Letter to PARSA Family Sept 28

Dear PARSA Family Members,

I recently returned from the US, and as I tend to do I walked around PARSA looking at what happened while I was gone, and appreciating what our PARSA staff is doing.  We moved to Marastoon 11 years ago, and when we moved in to this large compound, sharing with Marastoon residents and Afghan Red Crescent Society staff we spent two years just trying to get the guards not to beat the local children who came to the school onsite every day. Yesterday, I went out of my residence, (which Miroweis and Mike Boisvenue are painting) and visited our Afghan Scouts team who are hosting a Scout Master Advanced Training workshop for volunteers from all over the country. Tamim and his staff were working under the mulberry trees with the Pakistani Master Trainers from the World Organization of the Scout Movement, a complete detour from the heated political climate between Afghanistan and Pakistan. The girls in our Sisters 4 Sisters program were in the “restaurant” meeting with a renowned civil rights leader and activist.  One of our partner organizations, Free to Run, is preparing for the first Kabul marathon for girls and women next weekend, on our premises.

If you read the news, success in Afghanistan seems to be impossible. I would call PARSA the organization of impossible projects. I have worked here now for 12 years and it feels like I have been on a non-stop uphill trek over terrain not meant to be traversed.  To work here includes experiencing obstacles to our work that never seem to stop.  We have shaky infrastructure, poorly and quickly built that yields constant power outages, water stoppages, Internet instability, traffic jams, security alarms, topped off by the government’s tendency to frequently call holidays the day before the event.  Government staff intent on monitoring our programs in detail, sending frequent auditing teams and changing policy weekly requiring constant vigilance and “word-of-mouth” sharing of information so as to keep our programs going.  And that is just in Kabul.  Each province seems to have its own separate administration and rules and we work in 18 of them. During the course of trying to complete this letter to you, I dealt with a broken power cord and dying computer, ran out of phone credit so I could not call anyone to get to the computer store and our internet stopped working, and then there was a bomb blast on the front road of our large compound that shattered some of our windows.  I finally turned to my husband and said, “I can either lay on the floor and throw a hysterical fit or you need to help me.” An hour and a half later with his compassionate assistance I was back on track and working again.

I read articles about corruption and how NGOs are wasteful and spend money unmonitored and have access to funds I have never seen.  There are days that Yasin and I have to scrape together $3 for bread for our staff for lunch and it is all duly documented and taken from the right places.  If there were “corruption lessons” we didn’t learn them, and there are many other organizations like my own here just working through the mess the day brings, staying on track and really, really creating miracles.

Our Scouts program is an impossible project.  We have been battled by ministries for 8 years, because they see NGO programs as a threat to government control and resources.  We created the program for orphans initially and we are finally bringing it to communities all over Afghanistan. We have been critical to getting four national orphanage directors fired for overseeing or being part of systemic abuse. Our Trade Afghan Businesswomen’s Network is impossible as Afghans do not coordinate well and although there is a market for their businesses, at the most fundamental level it is hard for our women to produce consistent, quality products.  Our PARSA Job Corps program is impossible because rather than opting for a program where the youth are only lectured at and never get hands-on experience (it is possible to be trained as a veterinarian at Kabul University for five years and never touch an animal), we instead chose to work with the youth as they learn and earn a stipend, giving them constant training and support while they are doing the job.  Our Sisters 4 Sisters program is impossible because after all these years doing training in women’s programs, we’ve learned that teaching Afghan women to actually support each other is the most challenging thing to do, because in this terribly war-damaged country women are often each others’ enemies.

What do we have? We are positioned in all of our programs to make a national impact, coordinate with other outstanding agencies, and change the social landscape by promoting Afghan leaders, volunteers, women and youth as assets that are worth investing in.  It has been endurance and persistence that have allowed us to persevere, along with one other quality that is fundamental to the Afghan character. That quality is that we rely on each other, troubleshoot together, and realize that our work is deeply personal and fulfilling and worth doing.  And that is where you come in, as wherever you are in the world it is your $3 that we find to pay for our bread and it is your funds that help us keep going when our local contracts with embassies or other granting agencies are delayed or fall through.  You are with us and we feel your support keenly.  In 2018, you will see us reach out and find ways to connect that let those that want to have a more meaningful and continuous relationship with us do so, such as through the Mentorship program for Sisters 4 Sisters or through Scout Troop exchanges. So far this year 85 donors have been a part of our PARSA Family Member program and we know more of you will rejoin our Family Members before the end of the year. You as a donor are allowing us to continue to be viable in this very difficult year. That is amazing to me. We appreciate you and thank you for that and do our work always thinking about making sure your donation counts.  This year I can finally tell you we are not only making an impact, we are making an impact beyond what I ever thought was possible.

With love,

Marnie

If you were previously a PARSA Family Member and would like to sign up again, please visit our DONATE page, or donate directly via PayPal.

About PARSA’s Psychological First Aid Trainings

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Psychological trauma can be defined as exposure incidents of overwhelming stress where stress comes from the death of others, the threat of death to a person, or injury to oneself or others by violence, natural disasters or accidents and this exposure exceeds the victims ability to cope or their ability to overcome emotional reactions to the event. This includes people who lost family members or friends in the event but were not present themselves.

In situations where families are fleeing conflict areas, and have experienced traumatic events often community members find themselves “counseling” each other as people try to cope with overwhelming psychological responses to the situation. Psychological first aid assists members of the family and communities as they try to cope with chaotic and disturbing challenges.

Psychological first aid adapts basic psychological principles to prepare community workers or professionals with no background in mental health services to provide simple but effective support for people suffering from symptoms of trauma, anxiety and depression, or people who are having difficulty coping with challenging circumstances.

In this training we identify cultural strengths that Afghan families, and communities have that if encouraged can provide natural healing for victims of trauma, and we help our trainees learn to identify and promote healthy networks of psychosocial support within the communities.p1050244

Beyond Democracy

dsc00189On September 11, 2001, my best friend called and asked me to turn on the television to view the fall of the twin towers.  She said, “Our lives have changed now, forever.” In 2002, I took my first trip back to Afghanistan since living there in the 1960’s with my family. In 2004, I moved back to Kabul to begin the life-changing odyssey that has spanned the last twelve years.

 While living and working here, I have been an informal ambassador for the US and other Western nations.  My title is “foreigner” in Dari, and I have traveled throughout Afghanistan, visiting remote villages as well as cities, working with the Afghan people.  I am feared, revered and welcomed equally.  I have had stones thrown at me, been chastised, and told to leave the country. I have also been praised, rescued from riots, and protected by the people of Afghanistan.

 At a time in history when my own country has turned to a fear-driven public dialogue and a highly polarized political atmosphere, I am reflecting on what I have learned while being here.

 In the first year that I came to Afghanistan, I witnessed a group of young Afghan men greet a couple of young American women.  One of the men grabbed one of the women and kissed her.

“Why did you just do that?” I asked. “You know it is taboo.”

“We are a democracy now” he replied. ” I get to do whatever I want!”

100_1253 I realized then that my American country’s democratic political system could be misunderstood. This system, as it stands right now, is not necessarily the answer to all social, economic, and political problems worldwide.  One person has one vote and this implies that one’s voice will be heard and have a say in the politics of a country. But on behalf of what?

 I welcome the new and intense dialogue emerging from the US and around the world, as it seems we are re-examining what exactly democracy means and what our fundamental values are when we exercise our right to vote.

 Recently, as I walked to my office, a small boy picked up a stone and threw it at me.  I stopped and asked him “Why did you throw that stone at me?”

“Because you are a foreigner!” 

“But I am your auntie also,” I said, “I am your foreign auntie.”

“Oh…sorry about that!” he said, and then he grabbed my hand and walked me to my office.

dsc07693Our young people, more globally interconnected than ever, are listening to us carefully and growing up in a world of our making.

I say to my government, do not ask me to choose between life for an Afghan child, an American child, a Syrian child, a child of color and my own child. And that is the world that we live in now, in spite of the fact that we are capable and have enough resources worldwide to end hunger and tackle other seemingly insurmountable global problems.  As with the young boy I encountered on the way to work, I believe that we can change our trajectory, but it is now time to set aside the angry rhetoric and put faces to the people who have no voice but will be affected by this new dialogue. I want to be an ambassador for my country on behalf of a democracy in which all people thrive.

A Family Vacation in Ghor, Afghanistan- by Marnie

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This is a personal account of a special trip that we made to Ghor province as a work trip and as a break for the extended “Family”.  I periodically write about these times I have had in Afghanistan to convey how much I love the experience of living here.  I hope you enjoy!

Willy’s Summer Vacation Blog1 (Please click for full story)

“I come from a family of very intense and creative people.  In family speak it means Difficult and if we are being kind Special.  My sisters and I have been challenged as we worked to raise the next generation of our family, four boys albeit our oldest, my son Colin is still not quite sure whether he is actually a blood relative because he has been very easy on us as he grew up, or so he tells us.

In 2009, my sister Fran and I had a call about her son Willy who was 17 and trying to find a purpose for his life and he disliked all apparent paths forward especially school. She was trying to figure out how to support him and she was ready for a break.  I suggested that she send him to me in Kabul for the summer and to our surprise Willy jumped on the opportunity. He joined his cousin, my son, Reese who came to visit me in a similar unsettled period of his life two and a half years earlier. We also had the son of a dear family friend, visiting us, Connor, who will evermore be known as Poor Connor, for having to deal with Reese and Willy for a summer. “(read PDF for full story)

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Mina’s Fundraising for Parwan Scouts

A big thank you to our VoAY producer Mina Sharifi and her wonderful friends who supported her campaign to get the last 10 kids in the Parwan orphanage in shiny new Scout uniforms. Her friends and family met her request within minutes, and so last week a group of 100 kids got to have a little party with a damboora player and other musicians, and each one was presented their dapper new Scout or Cub Scout uniform, complete with hat, scarf, shoes, and belt. All the kids looked splendid and it was a wonderful day! Thank you for sorting out all the Scouts in Parwan, Mina jan!

If you want to contribute to dressing up Scout troops in the future, visit our Donate Page and specify your donation is for Mina’s Scout uniforms. Thank you!

Introducing PARSA UK

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Meet Sally Baldwin, our new manager at PARSA UK.  Sally is working with a team of volunteers to market products from PARSA’s businesswomen as well as developing connections between our Afghan Scouts and Scout Troops in the UK. British supporters can check out the new PARSA UK Facebook page and website.  We have had such support from our British friends over the years, especially Louise Hastie, recently returned to Birmingham, and we look forward to seeing what Sally’s team does this year. Sally adopted a special dog, Brin, from Afghanistan through our partner, Nowzad, and he is famous for surviving being captured by the Taliban. Thank you for joining us Sally!!!

Update on PARSA Job Corps

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We are in the second month of our first PARSA Job Corps team’s program. The boys spent their month learning and working in Khalil’s small engine repair shop.  Thank you, Richard Day for donating a 1954 Royal Enfield motorbike for them to “fix”.  Many opportunities for learning on that one!  Please consider donating to their program, so we can expand it.  We just had two boys join this month so we are 10 now.  The boys mothers are widows and they were struggling to find something useful for the boys to do and afraid that their kids would go to the streets.  For those of you in Kabul who have small broken engines around, we are setting up a workshop for them this month.  Actually they are doing the work, and Tamim Hamkar is volunteering to teach them electricity to wire the Farm and other needy places.  Thanks all who are making this possible.  We are so excited to offer this program to our Afghan Scouts!!!

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Psychosocial Training in Kunduz and Badakhshan

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Mohsin, psychosocial trainer and Safi, Scout Master trainer, taught a workshop for Child Fund professionals who work with children in camps for returnees.  The Healthy Afghan Child program helps Afghan professionals set up Children’s Committees, where children problem solve, participate in educational learning activities and  children have a structured and safe place to talk.  Mohsin has worked extensively in National Orphanages, and Safi training both Scouts and Scout Masters.  The area they traveled to do this is not a safe area, and we are very happy that they were willing to do so.

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Prince’s Secret Charity – Hollywood Reporter Article

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Read the article published in the Hollywood Reporter about Prince’s support of PARSA and our Afghan Scouts. Reporter Scott Johnson contacted PARSA after reading a Facebook post by Marnie about Prince’s donations to our work for the last 6 years. Marnie had previously been sworn to secrecy about Prince’s support, but after his passing we’re finally able to thank him publicly for helping us make our Afghan Scouts program a success. What a great man, RIP Prince.

www.hollywoodreporter.com/news/princes-secret-charity-helping-afghan-890255

Memories: CNN’s Christiane Amanpour Visits PARSA

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CNN featured PARSA in a 2009 CNN documentary called ‘Generation Islam’, where Christiane Amanpour visited Marnie and Yasin at PARSA’s projects in Ghor Province. Marnie said, “It was a special trip because Christiane speaks Farsi and has a deep appreciation for this part of the world.” Watch the documentary at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tJ4gEcFMz9c

Marnie’s Story about the trip:

Yasin and I flew to Chagcharran in August 2009, with Christiane Amanpour and her crew to be a part of the series “Generation Islam”.  PARSA was the least known organization of the three organizations featured.  Christiane and her producer were down-to-earth and very well experienced in any kind of remote coverage.  It was a special trip because Christiane speaks Farsi with her Iranian background and has a deep appreciation for this part of the world.  Although she would film in English, she came to know our people in Ghor and was able to speak” and learn about them herself.  I ended up sharing a room with her in our offices, uncomfortable pallets on the floor, and I ended up cooking for the group with very limited local resources.  We had planned a three day filming trip but it snowed and no airplanes, even military would attempt a landing.  “Grace under pressure” was Christinae trying to manage her international schedule and commitments from our bedroom in Chagcharran, with no way of getting out.  But I think Yasin and I won the contest for calmness under pressure, being with her and her team frustrated by events we could not change, in the middle of no where.  We finally ended up chartering a plane with other expats trying to get out, from an airline who overlooked the danger, and flew to Herat where Christiane  hosted flew back  us before we flew back to Kabul.  A brief moment of being a part of the international media world before we slipped comfortably back “under the radar”.

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PARSA and Prince

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A little-known story about Prince: He loved Betty Tisdale and her work through HALO, and Betty loved PARSA. One of her visits to me she noticed a broken down building behind our residence and she asked me what we were going to do with it…I told her we hoped to renovate it into a Scout training center. A couple of weeks later we received a check from her in the US and she made me promise to keep the donor a secret at his request…and it was Prince…so even in this far away place, we have been touched by his life and how he lived it.
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Unexpected Support for Scouts’ Community Service

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Last week Scouts from our Kabul troops, headed by Amin, were getting ready to leave PARSA to head to our local lake, Qargah, to do a tree planting community service activity. For those who don’t know, our PARSA main offices are located in the ‘Marastoon’ section of the Afghan Red Crescent Society (ARCS), which is the social welfare branch of the Afghan government, so there are often impoverished visitors to Marastoon requesting welfare support. As the Scouts were getting ready to head out, a father who was visiting the offices with his three year old son who has heart disease saw them in their uniforms and asked what they were doing. The Scouts explained their plans to plant trees at the lake, and the father, very impressed, asked if him and his son could go along and help. Despite the father’s old age and his young son’s condition, they were very active in the work and together planted 5 trees. They were very proud to be involved in the community service, and we are very proud when the community appreciated the work of our Scouts so much that they join in to help. Well done, Scouts!DSC07450

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Our 2016 PARSA Staff Picture

Every April the big tree in front of our Kabul main office blooms brilliant purple flowers, so we schedule our yearly staff picture at this time. It’s always a challenge to pick a time when everyone is around, and to actually pull everyone who is at the office away from their desks to come take the picture, but we did great this year! A few members of our Scouts and VoAY team are in Ghor Province filming episodes, but we got almost everyone! Two pictures so that Reese and Alyssa could take turns behind the camera. Thanks for supporting PARSA from our whole Kabul team, and from our provincial staff too!

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Plans for our PARSA Farm

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Our well loved PARSA animals provide an immeasurable amount of pleasure to our guests, staff and they also provide organic milk and eggs to local customers. The farm also means six of our local beneficiaries including two women have jobs. We are making plans with the help of our partners Nowzad and Mayhew to turn grow our animal program into an urban farm animal training center, providing a variety of educational programs for animal well-being, veterinary care and humane care. Our horses provide an experience of a lifetime for our young guests as they get a chance to ride. Afghan Scouts will earn a couple of merit badges working in community animal welfare education.  As we develop our program, we need basic support to all of those of our PARSA Family who are animal lovers.  Please consider sponsoring one of our animals so that we can continue our humane care of them. Every time I leave the country, my last words to Yasin are “Don’t let anyone eat Rumi!!!” Help us grow our farm into a place that more Afghans can learn how to care for animals to keep them healthy! More info on our PARSA Farm Project coming soon! If you are interested in getting involved, please contact alyssa@afghanistan-parsa.org!

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Mind, Body, Spirit – Psychosocial Training for Women

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PARSA’s psychosocial trainers are working with War Child Canada staff and partners to establish women’s support groups in “IDP” camps for refugees.  In March, we trained women who are volunteering to be support group leaders in camps around Kabul.  The program is called “Healthy Afghan Women Support Groups” and is adapted to help illiterate communities of women counsel and support each other. These support groups establish a safe place  for us to identify and support victims of violence. We have some unusual components that work very well in the Afghan cultural context as we have modified them so that they can be taught by local women community leaders. We have programs for “Relaxation Postures”, “Breathing for Well Being”, and my favorite “Save it for Tea Talk” where participants learn to listen to each other, solve problems together and save their complaining about life for the tea break. Eight years in development, this simple but effective program lays the foundation in a community for learning about mental health, intervening in family violence or gender based violence and helping people with severe mental health problems. Later in April we will have the opportunity to train Child Fund staff in a version for children and youth. Establishing effective psychosocial programs in Afghanistan is an uphill job, so a big thank you to our psychosocial team for producing this important program.

VoAY Filming at Jebel Seraj

20160404_100932 This past Monday Mina, Marnie, Alyssa and the VoAY team went to film a VoAY segment for an episode on Parwan. We visited the ruins of Jebel Seraj, which was built early in the twentieth century as a summer palace for King Habibullah, and had the honour of having King Habibullah’s granddaughter, Mahbouba Seraj, give our Scouts a tour of the palace. Mahbouba talked about visiting her grandfather at the palace when she was a child, and walked us through the grounds describing what they looked like when they were still in their original glory. She even took us to the ‘elephant quarters’ where the king kept four elephants who were regal symbols of the greatness of the crown. It was such an honour to visit the beautiful grounds and get a glimpse of Afghanistan in its heyday.
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Meeting with the First Lady- PARSA Scout Masters

001 002Mashid and Fatema are lead Scout Masters at Marastoon, as we build up both PARSA staff trainers and volunteers.  They represented PARSA Afghan Scout program at an event First Lady Rula Ghani hosted to recognize emerging women leaders.  PARSA has plans this year to triple our women Scout Masters for the Afghan Scout program.  We thank the First Lady for including our women leaders.

New!!! PARSA Job Corps…

12074491_897291967031634_914190553913951418_nIn the fall of 2015, PARSA Afghan Scouts lost a very talented and active scout to the illegal immigration trail. Mohammed had been in the scouts for almost five years, Marastoon troop and had just recently attended the Japanese international Scout Jamboree representing the Afghan Scout Movement.  His mother, under pressure from family members, sent him and his cousin out of the country because she saw no future for him here.  He died in Iran in a car crash.  PARSA directors and staff met to make sense of this tragic loss and decided tDSC07598hat in 2016 we would start an economic program for youth, pre job skills, and focus on a message of hope for the future for the youth in our programs.This week, Reese and Safi started the program with 8 boy scouts, who will meet twice a week and learn all sorts of skills that will build their confidence as workers as they continue school and decide their own employment future with PARSA’s support.  Reese and Safi are starting them on their own garden, where they will be able sell the proceeds, and learn as a team how to reinvest iDSC07565n other projects.  “Uncle Daoud” is the expert who will work with them on this project but after the garden is put in they will move onto carpentry, plumbing, painting, and finding products they can sell.  They will also learn the basics of running a business, managing money and working as a team.  If you would like to donate to this project we would appreciate the support to get it started.DSC07621

 

Steve Mccurry, photographer visits PARSA

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PARSA had a very unexpected but delightful visit from Steve Mccurry, renowned photographer who took the now famous picture of the Afghan Girl.  Steve has a very long history of working in Afghanistan and is respected by Afghans for capturing the feeling of Afghanistan in his photos.  He visited a Scout community service tree planting event with us, to take pictures of Scouts for an upcoming National Geographic article on “Kabul Now”.  I was pleased both to have him take pictures of the Scouts as it is a good news story for Afghanistan.  I was also touched by how honored the older Afghan dignitaries were to meet him.  He sees Afghanistan the way Afghans want to be seen.

A link to his story:http://edition.cnn.com/2015/03/23/world/steve-mccurry-afghan-girl-photo/?iref=obnetwork

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Back to Badakshan…

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We are a motley PARSA team.  The newest member, Alyssa has been with us for 2 years, and Yasin with PARSA 18 years.  What we have in common is that we love traveling through Afghanistan by road…and we have different ways of settling in, and coping with the long hours. Dawn and I, are old friends from elementary school, in Kabul and then again the last 10 years living at PARSA.  As we are now in our 50’s, we are testing our status as “elder’s” in a country that reveres the aged-taking the best spots in the car… after Reese and Yasin were called upon by Dawn and I to call our phones so we can find them once too often, Reese, my son, made it clear that our “elder” status was losing its shine with the “younger’s” of the group.  We have arrived after our 12 hour drive, welcomed by the family we stay with in Faizabad. A warm stove, dinner waiting, and looking forward to a comfortable night, Afghan style, which means 9 of us in two rooms.  Cozy and looking forward to our day tomorrow.

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VOAY Team in Bamiyan

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A Voice of Afghan Youth scouting team has spent the past few days in Bamiyan scouting filming locations and gathering ideas for planning the VOAY TV and radio programming. Marnie, Norm, Reese, Yasin and Mina visited all the favorite spots in the Bamiyan valley including climbing the Buddhas, Band-i-Amir (lake), Red City, and into the surrounding scenic valleys. We are looking forward to following the successes of PARSA’s exciting new program.

Welcome to Mina Sharif!

Mina Sharif has joined the PARSA team! She will be leading PARSA’s newest project: The Voice of Afghan Youth, a TV and radio program which will be created by the Afghan Scout youth and broadcasted across the country in order to showcase the talents, ideas, and ingenuity of the young people of Afghanistan. The program will also help spread PARSA’s name and that of the Afghan Scouting Movement.

Mina is an Afghan-Canadian and has spent the majority of the last few years working in Afghanistan. She formerly worked with Tolo TV as a producer for their Afghan Sesame Street program, and her experiences and creativity will go a long way in ensuring that the Voice of Afghan Youth is a success.

Welcome Mina, we look forward to enjoying the first episodes of VOAY!

Learn more about this new exciting project: afghanistan-parsa.org/voice-of-afghan-youth

Throwback Thursday: Akbar on a Family Jaunt – Marnie

This is a picture of my mother, sister Fran and Akbar in a “gaudi” in Ghazni on a day trip in 1967. Akbar was a student to be a pilot and our Dari teacher. In the way of most of our relationships with our Afghan friends, his role in our life spread into all aspects of our lives and he was a favorite for joining our family jaunts. Akbar was a big tease and loved to laugh. The picture I wish I had was a day we traveled to Istalif and Akbar saw a baby camel and his mother. He told my Dad to stop the car because he wanted to show us something….as our teacher about Afghanistan. He leaped down the bank and swaggered over to the baby camel, picked up a rock and threw it at the baby. My mom and the three of us were outraged and yelled in chorus for him to stop it. My Dad thought it was funny. Mother camel slowly walked toward the baby, giving no indication of being upset. Akbar threw another rock, and in a split second the mother camel lunged after him. He sprinted toward the car, scrambling on the sandy bank and mom camel rounded on him and gave him a good nip in the seat of his pants…just before he jumped into the car and slammed the door. Dad REALLY thought that was funny and so did Akbar. I wish I had THAT picture. After he recovered from his mirth, Akbar turned to my sisters and I and said, “See, now you have learned-that is why you never throw stones at baby camels!”  “Akbar,” I said,” there was never any danger of us throwing stones at baby camels.”  “Good!” he exclaimed, “you are my best students!”

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Abdullah – The Youngest Taliban

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Abdullah was brought to the Marastoon Afghan Red Crescent Society (ARCS) by the police in 2009.  He had been caught by Afghan National Police in Kabul with a complete vest of explosives attempting to blow up a target – his handlers had escaped. Abdullah was originally from a village on the border between Afghanistan and Pakistan. His mother had died, which had compelled his father to enroll Abdullah and three of his siblings into a local extremest “madrassa” in the tribal region, where he had been groomed to become a suicide bomber. He was 11 years old.

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PARSA staff offered to take Abdullah from the ARCS staff during the day time so he would have something productive to do while he waited for the authorities to make a decision regarding his future.  We made him a “volunteer” and gave him little jobs, an old computer and he spent the day “working” at PARSA.  And we fell in love with him.  He was sweet, helpful and busy.

Abdullah loved hanging out with our international staff and we spoiled him as much as we could.  He only spoke Pashtu so communication was a challenge, but we did our best.  One day he came to Yasin and said “I have a problem! Teach me English because some of these Afghans only speak English and I want to talk to them.” Even though he was indoctrinated at his madrassa with the message that foreigners are “Kaffir” and bad, he had never met a foreigner so for him we were just strange Afghans.

On a day when he was bored by his tasks, I gave him my camera and told him to go out to play and to take pictures of what he saw and loved.  His pictures say more about his life and thoughts than he could ever explain to us.

See Abdullah’s Photo Slideshow:

He was doing well, however every once in awhile an unforeseen trigger would send him back to his previous mentality. One day this occurred when Abdullah brought me some fresh apricots from the orchard. He leaned over my shoulder trying to understand what I was doing on my computer and then noticed my earrings. He became very agitated – “Only an infidel wears earrings Marnie!  Take them out!” he told me.

He was very lonely, even with the attention all of us gave him.  He asked me for a puppy (he already had a little bird for a pet) and I told him couldn’t give him one – so he found his own little black dog and I gave him a collar and lead.

One day, I saw him slowly walking up the hill with his little puppy on the lead.  It was the last I saw of him.  He disappeared.  We think he managed to get to a phone to call his “handlers” and they came and took him away. He touched our hearts and a hole was left when he went.  For me, seeing the chance at life that this beautiful young boy had stolen from him – by adults using him and turning him in to a killing machine in an incomprehensible war – was one of the saddest experiences I have faced in Afghanistan.

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The Faces of PARSA Children

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PARSA has had kindergarten’s for 18 years. PARSA Afghan Senior Scouts have been teaching our kindergartens for the last three years in Bamiyan and Ghor. This month the Department of Education acknowledged our programs as excellent and some of our student’s are at grade levels above those at local schools. We are so excited and proud to have our senior scouts working in the communities this way. Reese Hume has compiled picture of children in or schools since he started working in 2007 to share with you.

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Our Evening Exercise…Rescuing a baby donkey with broken leg…

1743592_718356631528741_1185449687_nIt is always a difficult call to decide when to get involved…Norm was walking to the bazaar and saw this baby laying in the road.  Much discussion in Dari, with many stories about what happened to it from bystander’s -“it is sick”…”it is lazy.”  “It is sad because it lost it’s mother”….and we decided, Reese, Norm and I to bring it in.  A call to Pen at Nowzad Shelter and he immediately offered to send his driver and bring his vet in to care for it…(what a relief to have that support).  We bundled the baby into the back of the van, and sent it off to Nowzad.  Dr. Hadi called me later and reported that it had a broken leg and was extremely dehydrated from lying in the road for days.  Now, Norm calls that  the “drop in the bucket brigade” of solving problems but it makes a difference living here not to walk by and feign indifference to suffering animal and human.  Thank you Nowzad and Norm and Reese.

A Day Off…Learning to Snowboard in Bamiyan.

snowboarding Najib

Most of PARSA’s very competent young directors and staff have never known Afghanistan not to be at war in their entire lives.Reese Hume takes his colleagues snowboarding whenever he gets a chance. Learning to snowboard s not always fun, but the whole effort creates a sense of possibility that life in Afghanistan could be normal. That this beautiful and harsh country could support a life where fun is had in the snow. It is also a break from a pretty grueling work schedule. Thanks for making the effort for your team Reese! (See Najib, our education manager, -left-in the snow.  This is usually how Afghans feel about playing in  it!)

 

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Friday Scout clothing distribution in Bamiyan…

For our young Scouts, the opportunity to give to others, is a remarkable experience. Our donors who give us items to distribute make it possible for us to teach our Scouts how extraordinary community service is and how good it feels. In acountry where there is so much of a struggle just to eat and find clothing, giving to others takes the embarrassment of poverty away and replaces with a sense of identity, and self confidence. Thanks to our donors who make this possible for our scout youth who all come from very poor families.

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Mootee on the Wall- Living in Afghanistan.

DSC03787When I decided to move to Afghanistan, about 9 years ago, I knew that one of the hardest things for me in this environment would be to experience the hard life and abuse of animals.  I knew that from living here as a child.  My passion  is to work with children and women, but I have had a long career of working with fragile people and I knew that I had the emotional stamina and the skills to confront children and women’s suffering in Afghanistan and do something about it.  Something about a suffering animal in a society that cannot care for them, particularly dogs and cats is hard for me as an animal lover.

As a result, over the years here I learned how to rescue and care for animals, using whatever resources I could find and doing so has enhanced my living experience here as well as actually supported the emergence of a significant movement toward addressing the stray dog population.  About four years ago, I met Louise Hastie and Pen Farthing (see picture of man with big dog) with Nowzad Charities and had the privilege of supporting their efforts to start a “trap, neuter release” program to address the out of control dog population in Kabul.  Louise actually lived with me and my family for years as the Nowzad shelter started up.  P1040877By the way, this is my hobby and what I do in my time off…and no PARSA resources have ever gone into this (you can tell I have been asked) although plenty of my own have.  It is just how I have come to peace with living in this harsh and beautiful country. It is how I have learned to work here also, and most of our programs are a result of coming face to face with some difficult situation and working to change it.

So, I calculate that I have personally rescued about 150 puppies and dogs, and as a result about 14 still live with me as my dogs in our household compound.  It is a soothing and fun experience to be part of a pack, head of the pack actually.  Mootee (diamond) is my beautiful brindle dog, who has been with us for five years.  She opens all doors and until we changed our doorknobs she would gleefully lead the rest of the pack out of the compound to terrorize our neighbors.  Once we stopped here on that she took to our walls, and spends her days overseeing the three feral dogs that live outside the walls but get fed and talked to daily.  The Ferals have the job of monitoring the stray dog population near our house and keeping the new intruders out. Vaccinated and spayed by Nowzad, they are the example of how a monitored dog population can stop being a public health risk.

And this year, I am so excited because Nowzad has been asked to administer a vaccination program for 200,000 dogs in Kabul, our first step toward making a change in the terrible risk people have of contracting rabies here.  How do Afghan’s feel about my dogs?  Many, many of them are interested in how they can have healthy and friendlyt pets to protect their compounds like I do. I love my dogs. When I lived here as a child, and our family had a dachshund and siamese cat. My animals normalize my life here, and yes, my husband (gentleman in the red chair) is a very patient man. Marnie

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The Scouts on the Mountain Top…

Scout hike 7I was flying home from the US last week when I checked in and received the word about our Friday Scout climb.  The troops, boys and girls from the Marastoon area met with our Scout directors and volunteer Scout Masters for a long hike to learn climbing skills.  When I saw the pictures of our kids, many who we have worked with for years, working with the Scout Masters who have remained dedicated and loyal to Scouts through the years of war- I said to myself “this is the real story”…about what is emerging in Afghanistan.  Our youth love putting on a uniform and participating in a quite formal Afghan style program, in each event that we organize.  They love the intensity that our Scout masters have when they teach merit badge skills and manage the meetings.   And our PARSA team have put in a long hard four years, battling government officials who did not want to recognize a civil society organization as having the right to train Scout troops, and  of course, our constant struggle for funding.  So I saw the pictures of the Scouts on the mountain top behind PARSA and Marastoon, with their Afghan and Scout flags, I was inspired by what our staff has accomplished and moved by what is possible here in Afghanistan. MarnieScout hike 6Scout hike 2Scout hike 5Scout hike 3Scout hike 4Scout hike group

Notes from Bamiyan..Reese

Reese and Bamiyan kidsFrom Reese in Bamiyan with PARSA team: (These are the little things that are important to us living here-Reese is back up working out of our offices in Bamiyan )

“When I bought the slippers, the shopkeeper gave me two right feet. But they have lasted three years because no one else will wear them.”reese slippers

Introduction to “Life in Afghanistan”

If you haven’t been here (and even if you have), living in Afghanistan in 2014 does sound daunting. Even resident Kabulians don’t know what exactly to expect this year. Speculations on the ground vary enormously. The pessimists, both Afghan and expat, say that the Americans leaving will mean that the city (and subsequently the country) will descend into inevitable civil war. The optimists point out how dramatically Afghanistan has evolved in the last decade and believe that the large group of educated, forward-thinking Afghans will lead the country to stability. No one knows.

Playing at work

For us long term residents, either way life in Kabul will continue day by day. At PARSA we are dedicated to our work and to the people we work with. The women, children and families who benefit from our programs are depending on us – all the more if the situation here deteriorates. And so we have decided to start this blog so that you, our readers and supporters, can see Afghanistan and those people through our eyes and share our experiences, triumphs and defeats.

This blog will be written primarily by PARSA’s expat staff, but may have contributions from anyone. Our goal is to share and document our experiences here, and those with whom we work and know. Most importantly, our success in this endeavor depends largely on you, the reader. We need your feedback, ideas and questions. The more we hear from you the more our blog can evolve into something very meaningful, something that will touch lives around the world and connect you to us. Use the contact form below, follow us on Facebook and Twitter, and subscribe to our RSS feed.

Our first blog will be up soon, from our Executive Director whom many of you know, Marnie Gustavson. Looking forward to staying in touch.

Regards,

Alyssa Hoseman

PARSA Communications Manager