking that almost in Osama's back yard, Rotary would be bringing education to young girls in Afghanistan.
At Osama's compound several teenage boys stopped to visit. They spoke some English and had paper textbooks with them. One was an English book for Afghan students published by the University of Nebraska in Omaha. According to Flouran, that University has a significant Afghan studies program. We need to follow-up to learn more about this.
When we arrived at the school site known as Chaprihar Deg region in the Ningarhar Province we came upon two large UNICEF tents for classrooms--one for boys and one for girls. We were mobbed upon arrival. The kids wanted to be near us and have their pictures taken. They range in ages approximately five to ten years old. They seemed healthy and full of energy. A large number of the students were recent returnees from the Shanishatoo Refugee Camp. We had that group isolated for a special picture. (It is important to one of our donors that our funds be used to specifically help Afghan refugees.) In fact large numbers of refugees continue to return from the camps and the area where the school will be located is where the government is planning to re-locate many of these refugee families.
Within the tents the students are segregated into three groups roughly by age. I saw no implements for instruction such as textbooks, chalk boards visual aides etc. There seemed to be about three or four teachers and a principal. None of the teachers or students spoke English. Some spoke Dari so Flouran and Fary could communicate with them and many spoke Pashtun so Zam could communicate with them,
The teachers are paid about $20 per month. It is difficult to get teachers to work for that low pay. The area is remote.
The living quarters for the students’ families were not visible from the site. We were told that there are about 400 students presently attending the school. They must walk a fair distance. We speculate that many of their parents probably take a bus to work in Jalalabad. The city is about 8 kilometers away but the road is so bad it takes about 40 minutes to get to town. After an hour or so at the school site we returned to Jalalabad, checked out of our hotel, and commenced our journey to Kabul.
The trip is hard to describe. It was not as scary as driving through Khyber Pass but the conditions were much worse. It was sort of like driving on moonscape through a riverbed on what used to be a road. There were some pretty big puddles but the biggest problem was lack of what resembled a road. Cars and large trucks would travel making gigantic S shaped movements--sort of like skiing. In this process there are not only no lanes but no real rules regarding who should be on which side of the road. Because the road is so bad the drivers generally could not go very fast, but everyone was driving as fast as was humanely possible. One has to be a very skilled driver with tremendous endurance to undertake this activity for hours on end. Just riding and hanging on was rather exhausting.
We arrived in Kabul late afternoon and quickly decided we wanted to stay in the nicest place in town. That is an Intercontinental Hotel, which certainly must be the low benchmark for that chain. Yet it meets our needs with things like electricity that has stayed on--although the elevators don't work and I am on the equivalent of a fifth floor.
It is cool in Kabul. The altitude is around 5,000 feet I think. There are some snow capped mountains that provides a setting similar to Banff but with smog.
We will see what today brings.
Journal entry November 8--9:00 PM
No meetings today because Friday is the day off in Afghanistan. So we went sightseeing in Kabul.
We started at the University of Kabul. Upon arrival college students surrounded us. Some were studying journalism and others civil engineering. All were freshmen males and all spoke English. The system is very competitive to get into the university. The best high school students are selected for medical school, then law, and then engineering and I’m not sure what else follows in the order. The university has fourteen different fields of study but that counts subcategories in fields like engineering.
We toured the buildings where classes are held. In looking at the classroom buildings we had assumed they were abandoned buildings. Most of the windows were missing, lighting fixtures were dangling from the ceiling, most rooms had no chairs and the buildings had no electricity. It was the worst condition I have ever seen. Yet we were told that over 1,000 students attend the university. It was a very emotional experience for Flouran--particularly talking to the students who were close to her in age--her contemporaries who had been left behind.
Next we visited a school the Japanese had rehabilitated. It had concrete floors with no chairs whatsoever. It had nothing but a chalkboard in each room and no electricity.
From there we visited what used to be the Kings Palace. Flouran used to go their as a little girl with her grandmother and visit the grave of her grand mother’s great grandfather who was part of the Afghan royalty. The palace stood in bombed out partial splendor. It must have been really something in its day. A small yellow building was still standing about 100 yards from the palace. We went there and inside saw Flouran' s ancestor's tomb intact with an inscription on the wall with the “Wali” name. We were all overwhelmed.
From there we visited a school that had been built by the Germans where German language was emphasized in the classroom--as opposed to English. The building complex is in its final stages of rehabilitation and it is a magnificent complex. Too bad Kabul University could not be located in this complex. It seemed larger than the university.
Some desks were being refurbished and we were able to get a bid on what it would cost to put similar desks and chairs into the school we are working on. It would be a little more expensive than we have planned but the desks were very nice. Also, we probably could get a lower bid for the desks since everything is negotiable here.
From there we drove around the city and spent substantial time going by literally hundreds of bombed out buildings and buildings that had many pock marks from rifle fire. It looked to me like pictures I had seen of the devastation in cities in Germany immediately following WWII. The devastation was caused as much or more by the civil wars that resulted after the Russians went out as it was from fighting the Russians. Unfortunately, the Afghans don't have the German technical expertise that existed after WWI nor is there a Marshall Plan. In fact, the only sign of foreign assistance at all that we have seen to date is the German rehab of the school and many fancy SUVs with UN or UNICEF or some NGOs name printed on the side. Based on what we have seen, the school we have planned would be one of the nicest facilities in the country if we can build it according to our architectural plans.
We visited another bombed out monument and then walked in one of the shopping districts. A small U.S. unit of about 10 military personnel was in the area so I went to talk to them to see about how I might get contact info regarding US troop presence in Jalalabad. In my first attempts, the soldiers I talked to did not acknowledge my presence. I worked my way to the lead person head of the unit and he would converse. He advised that he wasn't allowed to discuss troop location but suggested that I try to talk to the Deputy Chief of Mission at the US Embassy in Kabul. We went to the Embassy grounds. The soldier at the gate made a few phone calls and said if I come back tomorrow I will be able to talk with someone about the school.
During our touring we noticed a big billboard with a Rotary wheel, a picture of a child receiving drops and a reference to the polio immunizations that have been taking place in Afghanistan.
We then headed back to the hotel. Zam mentioned that he didn't feel well and he will head back to Peshawar tomorrow morning. So our group that started as six is now down to three but we should be able to do fine.
We had dinner at the hotel. The French Ambassador was also dining there which would be no big deal expect because of his presence there were roving body guards in flack jackets wondering around the dining room.
Journal entry November 9 9:30 PM Kabul
Today was very busy and productive. (Zam returned to Peshawar because he wasn't feeling well. He mentioned that when we came into Afghanistan they forgot to stamp our passports upon entry even though all kinds of other processing took place so we will see what happens upon our re-entry to Pakistan.)
We started the day at the US Embassy and met with Don Meier who works with USAID. He suggested we meet with Colonel Rene Dodler at the Coalition Joint Civil Military Operations Task Force. We went to that military base and after going through a fair amount of security were greeted by the colonel. When we explained about the school project and inquired about possibly military support from US forces in the Jalalabad area, he advised that he would arrange for that. He had us meet some others in his facility who would make the connections and suggested that we keep him advised by e-mail and also use his e-mail if any further assistance can be provided. We are scheduled to meet with the Jalalabad military personnel at 7:00 AM in two days. When one of the Colonel's aides heard that we are involved with Rotary, he mentioned that his girlfriend back in the States is about to embark on a Rotary Group Study Exchange program to India. As we left, the Colonel gave us all some "MREs" just in case we ran into trouble somewhere; I wasn't sure what to make of that gesture.
We next went to the Ministry of Education but were advised that the Minister and the Deputy ministers would not be available to meet with us. As we were leaving we ran into an acquaintance of Flouran--Suraya Saeed. Suraya is the founder and Executive Director of Help the Afghan Children--an NGO that has been helping Afghan children for many years. She has been on the Oprah Winfry show talking about her work and Opra has given her $250,000 for some school projects here. She also has been written up in Time magazine and Reader’s Digest. Suraya is in the process of developing and rehabilitating several schools here and knows all the ins and outs in getting things done in Afghanistan. We spent an hour with her back at her office just learning about what additional things we need to consider. She has developed an interesting program to provide teacher training and we may wish to considering tapping into her expertise and resources when it comes to seeing that the instruction given at the Rotary School is of the highest caliber reasonably possible.
From there we went to the Afghan Ministry of Foreign Affairs and met with Deputy Minister Dr. Mohammad Haider Reza. Early in the conversation it came out that Dr. Reza had been a Rotary Scholar who studied in the States. We mentioned that Rotary will soon be coming to Kabul and I think he may be interested in assisting this effort.
Dr. Reza suggested we meet with the Economic Department to register our NGO to make things simpler for us. He also suggested that we need to meet with a Deputy Minister of Education. When we explained the Deputy minister was not available he made a phone call and advised us to go to the Deputy ministers office immediately for an appointment.
Education Deputy Minister Zabihullak Asmateg immediately and enthusiastically received us. He liked what we propose and suggested we get our building plans approved ASAP. We were escorted to the Education Ministry's Planning Director Taj-U-Din Sedique who reviewed the plans. By this time we had determined that the Vocational Education Center needed to be a stand-alone building since it would not be administered under the Ministry of Education. He suggested the need for a conference room and perhaps other functions so we agreed to re-label the Vocational Training Center to be a multi-purpose room and have it be part of the elementary school. The Deputy Minister confirmed what we had learned from Suraya. If we build the school the Ministry of Education will provide teachers, administrators and set the curriculum.
We will not give up on the Vocational Training Center. We will propose such a facility as a separate building and probably try to have a small duplex for housing for volunteers who work at the facility.
The Planning Director suggested that we come back in the morning with a letter that summarizes the information in the plans and we should be able to obtain plan approval in 30 minutes time--(none of the planning approvers were available this afternoon.)
From there we went to the UNICEF office and met with Jeaniene Wright who deals with UNICEF's educational programs in Afghanistan. She liked what we are proposing and mentioned that through a cooperative arrangement with the Ministry of Education UNICEF provides funding for student kits, textbooks, classroom supplies and teacher supplies.
From there we went to the Ministry of Public Health and met with Deputy Minister Dr. Firozeddin Fironz and the Ministry's Technical Advisor, Dr. Stanekzni. Their first reaction was “why were we building the facility near Jalalabad?” They mentioned that there are other parts of the country that have no schools or medical facilities. They were unimpressed with the fact that the area we would be serving also has no school or medical clinic probably because the City of Jalalabad does have such facilities-although those facilities would be too far away to serve the community our school would serve.
They basically confirmed that the Ministry of Education would have the responsibility regarding the medical clinic in the school but the MoE would receive assistance from the Ministry of Public Health.
We then talked about other items such as the cost to provide a functioning medical clinic to a remote area; the needs for doctors training in Afghanistan, how Rotary Volunteers might help and how we could assist in making their needs known and publicizing trough Rotary volunteer opportunities in Afghanistan. They mentioned a pharmaceutical factory could be facilitated that would allow Afghanistan to become self sufficient for certain types of essential medications. Although they have access to the Internet, they are not familiar with what opportunities for funding might be explored through private foundations.
This whole area seems ripe for follow-up. They were genuinely interested in the recent efforts to start a Rotary Club in Kabul and I think would be willing to help facilitate the same.
We then returned to the hotel and I worked on the letter for the Planning Department for the Ministry of Education.
Journal entry November 10 8:30 PM Jalalabad
Another good day. We started with dropping Flouran at the Ministry of Foreign affairs to meet a family friend who is the Afghanistan Ambassador to Poland. Fary and I went back to the building department of the Education Ministry and presented the letter they requested from us providing details for the project. We had been advised that upon receipt of the letter, they would take it to their engineering department and approval would be forthcoming. However, the head engineering person who would need to review it would not be available till 11:00. We did some quick calculations and determined that if we waited that long and if there are any glitches we would not make it back to Jalalabad before dark. Thus, we left the plans in the hands of the Planning Department head anticipating that he would finish the processing.
We then hit the road to Jalalabad. We soon encountered a “truck jam” similar to a puzzle where one needs to move the squares to get every square in the right place. The squares were mainly semis and our car was the square that needed to get to the finish. This took about a half hour of jostling and hand waiving. After that our car broke down twice but the driver was able to repair it with some extra parts he carried.
We got to Jalalabad much later that expected and went straight to the NGO we plan to work with. They had received the proposed schedule I had sent back with Zam the day before and we went into a meeting at the home of Ghani Hydaryat, Head of Provincial Education. His deputy of Provincial Education, Awal Gul Abu Zahid, joined us. They had been briefed about our purpose. We elaborated and showed them the school plans. They approved them on the spot. They advised that the approval should come from the provincial office-- not the Ministry of Education in Kabul. We had previously been advised about this tension between federal and provincial officials. They told us no further approvals were necessary and we should proceed. Our groundbreaking is set for tomorrow.
We were invited to have dinner with the NGO personnel at their facility. They had invited some guests to join us. We had a traditional Afghan meal sitting on the floor. Guests included an Irishman who has worked in Afghanistan for the UN for the last 13 years. He had many dealings with the Taliban. He was very knowledgeable and very intelligent. Also present was James Ritchie who has a home in Julian and has used Luce Forward--Suzanne Stanford as his attorney. Also present was Jim Dubrill from Wenatchee who works for a community college there in the agriculture field. They have joint agricultural programs with Washington State University.
We learned that the local militias are regaining power since the Taliban have been wiped out. It is unclear if they will cede power to the central government. Opinions were expressed in all directions on this.
We were told by Mohammed (our primary contact at the NGO) that our project likely will be one of the first of significance to come out of the ground in Afghanistan. This will be much to the embarrassment of the major relief organizations who have been in Afghanistan for some time, have big budgets, but have nothing yet visible to show.
Back at the hotel we realized that we have nothing of any size with a Rotary name attached to it to have on display for the groundbreaking tomorrow. Since there likely will be many dignitaries and possibly media at the ground breaking, Fary and Flouran made a Rotary sign out of ripped up folders with the letters ROTARY printed on each folder. We hope to have six kids hold up the folders at the groundbreaking.
Journal entry November 11 10:00 PM Jalalabad
Today started at 7:00 AM meeting with three individuals from the Army's Civil Affairs Psychological Operations Command: Major Jim Hawver-a civil engineer, Mike Bolton--a prison guard, and Dan Moriarty--an Army historian. They were all reservists and just called up for active duty. Their mission in the Jalalabad area is to provide logistical support for redevelopment projects in this area. Our project fits like a glove with their mission and they are glad to help out however they can. I want to see that they have a visible role in our project to show the local community our military is doing things to help civilian life. There is a widely felt impression that no one is helping Afghanistan now that the Taliban are disbursed and Al Queda somewhat compromised.
We went to the school site for the groundbreaking. The Provincial Education head and his deputy soon joined us. Soon the US Military arrived responding to our invitation. Other dignitaries kept arriving and after a while the Governor arrived with his entourage complete with guys with guns jumping out of the backs of trucks securing the area prior to the governor making his appearance. Formal seating was set up on mats in the UNICEF tents, many speeches were given and I was asked to say a few words as well. Everyone kept referencing Rotary International and thanking us for bringing the school facility to the area.
Kids sang at the ceremony and about 250 or so kids sat at attention the whole time for the ceremony.
After the speeches the formal groundbreaking took place. A young man was working with a pick ax digging a trench. The Governor then laid a stone in the trench and a few of us were also asked to lay stones. The whole event lasted about an hour and one half.
The local media was there for all of this and we were later advised that the ceremony had been on the local TV and on BBC--we don't have access to TV.
We had purchased gifts for the school which were distributed--mats for the students to sit on, chalkboards for the teachers, notebooks, pencils and erasers for the students.
We then went to the Ningarhar Islamic University, which is the second largest university in Afghanistan. There we met Department heads for the Colleges of Agriculture, Veterinary Medicine, and Engineering. Others from these departments were present as was the university's vice-Rector.
The University is the second largest in Afghanistan. It has 3,000 students and 250 professors and lecturers. None of the departments represented had any existing relationships with any other institution of higher learning. No department has access to the Interned or e-mail. The language of instruction is in Pashtun. Few textbooks are available in Pashtun so most of the education is accomplished simply through lecture notes.
The faculty is made up of 70% who only hold undergraduate degrees and 30% with advanced degrees, but very few with PhDs.
They would welcome any outside assistance of any sort. I mentioned Rotary's scholarship program but a district would need to donate a scholarship. I advised that I would check with our district regarding this but pointed out that I don't make that decision. They would also be interested in having lecturers come to their university to help educate the professors. Each department head referenced his specific needs. It is heartbreaking to think of trying to educate the future leaders needed in Afghanistan under these conditions.
From there we returned to the NGOs office. I learned that the head of the NGO is the brother of its namesake --Abdul Haq who was executed by the Taliban, the brother of the person who was vice president of the country who was assassinated and the brother of the present Governor of the province we are dealing with.
Again there were several guests at the dinner we enjoyed at the NGO. It was the birthday of one of the guests so our hosts arranged for an evening of Afghan music. One of the men present danced to entertain us.
So it was another long, interesting and productive day.
Journal entry November 12 10:00 PM Peshawar
This morning started with a trip to what was called a girls’ orphanage. Actually it is for girls who only have one parent or who live with a relative because neither parent is around. It is a school but not a boarding facility. In addition to traditional education they have a sewing class. The machines are hand driven, made in China and cost about $30 apiece. We gave the school some extra mats that Flouran had purchased. Fary left a suitcase full of donations for the girls. The head master advised us that he kept the school running during the Taliban time. Because it was not a public school, they allowed it to operate and some of the Taliban even had their daughters going to this school. The conditions are primitive but it works. On the way to this school we saw a school where classes were held for the various age groups simply under trees. Flouran asked Mohammed to buy several things for this “school” with the remaining donated funds she had been given.
From the orphanage we followed a canal to see a canal-dredging project that Abdul Haq foundation is involved in.
From there we went to the Ningarhar University again. We met with the Chancellor who had been absent yesterday. Flouran gave him a $500 donation that had been provided by the UN Foundation of San Diego suggesting that the funds be used to satisfy some of the needs identified yesterday such as laboratory equipment.
We were taken to the library by Professor Mohammed Tayeb from the Agriculture Department. His English is quite good. Most of the books are in Arabic. Only the Theology students read Arabic. Arab countries have donated these books particularly in the time of the Taliban. The books in English were 30 to 50 years old. There were hardly any books in Pashtun or Dari--the primary languages in the country. There was one three-volume encyclopedia in Pashtun and no other encyclopedias. I want to see if the International Book Bank will donate a set of World Books if they still have any and I want to get a few of UCSD Professor Maarten Chrispeel's books to the Agriculture Department as well.
From there we went to the Abdul Haq office to review the work of their engineer in projecting costs of the school project. Much is uncertain until we get the detailed specifications from the Pakistani Rotarian Muhammad Faiz Kidwai, who is an engineer. The project appears financially feasible but we probably will need to raise more funds to do a complete build out.
We then hit the road for Peshawar. The border crossing was a nightmare as trucks faced each side at the border with the trucks squaring off taking up all lanes on all sides of the road and shoulder. When faced with this situation we were also advised that the border closed in five minutes--news to us that it closed at all. Apparently because of Ramadan it closes earlier than usual. With help from the Afghans, we made it through. They are so polite and eager to please.
Then we again picked up our armed militia escort and proceeded thorough the Khyber Pass. Upon arriving at the Shah's we learned that the Rotary meeting started earlier than usual. Mr. Shah came from the meeting in progress and picked up Fary and me. It was at the home of attorney Mohammad Tariq. We reported on our activities of the last several days. We also mentioned that the concept of formation of a Rotary Club in Jalalabad should be pursued. Mohammad Ishaq, our NGO contact in Jalalabad, believes he has 22 colleagues who would be interested.
Back at the Shah's after the meeting we saw on TV the riots at Kabul University and heard that two students had been killed and fifty injured. Apparently they were protesting the bad conditions--sigh.
Journal entry November 13 8:20 PM Peshawar
Today we went to the bank to open the account for the school funds. From there we went to the Peshawar office of Abdul Haq Foundation. The Director was not in so we went on to one of the camps where Fary had worked and met with the medical staff. They greeted Fary very enthusiastically. All of the things she had purchased when she had been working there earlier this year were still there and in good working order. One of the doctors mentioned that they have been advised that Pakistan is closing the camps in the next six months or so and it is anticipated that there will be a massive influx of refugees back to Afghanistan. We know that some refugees have already come back to the area where our school will be built and the government is preparing this area for further major influx of refugees.
We went back to the Abdul Haq office but the Director had still not arrived--he was coming from Afghanistan so it was difficult for the staff to predict his time of arrival. We were advised that they will be moving their Peshawar office to a small facility in about one month.
Later in the afternoon Zamarud drove us around Peshawar University. It has beautiful grounds and it has the largest enrollment in Pakistan--around 20,000 students. Then we went to a shopping area for Fary and Flouran to do some last minute shopping.
Time to repack and prepare for the journey home that will take about 45 hours in transit.
Journal entry November 17 back in San Diego
The trip home was largely uneventful, but long—3 hours from Peshawar to Dubai, a 15 hour layover in Dubai; 7 hours Dubai to London; 4 hour layover in London and 11 hours to San Diego.
While in Dubai we took a city tour. United Arab Emirates has 3.5 million residents—80% of whom are foreigners. It is the most modern city I have seen with obvious large amounts of wealth.
We were able to meet with some of the Dubai Rotarians at the very opulent home of Rotarian Mahendra Patel. Their club was just chartered last year. They may have an interest in becoming involved in some of the Rotary opportunities in Afghanistan. I will send them some more information.
Well, it is good to be home but there is much follow-up work to undertake regarding this trip. I truly believe that, through Rotary, we can make a considerable difference to the people of Afghanistan. Time to get to work.
Related Links on This Site:
Architectural Plans and Contact Information
Daily Trip Journal
Steve's Home Page