Iain Guest

Iain founded AP in 2001 after many years of writing about and working with civil society in countries in conflict. He was a Geneva-based correspondent for the London-based Guardian and International Herald Tribune (1976-1987); authored a book on the disappearances in Argentina; fronted several BBC documentaries; served as spokesperson for the UNHCR operation in Cambodia (1992-1993) and the UN humanitarian operation in Haiti (2004); served as a Senior Fellow at the US Institute of Peace (1996-7); and conducted missions to Rwanda and Bosnia for the UN, USAID and UNHCR. Iain recently stepped down as an adjunct professor at Georgetown’s School of Foreign Service, where he taught human rights.

Arriving in Afghanistan to Shocking News

12 Oct

Over the next weeks I will be posting blogs about my recent visit to Afghanistan to work with Sadiqa Basiri and her father, who manage a project for girls’ education. AP has supported the project with funding from the Hinchman Foundation for two years and deployed three US student Peace Fellows – Sarah Schores, Ginny Barahona  and Shirin Sahani – to help Sadiqa.

Kabul, October 12, 2005. I spend my first day in Afghanistan in the company of Igrar Gul, the husband of Sadiqa Basiri, and Janadgur Basiri, her father. As visitors to this site will know, Sadiqa founded the Omid Learning Center, which supports four girls’ schools in Afghanistan. AP has been working closely with Omid for two years, and I am here to see how the schools are faring.

Sadiqa herself is taking time off to study in the United States, but she has entrusted me to her family for safekeeping. Igrar works at the Ministry of Health, where he directs an important training program on infectious diseases. Janadgur, her father, is an engineer who is now working with Omid as its field coordinator. He roars up on his motorcycle, dodging beggars and depositing dust in all directions, and gives me a bear-hug. I remember him well from last summer, when we traveled together up to the mountains of Wardak.

Janadgur is the bearer of grim news. One of Omid’s four schools, at Noor Khel in Wardak province, was recently burned to the ground. Noor Khel is the second Omid school to be burned down in the past three months – the other was Godah – and the news is all the more shocking because Noor Khel has been given an A grade by Sadiqa and her father. The Noor Khel headmaster is committed, his teachers are qualified, and the community is behind the school.

At least that is what we thought. Janadgur visited Noor Khel after the fire and interviewed the guard, who reported that a gang of masked and armed men descended on the school and set fire to five of the tents in the middle of the night. There is a report that the school was being used as a polling station in the recent parliamentary elections, which might have made it a target for rebels. I hope that’s the case. Anything else would suggest that the community is not one hundred percent behind the school.

Later in the day, Janadgur receives a second piece of news on his mobile phone that is even more shocking. His 32 year-old cousin, Abdul Bary, a pharmacist, was killed earlier today, along with four colleagues from the NGO that he worked for.

The team was visiting villages in Kandahar province when they were attacked, presumably by the Taliban. Abdul’s wife and children are living in their family home up in Godah village. He will be buried in the Basiri family plot this weekend. Janadgur loses his bounce and starts making plans to attend the funeral.

I suddenly realize how much reconstruction in Afghanistan depends on the drive of individual families like the Basiris. The Omid program of girl’s education began in 2003 when Sadiqa paid to organize classes for 30 girls in Godah from her own NGO salary. Her father, who is well known in the village, helped persuade the religious leaders in Godah that the school would not be a threat to village culture. Her uncle, who is the only trained pharmacist in Godah, offered his home for the first classes. Her brother Akmal takes time off from his work with an Internet company to act as an unofficial translator for Omid.

None of this is easy. Sadiqa herself has taken a well-deserved break to to study in the United States. Igrar, her husband, tells me that Sadiqa herself is homesick, and that he gets criticism for having let her leave the home and study in degenerate America.

Now their cousin has been murdered for trying to provide medical services to the poor.

This family deserves a medal.

Filed under: Afghanistan | Tagged: Afghanistan, girls’ school, human rights, Omid Learing Center | Leave a comment »

Posted By Iain Guest

Posted Oct 12th, 2005

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