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.

Working the System

17 Oct

After one month in Kabul, I finally begin work on the education project I came for. The past month has been a great experience to prepare for Afghan work culture. For one thing, Afghans are extremely hospitable and will do almost anything to avoid disappointment. AWN is no exception.

At times it’s been a challenge getting answers to questions about projects since no one wants to say no or that it can’t be done. At one point, I was forced to wait 8 hours over two days for an interview rather than be told that another grant deadline had just been realized and our talk would have to wait.

Second, like many Afghan NGOs, this organization is stretched to impossible limits. There is a dire lack of operating funds to hire skilled workers who can handle office work much less the demanding relationships with donors here in Afghanistan. While AWN has the heart and drive to take on the challenging work of furthering human rights, they lack the support staff to accomplish projects with the full attention needed for monthly reports, consistent monitoring and evaluation.

AWN has a number of different managers but no one under them to do the filing, typing, and general office work. Although there does exist a danger factor, especially as we near the October elections, many Afghan women are still willing to work for AWN. Two weeks ago, a van full of women registering to vote was blown up in Jalalabad. For Afghans, working for an organization like AWN means you’ve got to have a lot of heart and even more courage.

Tomorrow or the next day, I will travel to Wardak to see the first primary school for girls in this project. The project leader, Sadiqa Basiri, is completely maxed out on time as the Advocacy Manager and the best English speaker in the office. Therefore, aside from meeting various ministries, writing domestic and international reports, organizing projects, AND heading the entire schools project, she works as a liaison to organizations that take an interest in AWN or women’s issues in general. So, either I must find my own way to the province, as well as a translator and a male escort or she will have to backlog even more work and come with me.

Meanwhile, I continue to work on a grant proposal for a radio project here in Kabul. In mid April, the Minister of Planning, Ramazan Bashardoost, called NGOs “ineffective” and accused them of squandering Afghan reconstruction money. Massive media attention and funds to Afghanistan coupled with the lack of skilled workers who can maneuver the international donor system has created challenges for project performance, transparency and accountability.

However, I’m not convinced that funneling all international aid through the government will prevent these problems. For the Afghan Women’s Network, this has meant harsher scrutiny. So their response has been to create a radio program as a means to establish better communications with the greater Kabul public about women’s issues and the respective AWN member NGOs who work on them.

With Sadiqa back in the office, my work priorities must change dramatically. Unfortunately, the radio program proposal is unlikely to be finished by the end of the week. With so many important and immediate problems, it’s difficult to decide which projects to continue on and which to leave behind. Hopefully, by the end of this year we will be able to find operating funds for the organization so that hired support staff will enable AWN to make these hard decisions less often. Then again, that’s another project to take on an already overburdened staff.

Posted By Ginny Barahona (Afghanistan)

Posted Oct 17th, 2006

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