“I guess the real question is, do we want to be a trickle or a thunderstorm?” That was the question our Board Member, Wessel Booynsen, asked when I returned from Afghanistan last October.
Music to my ears.
My main goal with my return from Afghanistan was to look at the overarching vision – what change do we want to effect? Do we limit ourselves to education? To women and girls? To Afghanistan? Limitations kill my motivation. Its like dousing a fire with a bucket of sand, not even a spark remains.
Thinking big is scary, but sometimes you have to put the cart before the horse, and look ahead at what you want to achieve in order to work backwards from there. Sure, we could be a trickle. Neatly ticking off one project at a time in an orderly fashion. But I’m more excited by the thunderstorm, allow ourselves to think outside the box, expressing the magnitude of what we want to accomplish and then finding a way to get the lightening cracks started.
Moving beyond the staid, straightforward models that typically are associated with war zones dealing with the serious issues of gender inequity, abuse of women and girls, slavery, human trafficking, extreme poverty, and daily violence. We would become a new generation of non profit.
1. Work WITH Afghans, listen to them, learn from them, and look at ways we can act as catalysts for change. Letting go of assumptions and
2. Create a cyclical model whenever possible. Work to make deep, sustainable change by following through projects to the end goal. Education is our entry point towards empowerment, not the end result. We need to focus on creating jobs, markets, and opportunities. If we identify a region that is lacking midwives, we will work not only to train women from the area, but also work to set up small clinics for them to work out of. We will also look at ways we can help home births in regions until midwives or health care practitioners are trained in the region, preventing unnecessary maternal and newborn deaths in a region that has the highest death rate in the world.
3. We will be agile and nimble – working to solve problems, not create a replicable project. More difficult? Yup. More beneficial? Definitely.
4. We are focused on Afghanistan, but will also embrace opportunities that present themselves in other remote regions and conflict areas where women and children’s rights and lives are ignored. If we can affect change, we must not let borders be an excuse not to.
5. We will partner wherever possible. Instead of trying to do a little of everything, we will focus on what we do best and partner with others that do what THEY do best. Especially when we can utilize the support of local community organizations that deeply vested in change. Eliminating the need to stamp our name on every project we do, we instead work behind the scenes help to empower locals.
6. We will embrace our original and founding ethos of connecting communities and cultures – it is not just a toss away thought. It is actually as important as the projects themselves. Using photography, bikes, storytelling, and school project exchanges, we will work to connect our cultures, our schools, and our communities to further the potential for long term understanding and support.
As I look to my next return to Afghanistan this month, I am excited by the freedom the Board has entrusted me with to create the thunderstorm. Look out for rainy days ahead!