Sunday, October 9, 2011

Afghanistan: In the Field

Maggie in Kandahar
I just received a email from one of my best friends. A few months ago she embarked on a journey that had many of us worried, this is the first we are hearing from her.  Maggie is doing aid in Afghanistan. Before that she was enrolled in The Peace corps and lived in Africa for 2 years helping with education, and building of schools. I am so proud of her and miss her, she could be in Afghanistan for up to 3 years. Her email is attached just so you know what she is doing. I am going to be putting a few care packages together to send her, if you are interested let me know and I can send you her address privately, or if you are close to me add it into mine.

Bread Delivery

Greetings from Kandahar, 
It has been about a month and a half since I left Washington, DC.  Until a few weeks ago, I saw Afghanistan only through stapled reports, windows, through mesh, from a helicopter, from afar-until I had the opportunity to accompany my military counterparts on a village assessment. We met with the village elder, toured the mud/brick enclosures and distributed school supplies (schools opened 09/06/11). Mixed in the dust and tobacco fields were teams of children, under the age of 10, asking for candy and anything hanging from our body armor. Noticeably absent were women who remained in the structures, but who heard and saw us quite clearly, I am sure. Small boys stood on the clay roofs jumping down only where backpacks were distributed.  As we followed the sewage down the narrow passes between the houses, the village elder spoke of broken water pumps and the needs for canals; what was done before the pumps was unclear. The local district leadership remained focused on security, the planting season and road repair.
As an USAID field program officer for the District of Daman, I am tasked with monitoring/evaluating/proposing development projects with my military counter-parts and Afghan government officials.  Day to day I work out of the Provincial Reconstruction Team in Kandahar City and travel periodically to the District Center and villages to meet with local officials to implement national development plans.  I attend a periodic shura (community meeting of elders/religious leaders of a community) with representatives from the military and government. These meetings provide opportunities for the village to raise/solve
disputes and coordinate activities; they are conducted exclusively by men.  There is a proposal to train a military female engagement team to hold a women’s shura in the villages, but this issue remains highly socially and political sensitive. Small village based engagements are planned for the next few months.  In terms of specific projects, the district government identified the lack of an official health representative and a crop disease diagnosis clinic as the immediate needs for the region. Updates to follow. 
Dinner with Government officials
Many of my military and civilian counter-parts have worked in conflict zones and the stories of their experiences/struggles remain.  Rocket attacks on the larger bases are not uncommon. As the sirens go off and a female British women calmly states: “Rocket Attack,” all personnel look for the nearest bomb shelter/hard structure.  Delayed meetings are conducted, snacks are shared and speculation as to the type of rocket and/or point of origin is discussed.   Many tell of similar situation in Iraq or abroad with a much different tone.  One woman recounted an incident that leaves her scared of balloons popping. Throughout my time here, I remain cognizant that although the dining facility serves steak and lobster tails on Fridays, this is a war zone and that as a civilian, I am a liability.  Many my military colleagues directly risk their lives to enable me to have local engagements with traditional leaders and government officials. This fact is not lost on me. 
Hotel Daman
I am not sure what this year will bring but despite the political, logistical and security setbacks, there is an opportunity to work with the communities to I improve access to services and to build the capacity of local leaders.
I look forward to the challenges ahead and will hopefully enjoy some more local food along the way.

Thank you for all of your message over these past few weeks.  Security in my area remains stable and we just received stable access to the Internet at provincial center.  Please feel free to send any questions.
Seed Distribution USAID Project
I miss you all and keep in touch!

 What would make Afghanistan a little better:
-Souvenirs from your hometown/USA to distribute in villages
-Bars soap
-Lotions and perfume (travel size)
-Your favorite BBQ sauce/hot sauce
-Pictures of America/YOU!

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