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.