Monthly Archives: August 2009

Changing Seasons in Afghanistan


As leaves start to turn a pale shade of yellow, children across our nation return to school, and thoughts turn towards crisp autumn days, we find ourselves preparing for another trip to Afghanistan at a time where they are experiencing a different change of season.  The election season has come and gone, but votes are still be counted, accusations of corruption fly from all sides, and a nation struggles to retain the hope that the season ahead is brighter than that left behind.

Today Karzai and Abdullah Abdullah are in a dead heat, pardon the phrase.  A run-off appears likely.  I spoke today on WDAY radio in North Dakota and the host, Christopher Gabriel asked me the question, “What will the election result mean for Mountain to Mountain?”  In the best case, very little will change and small changes will continue to move things forward in terms of education, development, and opportunity.  In the worst, the public loses hope and confidence in its government and those that would exploit that apathy step in to fill the gap with violence and oppression.

Mountain to Mountain believes that regardless of the electoral outcome – our way ahead is firmly set in place.  As we revisit Afghanistan this autumn it is only fitting that we implement our first independent projects at the same change of season that first brought us to this country.   This trip sees us setting up a computer lab at a girls secondary school.   We plan to interview the teachers and students and revisit them yearly to watch their progress and track the relevance of computer training for their education and career paths.

This trip is also focused on taking the next step with several larger projects we are fundraising for.   The first is with the deaf school in Kabul.   Securing land, discussing the teacher training program, and school requirements.  The second is to visit several communities in the mountains to discuss potential sites for schools in the region.  We look forward to meeting with community elders and discovering how we can best work together to bring education to the children in these villages.

At the same time – our own organization is changing as we say goodbye to the first half of the year’s efforts to get balls rolling, set structure, and discover how to work together effectively as a Board.  As autumn comes, we find ourselves starting to see some of the fruits of our labor ready to harvest.  Our 2nd Annual Race for the Mountain trail running event raised over $3,000 towards a computer lab.  Team M2M launched in July and its handful of initial members have raised over $3,000 in just two short months.   The Dreams of Kabul photography exhibit launches its opening night fundraising in September as its first stop on a traveling tour of galleries.  Communities across the nation are developing their own fundraising initiatives and events to help us build schools, educate girls, and empower young women to find their way in the world.

As we move forward into the next season we hope that we can continue to build upon the events we’ve set in motion in the season’s past to create opportunity in the seasons yet to come!

photo by Di Zinno

Tagged , ,

Three Weeks Till Afghan Elections

Despite Karzai’s last minute pull out from the televised debates between the top three candidate – he is still presumed the front runner in the upcoming Afghan presidential elections.   Tolo TV held the debates and Karzai claimed that his last minute refusal to take part was due to the debates exclusion of all the presidential candidates.    Yet with a whopping 41 candidates are taking part, it was hardly sensible.  It would take the entire program just to get the introductions out of the way!  And so Abdullah Abdullah and Ashraf Ghani debated the failed Afghan policies on either side of an empty podium to highlight Karzai’s absence.

Meanwhile, Karzai’s controversial running mate, Mohammed Qasim Fahim’s convoy was attacked in Kunduz province.  Not exactly unexpected with the rise in random roadside violence and scare tactics leading up to the election, but the location of the attack is surprising.  The north has been seeing an upsurge in roadside attacks disrupting its relative peacefulness and safety.   Kunduz especially has seen an upswing as the Taliban work to disrupt foreign supply routes, and attempt to scare voters away from the polls.  

Luckily no one in the convoy was killed, and amazingly only a cameraman travelling in the group was injured.  Ethnically Tajik, Fahim helps to diversify Karzai’s Pashtun ticket by representing the two largest ethnic groups.  While he fought with the Northern Alliance to oust the Taliban in 2001, Fahim has been tagged by the Human Rights Watch for his sordid history of murder and corruption throughout the last 30 years of war.   

Aside from the violence upswing, this is an exciting time to be in Afghanistan.  Several friends are heading over (mostly photojournalists) to cover the events and I’m jealous of their front row ticket to the impending changeover.   While Karzai may very well win a second term despite his inability to stem the Taliban resurgence since his election in 2001, Abdullah and Ghani are giving him a run for his money.  Focusing on failed policies and broad charges of corruption, there is a chance of change as long as voters are allowed to cast their ballots.  

Why should we, as Westerners care which direction Afghanistan goes?  Many reasons.  Beyond my personal love of this country and its resilient citizens, is the international communities investment of money and lives in an attempt to provide security for this country to develop as an independent and free country.  Our focus with Mountain to Mountain is education, knowing that an educated society can best make the choices needed for a country to grow and flourish.  Education levels the playing field between ethnicity, class and gender, ensuring that all citizens have a voice.  Education creates a space for dialogue and debate without weapons but instead with ideas.  An educated society can set its own course, in a way that protects and ensures the rights of ALL of its citizens.

I return after the elections to take on the next steps in our own small efforts in this changing region.  We will set up a computer lab at a girls secondary school in Kabul in order to study the benefits of computer education and computer literacy in furthering the education of girls continuing on to high school and college.  We will also make the next steps in tackling our larger projects in building schools and bringing education to women’s prisons.  As the country continues to move forward, so do we.

Tagged , , ,