Friday, April 01, 2011

A Bridge, not a Barrier

Winter Speaking course students.
Certificate ceremony for my winter Speaking course.

After wars have been fought, battles have been executed, people have died, land has been destroyed, and a generation of people have suffered through a surreal life, everything will end with a few people in power sitting down, drinking tea, talking, then deciding the future of a country. Peace will depend on negotiations made between victorious parties; Afghanistan's fate will be determined by a small group of people. Hopefully that group of people will not consist of those who have killed the most people, acquired the most weapons or money, or burnt the most schools. Hopefully that group will consist of the educated; the people who have a vision of a peaceful, equitable society. Hopefully that group will be my students.

But right now, Afghanistan faces some barriers in achieving my hopeful reality.

The first barrier is the American people and military.

Mentioning this is important. Americans who know nothing of the three decades of conflict in Afghanistan have decided that it is time to pull our troops out of the country. Popular opinion seeks to "bring our troops home;" to end our exorbitant military spending and to wash our hands of this place. This is a valid position. After all, who wants to be spending so much money in a Central Asian country roughly the size of Texas that has seemingly nothing to offer us? Who wants our military personnel dying each day for a lost cause? Who prefers to funnel billions of dollars into a place run by one of the most corrupt governments in the world? I don't.

But consider this: Disarming (by this, I mean not giving anyone here any more weapons) and educating the people of Afghanistan is in our interest. We are all, Americans and Afghans specifically, members of a global society and to allow any country to remain poor, underdeveloped, and uneducated poses a threat to not only the welfare of the people within this society, but to the rest of the world.

Poverty and conflict breed ignorance. When people are uneducated, they lack the ability to make decisions for themselves; to research issues, to read a newspaper, to simply sign their own name. Illiterate people cannot attend schools and will never learn the skills they need to build an economy, the infrastructure, to develop technology and industry, and to enhance and strengthen the education system. Illiteracy paves the way for discord. Bad people can tell an uneducated populace any kind of inaccurate information and the people will believe it because they don't have the ability to disprove it. Uneducated people anywhere is a threat to peace everywhere.

A key component in nation building is not wealth, but skills. Right now, a great deal of the billions of dollars we spend in Afghanistan contributes to the military presence here, not to the educating of people. Although there is a percentage of soldiers working in reconstruction teams and with the people, training them to do their jobs (most of the training is with the Afghan National Army and Afghan National Police), not enough is being done to enhance the Education system.

If the military really does leave, and we pull all of our money out of this place, a vacuum will be left where the security forces once were. Who knows what may fill this vacuum in the absence of education.

But there is hope.

At this point, America could be a bridge rather than a barrier.

At this point, America can make the decision to replace military spending with skilled professionals to train Afghans in teaching, business, engineering, medicine, and all other fields which support the development of a nation. I suggest that as we pull soldiers out, we replace them with educators; with people who can teach skills to the citizens of Afghanistan. I stand my ground when I say that ignorance and illiteracy are the biggest hurdles to peace in Afghanistan. If we as a capable, generous, developed nation gave Afghans education rather than money; if we as a free, hopeful people gave Afghans training rather than military occupation, everyone would be better off. Knowledge can never be taken away from someone, but money, goods, and weapons can all disappear.

Let us be a bridge rather than a barrier.

The following is a speech that my student wrote for an embassy event. He is a senior at my University and one of the people I hope ends up at the negotiating table when the war comes to an end.

In the name of God, the most merciful

In my own life, I have always thought about when I would find an opportunity to open my heart and present my people’s problems. Well a man must not be hopeless, because God is more kind than we think. Thank God now I have the opportunity.

Today I apologize, but I am going to spill the beans about my government regarding both education in general and higher education. As an Afghan citizen I must tell the truth. If the government of Afghanistan, the World’s Society and the people and government of the US do not focus on education in Afghanistan, especially on higher education, I believe that after three or four years Afghanistan will become a leaking nuclear reactor; a disaster which no one can do anything about it. Afghanistan’s opposition forces will increase, and at that time a hundred years of battle and war will ensue in Afghanistan. There will be no peace and no security in this country.

In the US there is NASA and in Europe there is ESA, they are both the results of education. But if there are suicide bombings, if there is violence,if there is burning schools, if there is killing innocent people and so forth, these are all the results of lack of education.

If today there is no peace in Afghanistan, it is for the lack of education, if the opposition groups burn schools, they don’t know, if Afghanistan is backward again and so forth, these are all the results of lack of education.

I want to say to the people of the US, the US government and to the World’s Society, if you want to bring peace to Afghanistan, if you want to finish the terrorists, if you want to achieve your goals, if you want to complete your responsibilities as a human being, then focusing on education is more effective than battles and wars.

We thank the World’s Society and the people and government of the US for their help in Afghanistan. Today we have schools, we have universities, we have teachers, and we see that cute and small children go to schools, young and fresh boys and girls go to universities, but I want to say please help us to expand education all over Afghanistan and build a new and desirable education system in this country. The education system here is more traditional, centralized, closed and ineffective; we need help.

Besides not having a better education system we have got many other challenges as well. The first challenge is lack of schools and universities. In this year almost 75,000 students couldn’t find the opportunity to study in universities. As the statistics predict, after three or four years the number of students who are not admitted to Universities will be 1 million students. 1 million young, powerful, educated, and brilliant students will be result less. Who can guarantee that they will not join the opposition forces? Who can guarantee that they will not join the violence? Thus, I request from the government of Afghanistan to spend the remaining of other ministry’s development budget on education and higher education. The 5 million which was spent on higher education this year was not enough. Besides this, I request that the US government and people as well as the World’s Society send us teachers instead of money. We need knowledge rather than dollars.

The second challenge today is that science, education, and technology are developing at the speed of a fast-running car, but Afghans are walking at the pace of an ant trying to catch that car. Still most of the people who live in rural areas which cover 65% of our population don’t know what a computer is. Thus, I request from the US government and people as well as the World’s Society to give us some scholarships, academic exchange programs to help us build the quality of our education system.

There are more than a hundred problems I can think of, but if all of them were presented now, we would need more than three hours just to list them. If I find an opportunity to help my people, my first work will be to change the education system as well as expanding education in Afghanistan. Thanks for your patience.

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At 1:45 AM , Blogger Yosuf said...

Education is like the first brick of a wall in a country ,so I wish that all our international friends and the countries who support Afghanistan should focus in education.Unless what they do is baseless.

Your thoughts are great Jaala and I wish more success to you in the future.

At 9:14 PM , Blogger Julie said...

Jaala, I second the motion to increase education in a variety of fields. I also appreciate your student sharing his speech via your blog.


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