A Remarkable Perspective – Part 3

In the Name of God, the Subtle, the Loving

Mr. Hoffman of Direct Aid International continues…

The next morning after Chai and Nan, we headed further north to the village of
Bergeshai. When we arrived to the outskirts of the village we could see on the hillside lining the road for a couple hundred yards most of the school children, teachers, and village elders. Qassimi and I proceeded to walk the road with everyone chanting something to the extent “welcome to our village” over and over again. At the end of the gauntlet we met the elders and several of us gave short speeches to the crowd of students and male elders, encouraging the need and importance for a good education.

After the speeches we headed down to a compound to gather the village elders and hammer out an agreement to build a school. It took over 3 hours from start to finish.
Part of the problem was that the village sits on a mountain of granite that would be the main material to build the school. The granite would have to broken by hand by several men who make a living as Stone Breakers. These men were firm on their price until I finally stepped in.

I asked them if they had children who would attend the school.
Yes they said. Do they have brothers who would have children who would attend the school? Again, yes was the answer. I also mentioned the fact that I work all year raising the funds for such a project, travel here for one month paying my travel expenses as well as receive no salary for my work. I also informed them that as business men it might be wise to do this project with little profit. It was becoming obvious that if they walked out of the room firm on their price their reputation in the village would be damaged. A couple minutes later we had a price that would allow us to proceed. I then told the village that these men have agreed to a lower price for Just this project. I informed the village that they should not expect this price for future personal building projects. This was a one time price, a one time deal. The stonebreakers smiled and nodded their heads.

We were set to build a 10 room school built of cement and granite for $10,000, approximately two thirds of the cost of the school. The village would cover the last third of the cost through labor and donating beams. This has become part of the request and process of these projects. I again explain how far I travel, how much I work during the year as well as traveling in unsafe areas risking my life etc. etc.. It’s only fair that each family donate one day of labor or one beam for the roof.

As they were writing the contract I was informed that the village had decided that this ten room school should be for the girls of the village. I was quite surprised at this decision. It was not something I had asked for or expected. With tears in my eyes I thanked them and told them my donors would be pleased. I also mentioned that this might help them convince another NGO to build a school for the boys as they were serious about educating everyone, not just the boys. The girl’s school will allow girls who are able to attend school up to grade 10 with the hopes of grades 11 and 12 being developed in the future.

After sitting down to a traditional lamb and broth and Nan meal we jumped back in the Ford Ranger Police truck we had used for travel from Nawur. We were now going to make our way to Bamiyan where Qassimi and I would part ways. Our route would take us through part of western Maidan Wardak, a province that is known for a strong Taliban influence. Although safer then heading back to Ghazni, we were not out of the woods yet.

We still had several hours of travel in areas where the Taliban were attacking local Hezera villages forcing the villagers to flee. We saw evidence of this the following morning when we were on our last leg of the trip to Bamiyan. It was early about 5 am when we came upon a rundown building with several Toyota vans with as much of the families belongings they could carry strapped on the roof… It turned out that a village near by had been attacked the previous night while families were sitting down to dinner. Having little time and no vehicles the villagers grabbed what they could and walked all night to this location where the vans waited to pick them up and deliver them to safety most likely with another family relative somewhere in the area. We stopped for only a few minutes but it was a sight that will not escape me as I saw families walking down a hill towards the road, young children and women with a scared look on their faces as they still continued to look over their shoulders, still not feeling safe.

We could not stay and help. Qassimi and I are too valuable and we did not have enough man to make a fight of it. If Qassimi ever were to be murdered by Talibs the whole situation in the region would change dramatically. The Talibs would have bigger concerns dealing with the Hezeras then they do with the International force.

After several stops for chai and lunch with old friends of Qassimi’s we eventually made it to Bamiyan, home of the destroyed Buddah statues. Bamiyan is a beautiful place and one of if not the safest areas in Afghanistan. NGO’s have established themselves in a big way here because of the lack of security concerns. It is a classic example of what Afghanistan could be like if peace could be achieved. It is also a classic example of how disproportionate the delivery of aid is delivered.

My first reaction was one of disgust and anger at the sight of hundreds of vehicles and personnel working in one area when just a couple hours south where I work I have not seen a single NGO vehicle and only 2 or 3 development projects over the 7 summers I have been in Nawur.

Nawur has over 580 villages with most of them in need of schools, clinics and agricultural support. It is one reason why I am so welcome in Hezerajat. No one else has bothered to set up camp and help some of the poorest people in the country

While in Bamiyan, I took a trip to the destroyed statues where I met the man in charge of their preservation. He offered to take me up the steps that climb to the head of the smaller of the two statues. I was becoming nauseous from my last meal and was skeptical of my being able to make the hike up and down the stairs that are carved from stone inside the mountain. Still I had the opportunity of a life time and sucked it up. I was glad that I took the time to make the hike. The statues were considered by some as the 8th wonder of the world before the Taliban finished them off in 2001.

I also was able to meet the women governor of Bamiyan, we spoke for a few minutes about my trips and was told that if she could help in any way during my stay please do not hesitate to contact her. The governor is an old friend of Qassimi’s as well as an acquaintance of my Afghan father Haji Hakim Jaghori

We spent the night in Bamiyan with Hajis son Jawed and set off the next morning for Kabul with a quick stop in Mir Bacha Koot.

To be continued…

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