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,


Sunday, April 25, 2010

A Vision of Hope

Just a quick update -

As you'd suspect, the infrastructure in Afghanistan leaves a lot to be desired. It took more than eight hours over two days to get the last blog entry posted - and the format still isn't correct. We have another long day tomorrow, so I'll have to find another time to get you caught up. Suffice it to say, today was again marvelous and productive. Doing field work can be a roller coaster ride - lots of highs and lows. Whenever I face a challenge, I find it helpful to hold on to a vision - a picture of success. Here is the vision I've been carrying around in my head the last few days. It is my vision of hope.



Saturday, April 24, 2010

Whatever it takes

There are so many things on my heart to share from this journey. Everyday is a new wake up call. I could tell you stories that would bring tears to your eyes - both of sorrow and of joy. I could tell you stories that would alarm you - and inspire you. But what I want to do is find some way to assure you that hope is alive, change is possible and action is required - now. Today we went on a three hour cruise. OK, that's not true - we went on a three hour bone jarring, teeth rattling, oppressively hot, blindingly dusty drive over land on nothing resembling a road. Our destination was a remote, rural area of Afghanistan where Ayni has some past and current school projects. Our objective was to check on progress and find out what new needs exist. On a practical level, we accomplished what we wanted. On a personal level, we accomplished much more.

Everything I saw boils down to one point. The children will do anything humanly possible to go to school.

Look carefully in the second row of these pictures. You will see two girls at separate schools, who instead of staying home - brought their baby sisters with them. Making this even more remarkable is that they had to get up by at least 5:00 in the morning, do home chores and walk in the dark (no electricity) more than 30 minutes to be at school by 7:00 (much longer, if not impossible, in the rain and goop called mud.) And ... when they go home from school they pick up working where they left off that morning.

Here, you might think, is a young student reciting her lesson in front of the class. You'd be half right. Teachers are in short supply, women teachers are even fewer. Trained teachers fewer still . Trained teachers living in the village - fewer again.

Today, this young 6th grade girl, has turned from student to teacher because the regular teacher, with a 3 hour drive is absent. And yet ... the teaching is important "so I will do it".

These kids are outside - where "at least" they have desks and a teacher.

This crowd of boys is in an insufferably hot canvas tent, with no chairs, desks, books or air - but a teacher and one propped up blackboard. Don't think that's bad enough? This is just one of the two classes using the tent at the same time.

So you think you've seen it all? You haven't. But here I am on top of the brand new roof we put on this school ... and what do I see way off in the distance? That would be the latrine ... and that's as close as you want to get. But if I was a kid - I'd want it closer and I'd want it be a whole lot nicer when I got there.

I hope you get the picture - there is hope because kids, parents and village elders see that education is the path to a greater future. But we have to act now. 75 million children across the world are not in school. As you can see, some of those that are in school are still getting less than they deserve or need. Attached to this blog are some links under the heading RESULTS. Please check them out. You will find out more about the issue of education and how you can get involved by simply writing or calling your Representative/Senator. I'm not asking for money - I'm asking for Action.

Friday, April 23, 2010

Are we really that different?

Sitting at home in the US and listening to the news, its easy to conclude that "we" are different from "them". That is a too simple and dangerous fallacy. This banner declares "We are all children of the world". It was made by children in Colorado and hangs in a school in Afghanistan.

These flags are among dozens made by another school in Colorado which hang in a different school in Afghanistan. From Virginia, Wisconsin, Texas, Colorado, California and Washington. From East to West, North to South - all across America children, families and communities have funded schools in Afghanistan, hoping to build peace and friendship between our countries.

When I see girls standing to pump clean water from a well, standing in line to receive a daily biscuit or standing in class to give an answer - I know we also need to stand for something. Who would argue against clean water, nutritious food or the right to learn for our children? No one I know. No matter where we live or what we believe -these are human rights for all - plain and simple.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Could you do this?

I didn't get a chance to finish telling you yesterday's story but now I must. One of the schools we are building is a girls school where today, almost all the girls classrooms are outside. I'm not talking about an occasional spring time class on the lawn under a shade tree. I'm talking about 120˚ dressed in a black burka sitting on a rock. I don't know about you, but not only wouldn't I do it - I couldn't do it. And yet here, where the average years of schooling for adults is 1.7 years and the literacy rate (% over 15 who can read and write) is 28%; girls are happy to endure all nature of obstacles for the opportunity to become educated and dream of jobs - including teachers, journalists, engineers, doctors, members of parliament - and yes, even president. Believe it or not, 40 girls graduated from this school last year and 13 attend a university.

Change is coming. On this site a new school is rising from the earth. No machines - only picks, shovels, hands and hammers. Change can't be taken for granted - it can only be taken with blood, sweat and tears.
This school will have 24 rooms, 40 girls per room and 3 shifts per day. Now, I wouldn't want my granddaughter going to this school - but in Afghanistan, this is a dream come true. Girls will have latrines, roofs, blackboards, desks, books ... and hope. And look how this is happening - not with money from the Afghanistan government - but with support from children, communities, friends and organizations in the United States. This is not "just" a school - it is a bridge for understanding that reaches across the globe.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

My first day of school

After several false starts and incidents that would make Amazing Race look like a walk in the park, we finally made it to Mazar-e-Sharif today. Our time in Kabul was an eye-opener! It was eventful, educational and a huge reality check. I won't go into details now - electrical power and the internet are unreliable at best and I have more important news to share. I will say that traveling with Julie is a hoot - she is a perpetual motion machine. Remind me to tell you the popcorn story when I see you. Our duo is now a trio, with Ken Kierstead from Fluid Foundation having joined us yesterday. Ken is a great traveling buddy and is already adding richness to our journey.

Today we visited two schools. (All schools will remain anonymous in this blog) Goodness gracious - what a delight to see the smiling, eager faces of children desperately wanting to learn and realize the grandest of dreams. If ever there was any doubt as to why this work is important it was erased in a heartbeat. The first school we visited was built two years ago and has about 4,100 students attending in three shifts - two shifts for girls and one for boys. These two girls gave me a warm welcome (salam aleykam!) and patiently helped me sign in by telling me which columns (labeled in Dari) were for my name, province, date, etc..

Although the school is far from the US norm, the principals, teachers and children are all intent on making it the best it can be. What was especially striking was the eagerness of the children to 'show off' what they knew. One favorite moment was when a seventh grade girl literally jumped at the chance to show her knowledge in geography class. Her hand shot into the air, then she jumped on a desk and pointed to the United States. Later, when Julie asked the class what they wanted to do when they graduated, this same girl quickly said "Journalist!"

The last thing we did before leaving this school was visit the one - and only, kindergarten class. This was my favorite part of the day. We handed out little stuffed animals to each child - and the smiles were priceless. With nearly 50% of the Afghanistan population under the age of 15 and an average life expectancy of 44, it's a shame to know that only the tiniest fraction get any early childhood education. After all - Afghanistan is like countries everywhere - its children are its future.

I have much more to report from the second school we visited, however, as is often the case, the power has gone out and I must wait until tomorrow. Take care and good night.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Unexpected start

The Chinese philosopher Lao-tzu is credited with the quotation "The journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step." Today, I learned that a journey begins by standing still. The Icelandic volcano caused widespread chaos in air traffic and our flight to Dubai through Amsterdam was cancelled. This meant there was no way to get to Kabul by the 17th and all of our meetings are cancelled and Julie is furiously trying to reschedule the meetings. In the mean time, we are set to fly out tomorrow using a different route that doesn't go through Europe.

As we were in the (never ending) line, I told Julie I was getting an early picture of the difference between corporate travel and travel "under the radar". At Boeing, I'd have been in the Executive Lounge letting the company travel department change my flights for me. I'd have made another call or two and all my meetings would have been re-scheduled for me. The disruption would have been barely noticeable.

While in line, I also ran into a former employee headed to Japan. She's spending about three out of four weeks there. Asking her how things were going and about some of my old colleagues, I was reminded why I left and how at peace I am with the decision I made.

I know in the big scheme of things, today's events aren't as important as they seemed at the time. However, they did give me an early opportunity to "stand still" and reflect on what this journey is really all about.

Saturday, April 10, 2010

Welcome to my journey

Dear friends and loved ones,

Welcome to my personal journey with an Afghan School. On April 15, I will embark on a trip to Kabul and Mazar-e-Sharif with Julia Bolz, Founder of Ayni Education International. Julia is a former corporate attorney turned social justice advocate who has quietly and humbly been making a difference in Afghanistan for the past eight years. She has instilled and renewed hope for thousands of Afghan children and their families. She has also instilled and renewed my own hope for word peace and the education of 75 million children across the globe who are not able to attend school. She is, quite simply, the most heroic and inspirational women I have had the honor of knowing. She has proven that impossible dreams can come true.

To say I'm excited to now be assisting Julia vastly understates the emotions I have. For the first time in my life, I can honestly say, that I know not what tomorrow brings - and it causes me no alarm or worry. I am embarking on a mission far larger and more important than myself. Over the course of my journey I plan to share the observations I have, the insights I gain and (hopefully) the growth I make as a person. Please share your thoughts and questions as well. I want you all to travel with me on this journey.