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.