Ginny Barahona (Afghanistan)

Ginny Barahona (Afghan Women’s Network): Ginny worked with the North Philadelphia Public School System where she organized tutoring programs for four middle schools. This experience gave Ginny an interest in building communities through institutions and in the relationship between access to services and progress. At the time of her fellowship, Ginny was pursuing a Master’s degree at the School of Foreign Service, Georgetown University.

“Have faith in Allah and tie your camel.”

17 Oct

Much has happened in the last week, proving that this saying, “Have faith in Allah and tie your camel,” is the most practical for Kabul life.

Most dramatically, we lost our housing with the AWN. We went out at night with some ex-pat friends all working for various development projects here. The women at AWN did not feel this was appropriate since Afghan women don’t leave their homes once the sun goes down. They had asked us to stay indoors all day everyday, which we felt was unreasonable.

So, it was a matter of time before the whole 24/7 lockdown was going to make Sarah and I crazy. Luckily, the country director of a local NGO (and a former Georgetown SFS student) offered us some space until we found a new place. Until then, we are housed in the dining room of a ten-room home on Butcher Street behind the Baharistan Cinema.

Directions and addresses are very informal, so it’s always a task explaining where we live, especially since we’re literally in the mix of Kabul life. The neighborhood is dominated by Panjshiris who are the Pashtuns’ sworn enemy. (The Taliban and their current sympathizers who are believed to be responsible for attacking foreigners are mostly Pashtun. So they’d have to go through half a mile of their sworn enemy to get to us.) Living outside of AWN has given us more opportunities to see the city as well as meet new people. The international community here is tightly knit, especially since the divide between Afghans and outsiders is so wide.

At the office, there are constant ups and downs but lately it feels like there are more downs than anything else. The AWN office is completely understaffed and yet there is no space for anymore employees. I work on the couch and am often moved whenever there are guests. Getting help with finding clothes, housing, and a driver must be done on our own. My project leader is still in the US and due to tenuous communications, it is unclear when she will be back.

Sarah and I have started working on a directory template for AWN’s 2004 book of member NGOs and a proposal for IOM. In both projects, I asked about risks, obstacles and solutions to past, current and future projects. However, Afghans hate to disappoint so the answers always come back the same – no problems ever. Describing the necessity to discuss risk and plans to resolve them is always a challenge. It’s as though such an admission of its existence is already accepting failure.

So I smile, touch the manager’s hand, and explain to her that all projects should discuss these issues, even American ones. It shows that the plan is well thought out. (The 3 weekend development skills program I attended at Georgetown have definitely proven useful in this endeavor.)

However, risk is only one of my many communication projects here. There are also the issues of translating accountability and maintaining transparency in projects, the need to differentiate between institutional funding and project funding, and at times even defining communication between them and the various internationals who enter the office, not excluding ourselves.

The AWN staff has a great deal of passion and drive for the advancement of women. The office even has a spare bedroom for workers when they work late into the nights. However, there is currently a windfall of international attention and money particularly for women’s issues.

As a westerner, there appears to be a great deal of publicity to fund admirable causes such as oppression, violence, and hunger for Afghan women. There seems to be far less attention for the mundane but equally important issues of operating and institutional funds – salaries, rents, and office equipment to make the admirable battles happen. It would be difficult for any organization that worked in relative isolation to suddenly manage this influx of attention.

So, I have these constant conversations regarding communication with the international system – weekly but without nagging, peppered in smiles and tea drinking. Severity is always interpreted in a million negative ways here and will only set me back by alienation. So, all I can do is have faith and tie my own camel. Over time, perhaps some constructive engagement will work. Insh’Allah…

Posted By Ginny Barahona (Afghanistan)

Posted Oct 17th, 2006

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