Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Rethink Afghanistan

Rethink Afghanistan


"Mountains can never reach each other, despite their bigness. But humans can."

–Afghan proverb


"Education is a long-term solution to fanaticism."

–Colonel Christopher Kolenda, U.S. Army


Less than two days after I had been offered a teaching fellowship in Afghanistan, I walked by a huge banner on the Santa Barbara City College campus that read: "RETHINK AFGHANISTN!"


It was nearing the end of the 72-hour grace period in which I would need to accept or decline the fellowship I had been offered by Georgetown University (administered by the U.S. Department of State). I had been weighing all of the positives and negatives since receiving the offer. Here is a peek into my thought process: positive—living in, and beginning to understand, a place that very few non-military Americans would ever experience; negative: suicide bombers; positive: learning Dari (a language closely related to Farsi which is an official language of Afghanistan); negative: being kidnapped by the Taliban; positive: participating in nation building by teaching; negative: living in a hooch (bomb shelter); positive: lamb kabobs.


As you may have guessed, when I walked by the sign "RETHINK AFGHANISTAN," I yelled back, "I haven't stopped thinking about it for 48 hours!" The Vietnam vets sitting next to the sign shouted "Right on sister!" I smiled and continued the walk to my office.


Later on that same day, I accepted the teaching fellowship.


As poetic justice has it, I will be moving to Kabul, Afghanistan on September 11, 2010. My fellowship will last a school year (10 months). Officially, I will be known as a Senior English Language Fellow (ELF) (yes, go ahead and make all of the elf jokes you would like to for the next year!) with the U.S. Department of State. The funding for the fellowship is provided by Georgetown University. My job is threefold: to teach English at Kabul Education University, to develop a Masters in Teaching program at said University, and to observe the students (teachers) from KEU teaching at their schools and help them develop English curriculum and improve upon their teaching methods.


Now, before being extremely worried about me, I hope that you will also rethink Afghanistan. Let me explain.


I, just like you, have read countless reports and articles about what is going on in Afghanistan for the last nine plus years. The images I have in my mind of Afghanistan are of a war-torn country trampled on by occupying forces. It is a place where violence occurs everyday and the allies are losing a battle that is more complex than they know. Among the rubble and mish mash of this war and occupation exists a people, the Afghans, who are trying to carve out a semblance of life in an increasingly unsafe reality run by a corrupt government which the occupying forces have put into place. It is a mess, and an ugly one.


You most certainly are thinking: why are you going to Afghanistan? What do you think YOU can do to make a difference?


Consider what Malalai Joya, a woman and the youngest member of Afghan Parliament recently said: "Today the soil of Afghanistan is full of land mines, bullets, and bombs—when what we really need is an invasion of hospitals, clinics, and schools for boys and girls."


I have long believed that through education, nations are built. If I can help one teacher educate his/her students in a more effective way, or I can show one Afghan that the American people (me for the time being) supports them and believes in their ability to get their own nation back on track, then I think that I have contributed something positive.


Nations are not built quickly; they are built piece by piece and across decades, even centuries. Nations are constructed by many individuals making small changes that they believe in, and then asking others around them to make small changes too. As Margaret Mead once said, "Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has." Hopefully I can contribute some of my own knowledge and love to the citizens of Afghanistan who are forging a better future for their country.


What is more important, in the long run, is that I am going there to learn what it is really like for the Afghan people. I will try my best to listen to the true stories of the people that I meet, because through all of these stories we can all get a better picture of what it is like to live in Afghanistan at this time; through listening to the stories of the people we can walk in their shoes for a moment. If we can walk in the shoes of those less fortunate than ourselves, we may begin to wish for them to have shoes similar to our own.


And so I will go, day by day, rethinking Afghanistan each step of the way.


At 8:21 PM , Blogger Troy said...

freeking hippie; do you have/get to wear a burka?

but really, good an ya. sounds like a great experience. stay safe. be smart with your courage while you're there.

At 10:19 AM , Blogger Jaala Thibault said...

Thanks Troy :). No burka, just a head covering. But if I am outside of Kabul in the provinces it would be prudent to wear a burka.

At 3:23 PM , Blogger Debra said...

Dear Jaala;

I have a Google Alert on "Afghanistan-Higher Education" and your Blog came up. I worked in Afghanistan for 1 & 1/2+ years. I love it and will go back when I finish a graduate certificate on Food Safety.

No Burka needed in Kabul, but lots of tears if you are working in any of the education institutions in Afghanistan. I worked for Kansas State University over there. Although it is better then when I left in 2007.

I love the lamb kaboobs too! Although make sure they are well cooked.......food safety;-)

There is a huge need for brave women like you!


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