Afghanistan Visit: Practical Help and Lasting Friendships

Afghan sheep

Sheep grazing the fresh October snow in the mountains of Afghanistan. Photo courtesy of Lisa Bandari/Aga Khan Foundation

CRS Senior Legislative Specialist Jill Marie Gerschutz filed this report following a recent trip to Afghanistan:

The valley opens up to beautifully carved red, green, and gray mountains that look like Sedona, Arizona. Behind them snow-tipped mountains are reminiscent of the Alps. A small river runs through the valley, marked in places by small poplar forests. On my advocacy visit to Afghanistan I visited an extremely remote village in the Province of Bamiyan, Yakawlang district. CRS Afghanistan worked with the community to construct a bridge and road between their village and the next. The bridge should last 20-30 years. It employed 118 men in a cash-for-work program for 28 working days (2 months overall). But its greatest significance is the access it provides for faster travel between communities: allowing more children to attend school, increased trade, and more women to birth their children in a nearby clinic.

Afghan man

An Afghan farmer stands in his field. The barren mountainside and long winter make farming challenging. Photo courtesy of Lisa Bandari/Aga Khan Foundation

The community leaders – including men and women in this relatively liberal province – invited the three local staff along with our Kabul office director Scott Braunschweig and myself into their mud-brick home to talk and have lunch. The openness of the community to speak to us about their lives was incredibly humbling. We learned how the women’s enterprise group, which has helped women to buy sheep, has enabled them to make carpets out of the wool. Years ago this community would have made many more carpets. But the community lost many sheep over the years – mostly after eight years of drought; some were killed by the Taliban. Moreover, the communities struggle to compete with Iranian and Pakistani carpets sold in the local district market. In fact, the economy is so challenging here that nearly half of the families who once lived in this community have migrated to Iran or elsewhere due to the economic challenges. But the community we met illustrated its resiliency and gratitude for CRS’ work.

Indeed, the local CRS staff who work with this community impress. The program manager, referred to as Hajji for having made the pilgrimage to Mecca, has more than 20 years experience in development work. His analysis of the cultural and political dynamic help to ensure that CRS’ work is sensitive to the local context. Two field officers are responsible for ensuring the community’s successful involvement. Mohammed told me after dinner that the best part of his job is the participatory process CRS uses to choose and implement its programs. CRS’ four month process involves the entire community in program design, much more than many other programs which simply ask the local Shura, or town council, which programs or projects it would like. The project and the community and CRS staff who make it happen illustrated very clearly that CRS not only produces quality, sustainable development but also, as Hajji put it over lunch, lasting friendships.

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