Friday, June 18, 2010

It's the water and a lot more

Hello Friends,

It's been a while since we've chatted - I'm sorry for not connecting with you sooner. It has been a very busy time since I returned from Afghanistan. Last week I went to Washington DC and Hartford, CT. I met with advocates, supporters, a member of our Board, and experts in Afghan affairs. I also got to spend time with my younger son, Scott, which was a wonderful occasion.

Before I left for the east coast, I started converting a second bedroom into a home office. It was one of those times that reminded me to be wary of anything that carries the label "some assembly required". Anyway, I got thirsty and reached into my refrigerator and poured a nice cold glass of ice water. It really hit the spot. Like a lot of everyday things, it reminded me of my recent time in Afghanistan.

We may take water for granted but it is a constant matter of attention in Afghanistan. Many of the children we serve are at the end of the irrigation system and when the water runs out, dire problems occur. Most pointedly, the water supply effects rural agricultural development and disease transmission. Waterborne disease can be caused by protozoa, viruses, or bacteria, many of which are intestinal parasites. They can be transmitted when contaminated water is consumed - either directly or by eating food prepared with contaminated water. According to the World Health Organization, diarrheal disease is responsible for the deaths of 1.8 million people every year. It was estimated that 88% of that burden is attributable to unsafe water supply, sanitation and hygiene, and is mostly concentrated in children in developing countries.

Water makes up two-thirds of our body weight. A drop of only 2% in our body's water supply can trigger short-term memory loss, trouble with basic math, difficulty focusing on small print and daytime fatigue. If you add those symptoms to being sick with diarrhea - do you think you might have trouble learning?

One (of many) things I took away from my journey was that to address the education "problem" we have to address many factors beyond the physical classroom. Wells, latrines, teacher training, curriculum, books, equipment, supplies, power, safety, transportation, literacy, child development, maintenance, social skills, community ownership, and more ... are all part of the education "system". Like the movie Field of Dreams .. if we build it they will come. But unlike the Field of Dreams ... in Afghanistan, showing up is just the beginning.

Thursday, May 20, 2010

In the news

Greetings all,

I know it's been too long since I've posted anything new - thank you for your patience. I promise I'll get back into the swing of things very soon. This is not really a post in the same vein that I've been doing. I just wanted to share a link with you. This article was released in West Seattle and I thought you'd enjoy reading it and sharing it with others.



Thursday, May 6, 2010

Put some teeth into it

One thing I couldn't help but notice in Afghanistan were the smiles of the children. They were everywhere. Oh sure, there were plenty of shy, confused and despairing looks - but by and large, especially considering the conditions - the faces were dominated by beautiful, contagious smiles.

On the last day of the trip, a bridge in my mouth fell out. Three teeth gone. (My first thought? - It's a good thing Vicki is a vegetarian.:-)) After the initial surprise, I got to thinking about the children in Afghanistan. Access to dentists - forget about it. Insurance - what's that? My own boys had braces and have perfect teeth. If they got sick - nothing but the best doctors for them - spare no expense. Yesterday, I went to the dentist - with root canals, implants and crowns - we're talking about a $6,000 bill. Sure I could live without the teeth - but I have insurance and access to the best dental care in Seattle.

More than once on our visits, we were asked to help get medical assistance for people. For children, teachers and even high ranking government officials. I went on the journey with eyes wide open looking toward education issues. I wasn't naive about the other problems but what I saw was a "system" that has many broken parts and all the components need to be addressed before the system will function in a sustainable matter. A driver from Kabul told me that Afghanistan had so many things that were broken - transportation, education, health care, infrastructure, police, corruption, etc. - that fixing them all at once wouldn't work. He said - "We need to fix just one thing and then move to the next. It's too hard ... takes too much money and too much energy to fix it all". He's probably right - but one short visit and some research isn't enough for me to be sure or claim expert status.

I am convinced however that the Ayni approach of building schools and making them a center for community development is a model that can work. If we can't fix it all at once, I am sure education is the best place to start and the fastest, most effective catalyst for change.

1. Education leads to longer and healthier lives
2. Education leads to lower birth rates
3. Education decreases harmful traditional practices
4. Education teaches much-needed leadership skills and civic responsibility, and it provides a foundation for democratic governments
5. Education is the path to rebuilding nations destroyed by conflict and building peace.

These aren't opinions - they are facts proven over decades and demonstrated across cultures, countries and continents.

Thanks again for following my musings. Your support encourages me and makes me smile - with and without my teeth.

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Seeing is more than believing

I am not a professional photographer ... I'm not even a good amateur photographer. Advanced technology, boring manuals, well intentioned tips - nothing seems to help. But in Afghanistan, I spent a fair amount of time taking pictures and video. I don't really like looking at the world through a little hole in a box, but for posterities sake, it needed to be done. And even though the results aren't the greatest, I admit I've enjoyed the memories the pictures bring to fore.

Many of you have commented about the pictures on this blog. I'm glad they help tell the story but if that's all they do, then their value is limited and short lived. The value comes if they shift momentum, create inertia, change perceptions ... trigger an avalanche of action. If they stimulate a change in our tolerance for inequality and injustice, they will have served a useful purpose. If that change in tolerance gives way to purposeful action, they will have done what debate, laws, policy ... and words alone, have not. I'm reminded of quotes like; "A picture is worth a thousand words" and "A face that launched a thousand ships".

I urge you not to stop at shock and indignation - I urge you to act. Attached is a video I hope you'll watch. It is 6 minutes long and does a much better job than I of describing how and why seeing is more than believing ... it is action.

Tuesday, May 4, 2010


Children's talent to endure stems from their ignorance of alternatives. ~Maya Angelou, I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, 1969

The only child development qualifications I have are:
  1. I was a kid once
  2. After 55 years, I'm still a kid
I love to laugh and play and I can't imagine it could be anything but good for me. On most Monday's I take care of Ayla - my granddaughter. The truth though is that she is really taking care of me. We laugh, play, sing and dance all day long. I think this is good for both of us. It's been proven (see John Medina, "Brain Rules") that we don't pay attention to boring things, exercise boosts brain power, we're natural explorers and we need to stimulate more of our senses.

One of the pleasant surprises of my journey was watching kids play and playing with them. I played volleyball, football (soccer), and horsed around not just with kids in school but kids on the street. In a country with so many problems and so much oppression, it was nice to see kids smile, laugh and have fun. We may take small pleasures for granted but others need those pleasures to keep putting one foot in front of the other. They need those small pleasures to endure - and to thrive.

Sunday, May 2, 2010


We made it! We are back in Seattle and by all measures we had a very successful trip. The trip home took 67 hours from the time we left our 'house' in Mazar-i-Sharif until we arrived at Sea-Tac airport. I have a lot more to report and share so please keep following the blog. Time, logistics and infrastructure (power, internet) limitations kept me from posting more than I did. I will catch up over the next week. For my friends and family in Seattle, I will also be hosting some 'gatherings' to personally share more pictures, videos, observations and stories.

My heartfelt thanks to Vicki, Brett, Alicia, Scott, Mom, Dad, Kim, Carrie ... the entire family and circle of friends who have kept me in your hearts. Please know you were in mine as well.

I cannot express enough gratitude to Julia who invited me to join her on the journey she has been on for the last eight years. It is an honor and very humbling. The privilege of her friendship and the passion of her commitment are life changing.

Thanks to Ken, who was a great traveling buddy and whose sense of humor made every experience a pleasure.

Thanks also to our hosts in Kabul and Mazar-i-Sharif who provided their safe and warm homes with us.

Last but not least, I want to thank the people of Afghanistan. They are are strong, friendly and generous people - sharing meals when it was the only food they had for the day, giving gifts when they had nothing else to their name. and making me feel welcome despite the dire circumstances in which they live. They gave me more than they will ever know and more than I can possibly repay.


Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Current Events

Dear friends and family,

Many of you have been reading the news and expressing concern for our well-being. Please know we are all safe and sound. We are in Balkh province and and the trouble you are reading about is in Khunduz province - immediately adjacent to the east. Today is Afghan Victory Day so many special security precautions are being taken in Kabul. If anything happens there, rest easy - we are not in Kabul either.

Thank you for all your expressions of concern in all their forms. They help us more than you know and we are all very grateful.

Warmest regards,