PARSA Job Corps and “Talk Time”…

In our youth program’s we include as much “talk time” as we can to give them a chance to voice their feelings or opinions as a part of developing their critical thinking skills. Sometimes we tell stories for them to think about and to talk about. As loving as the Afghan family is, traditionally the youth listen to their elders and do not express themselves. PARSA staff who run “talk time” listen. My son, Reese and I, with Haji had a “talk time” with boys in PARSA Job Corps # 1 yesterday. I always love this time with them as I learn so much and I am often surprised and inspired.
I asked them about “rosa” (fasting during Ramazan)and how the month was going for them with this. Two of them were fasting and a younger one was not.
I told a story about two Afghan’s I traveled with during Ramazan 10 years ago in Badakshan and Bamiyan, and how every day they would argue about “rosa” and the best way to do it as well as which way was the best Muslim way. And it seemed like every day they became angrier and crankier with each other as they fasted through the trip, and I became more annoyed with them. On the last day of our trip, we climbed a mountain and I found myself frightened when I went up and terrified when I started down. I was worried about them. I thought they might push each other down the mountain they seemed so mad at each other. I looked up when I took a rest, and there they were arm in arm helping each other down the mountainside laughing and teasing each other for the first time on the entire trip. I asked the “what happened?” when we got down.  “Ramazan!!!” they said merrily.

I asked the boys what my story meant to them.
Esmat said” Fasting is an honor as a Muslim.  Islam is a gentle religion and it teaches us to be gentle.” Farhad said” there is no arguing about good or bad Muslim.” and Mustafa said “It is hard but it is our job as Muslims to live our life according to the teachings of love by Mohammed.  It is really hard sometimes.”
I asked them “Tell me about how you have felt this last week with the bombing and other problems in the city.”
Farhad said, “We are used to it.”
“Are you not frightened, now?” I asked. Ehsmat said “I am frightened that people from other countries will think that all Afghans are like the people who are bombing us…that Islam is a violent religion, and that you will abandon us.  I am really frightened of that.”
I learn so much from them. Marnie

PARSA Afghan Scouts joins Ministry of Education to Create a National Program

May 2017, PARSA finally had a breakthrough in our 8 year campaign to have a national Scout program, and to reregister Afghanistan with the World Organization of Scouts Movement (WOSM).  Before the war with the Russians, Afghanistan had a 20,000 strong Afghan Scouts Program, that started in the 1940’s and was registered with WOSM as a part of the international movement that includes 40 million Scouts today.

PARSA started our campaign for a national Scouts program when Tamim Hamkar and Gul Ahmad Mustafa joined us in 2009 to help us with our fledgling programs in the orphanages.  They had left the Ministry of Education Scout program because they said “There was no program”.  They were both in an intensive training program with WOSM to become certified to conduct Scout Master trainings.  The journey that ensued over the last 8 years has be difficult with government offices blocking our efforts to establish a community based program.  It is a long story of betrayal, hostility and negotiations that someday we will tell, because our perseverance is a testament to how this country is changing because of the commitment of Afghan Leaders like those on PARSA staff to a stable future for Afghanistan.

Because of our work at PARSA, youth in all provinces now will begin to have Scouts programs.  And the international Scouts community will start to support these programs with funding, training and international opportunities to learn about Scouts in different countries.

We have many, many people and agencies to thank on this long and arduous path, starting with the Asia Pacific Region of WOSM who have sent trainers to Afghanistan for over 10 years now in the hopes that a national program would take hold.  The US Embassy has funded us through their small grants programs for the last 7 years. Many small donors have paid for uniforms and materials for activities.  We are a testament to the power of community effort to bring change in one of the most difficult situations in the world.

And after 8 long years, our real work begins!!!


In Our Spare Time

I have rescued dogs and cats ever since I came into the country in 2004. When I lived at PARSA in the first year I found a partner in my love for animals in Yasin who would shortly become our Country Director. When I moved back to Afghanistan I knew that cruelty to street dogs would be one of the most difficult parts of living here and it was. I adopted my first puppy, Choo Cha in my first year here. Moving to Marastoon brought new challenges as so many strays resided on the large property having puppies. In my first year, I counted 60 puppies born. I also brought back Snoopy from Bamiyan who took to Yasin and became his first dog. Over the years, I worked with fledgling efforts to vaccinate and neuter dogs until Nowzad and Louise Hastie moved in with their incredible support for us. At one point we had over 150 dogs onsite until all of us decided that Nowzad had outgrown our location and PARSA’s sponsorship. In Kabul, the municipality carries out frequent poisoning campaigns to try to reduce the stray dog population which is a true health threat as rabies is endemic and Afghan’s frequently die from dog bites. We have had close calls with rabid dogs, and all of our household is vaccinated for rabies.
I will never forget one night when I was called by our guard because the municipality had a huge truck at the door of our compound piled high with dead and dying dogs with plans to lay out poison meat for feral dogs in the compound. We had lost a couple of our dogs in this very, painful death previously. I stood in the middle of the road in my bathrobe and yelled in Dari/English that they were not allowed in. Calls to the director enforced my refusal. I worked with Nowzad after that to get all of the feral dogs neutered, and vaccinated and the population at Marastoon declined with a small stable group of ferals who guarded the property. That is what happpens with a Trap, Neuter Release program. The feral population stablizes and declines. Poisoning dog packs continuously destablizes the dog population and as the older dogs die new dogs move in. This year, after 12 years of rescuing and caring my own pack of 12 house dogs, MayHew and Dr. Jalili, and Afghan- British Veternarian have convinced the municipality to stop poisoning dogs and to let him and Mayhew train the poisoners to trap so that the dog population in Kabul can be vaccinated for rabies.
This is such a big accomplishment for our community.  During the times when dogs were being poisoned we frequently had Afghan’s call us to try to save litters of puppies, or bring dogs by to save them.  One Afghan colleague shared with me that his mother cried for days when she saw litter of small white puppies die of poison outside her door.  I am so grateful to Mayhew International and Nowzad for being willing to work here and which gives me peace of mind and an ability to respond humanely to animals suffering as I do with humans.

In 2009, PARSA’s First Scout Troop Went from This….

In 2008, PARSA was working in the national orphanages, struggling to teach the government social workers how to work with the children. We were finding it almost impossible to convince them to come out of their offices to talk and play with the children. We were learning that culturally, the more important your position the less you work and there was little motivation for the social workers to make much of an effort in the national orphanages.
Reese, my son,and I took a break from our Kabul work to travel to our Bamiyan offices by road.  High in the Shibar pass we ran into snow and we were passing a family whose car slid into a ditch when Reese who was driving stopped  and said “I am going to pull that van out of the ditch.”  He went around to the back of our van, pulled out equipment and rope and got to work.  Securing the van with the rope prompted much discussion and advice from the men in the stranded vehicle, as well as numerous attempts by them to tie the rope securely.  Reese ended up tying the knot that worked and within 10 minutes had them up and on their way.  When he got back into our van I asked him “Where did you learn all of that?  I didn’t even know if we had a spare tire.” He said “Scouts.  Knots and being prepared.  The lessons never left me.”  I said “That’s it! Scouts for the orphanages.  It has uniforms, activities programs, events and the adults will get engaged.”  And that is how we decided to start the Afghan Scouts program in the orphanages.

The following week, Yasin, Reese and I visited the Ministry of Education, Scouts Department to register our intent to start Scouts troops.  We were eager to get a handbook, and instructions for how to run an Afghan troop.  We decided to start in Alluhoddin Boys orphanage as our male staff could work there.  We met Mr. Sadat, director of the Scouts and Sports department.  He had disappointing news.  “We have nothing here.  No manual, no uniforms, no banners.  We have 20,000 children in the Scouts program but we have no trained Scout Masters and no program for the children.”  We politely asked for permission to start anyway in the orphanages.  Mr. Sadat reviewed his financial needs for the program and we left a bit daunted by our task but determined to get started.  We appealed to our small donor and pulled together very small donations (which is how we start all of our new programs), found handbooks from Scouts programs in other countries, and Reese dredged through his memories of his Scouting experience. We started with 24 boys in Tai Maskan orphanage with Reese and Mohsin running weekly meetings and activities. With a big assist from Eagle Scouts who were serving in the military in Kabul, the program took off, and soon we were able to start troops in Marastoon, and in Alluhoddin Girls orphanage.

Ambassador Eikenberry with the US Embassy became involved and after six months we were able to acknowledge our troops with him as our special guest in the US Embassy.  By the end of the year, HALO had stepped up and granted us $12,000 for our Scout programs.  We also had the fortune to finally track down two men, who had been working in the Ministry Scout department and who had received international training from the World Organization of the Scouts Movement (WOSM) as Scout Masters, Tamim and Mustafa.  Mustafa had been an Afghan Scout Master before the war with the Russians.  It was their dream to launch a national Afghan Scout program and reregister with WOSM.  We hired them in our first interview with them, and today after 8 long years of work we now have 1800 youth participating in 17 provinces and a full curriculum.
Our government social workers never learned to be Scout Masters.  They were just relieved to have adults come and entertain the children, but the children in the orphanages of Kabul and Ghor grew in leadership, started advocating for themselves, worked on community service events and loved being Scouts.  Many youth are still working with us that started in that first year.
To This….

Our Afghan Scout story is truly a story about making change.  We started small, stayed true to our commitment to the children, and grew our network of support.  This month, June 2017, after a long difficult and complicated journey we finally have been asked to join the Ministry of Education to take the lead in developing the national program.  
We salute our staff who started the original program, Reese, Yasin and Mohsin- our donors who took a chance on our vision for the orphan’s the many Eagle Scouts who helped us every way they could while in country, and Tamim and Mustafa for never wavering from your dream to have this program for Afghan youth.
And now onto our next challenge- the national program.

PARSA Family Photo Album-Afghanistan

Pictures and stories from Afghanistan seem to be relentless in showing the horror, poverty, and hopelessness of the country. This constant stream of bad news may inspire the international public to help in the short term but in the longterm it contributes to exhaustion and numbness in people who could be of help.  At PARSA, although we have constant exposure to daily struggle and tragedy, hopelessness is not our constant experience and being with the youth, and adults in our programs is inspiring and nurturing.  When working with our beneficiaries we always walk the line between invoking a dependency on us by overreacting to their tragic stories, and thoughtfully assisting in such a way that we respect and encourage their strength and capacity to overcome their own challenges.  Over the last 9 years of his work at PARSA, Reese Hume captures our experience of working in Afghanistan through his pictures in a way that words cannot express.  A couple of years ago, a donor wrote and told us that his pictures of orphans were not “sad” enough.  He said,”It is impossible for me to see them that way, and how I see them always comes through my photographs.” Here we share some of Reese’s pictures of his experience of PARSA’s work.  We hope to publish a book with his pictures from over the last nine years this summer.