A Little Perspective

So, with the happenings of the last week, I felt it was time for another blog. I have some thoughts rolling around in my head that I find interesting… here’s to hoping you find them interesting as well.

Even though people have now gotten used to the fact that I do indeed live here, in Kabul, I still get the question of “Why?”. And, while I don’t think that you can fully understand the why behind what I’m doing here, maybe I can help with a few thoughts.

So, first of all, I cringe when I see figures on how much has been spent on Afghanistan in the past 11 years. I don’t cringe because this place isn’t worth the money, I cringe because so much of it has made so little lasting change. Forgive me for being crass in this next statement, but I saw a tweet earlier that I think is genius. It goes something like this, “Sustainable development is like teenage sex, everyone says they’re doing it, but those who actually are doing it are rarely doing it well.” Now, I’m no expert on teenage sex but I think they have a point. First of all, the term “sustainable development” is a misnomer. Something is not sustainable (as in self-sustaining) until it is in fact developed, so really you’re just doing development.

Now, onto the whole development issue. There are so many projects here that are meant to develop the country. You know, wells, infrastructure (power-grids, highways, water systems, etc.), agriculture (and not the poppy kind), and lots of other things. Yet, in order to run these things in the long-term there have to be qualified people to do the running. So, what in fact is the first step in sustaining development? Education.

I currently work at the only accredited PreK-12 school in the entire country of Afghanistan. We have to fight, beg, plead, and anything else we can manage to get the aid money that we do. While 90% of our graduates go on to universities in North America, Europe, and Asia we’re getting funding cut from nearly every direction. Sure, these kids aren’t staying in Afghanistan for school but most of them plan to return once they have gotten their degrees elsewhere. So… doesn’t it make sense to try to provide education for the people who will be running your developing projects 5-10-15 years from now? Maybe I’m just old-fashioned, but I think that you generally need educated people to run an economy. But, the US hasn’t been able to figure out its own education system so why should I think they’d get it right here?

That’s why I’m here. I believe in what this school does, what this country could become, and who these people are. The Afghan people (whether Hazara, Pashtun, Panchiri, Tajik, Uzbek… not sure on the spelling of all of those) are some of the most resilient people I have ever encountered. Yes, there was a bombing and some other craziness that happened a few days ago, but what you didn’t hear on the news is how the Afghan people continued on with the business of their day. You didn’t hear about the other attacks that were prevented. You don’t hear about how some Afghan people are banding together to fight against the Taliban on their own. My point here, as Westerners, we generally lack perspective on how things really are because, unfortunately, our media goes for shock factor and not actual news. It’s difficult finding out what’s happening here when all the media folks are covering the same gruesome story. Unfortunately, gruesome is marketable.

So, in closing… yes, there are a lot of terrible things that happen here. I’m not trying to downplay the deaths of those whom were killed a few days ago. What I am trying to say is, there is more to the story. If Westerners knew what to focus on (which would take a conscious change of appetite, exchanging the eye-catching for actual news) then I think that things could actually change. Differences can be made. But difference, the good kind, can be messy. It may not be immediately profitable, you might miss your quota of warm-fuzzies, and you might actually do something that’s worthwhile.

Please understand, I’m not ungrateful, just skeptical. If we want things to change, we have to begin to change how we are, how we consume, and our desire for immediate gratification. This applies to development but also to life in general.

5 thoughts on “A Little Perspective

    1. Absolutely. A good documentary to see about the state of our education system is called “Waiting for Superman”. We watched it here for professional development stuff, I don’t agree with all of it but it gives a good look into our current system.

  1. I agree with most of this, Luke, except for the fact that the students are so willing to go back and rebuild the country, particularly, its economy. Education is the major factor but not the ultimate one. There is something that education cannot do on its own – and it is creating the critical momentum which would give a way for the educated minds to thrive. We (I’m speaking on behalf of Uzbeks) have a whole lot of educated people living abroad after having graduated from foreign institutions who are /refusing/ to go back to their home country because there is NOT much that can be done under the current administration. Literally nothing of a good nature. The system itself is creating a fertile soil mostly for complying minds, in some cases – though it may be very harsh to say – it is so debilitating and demoralizing that even the bright minds lose their grip to the system.
    So what would be a comprehensive solution? Well, the only thing that I can think of is a paradigm shift with a revolution of that ilk which will forcefully change the current administration and is LEAD by some group of people of a benevolent nature who will have the GREAT plan at hand when they inherit the nation. But seriously, does not it remind you of the Arab Spring? It may be seen as a failure in some nations, like Tunis, Egypt, Yemen – you name it, but I think those guy had it figured – historically proven, the old corrupt authority shall not yield to the needs of its country …willingly – be it for the sake of the highly educated cadres – and the latter shall always be NOT welcomed to make any sustainable change. In other words, until a revolution happens, El Baredei will not go back to Egypt.

    1. I think you have a great point, and not really knowing a lot about the political situation of Uzbekistan, I can’t speak with much certainty so I’ll stick to what I do know a little something about, and that’s here.
      The students, at least many of them upon graduation and even those in the lower elementary consistently say how much they want to come here to make the country a better place.
      I think that Afghanistan and Uzbekistan, while their fates are linked, are in fundamentally different places in their political development simply due to the amount of Western involvement. Whether that is good or not remains to be seen. However, in the revolutions that you described… these were led (at least in large part) by the educated wanna-be elites. Even if democracy doesn’t start at the grass-root level, it is sustained there. The only way to prepare the soil, to steal your analogy, is through education. Not saying that changing systems will ever be easy, but without the education side of it people won’t even know what they ought to change to. As Afghanistan has experienced for the last several decades, without coherent ideas being produced, people passing bullets instead of books, and power-hungry warlords, an endless cycle is produced. Education, although it will likely take a generation or more to bring comprehensive change, is the main avenue through which this cycle can be broken.
      Also, a change of heart like the one you talked about above is also necessary. This is something that can and ought to be instilled during the years if education.

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