Archive for July 2005
By AMANDA CUDA
Connecticut Post (USA)
July 16, 2005
Women in Afghanistan may still wear a burqa to cover their bodies and faces. They’re also largely uneducated, and often the victims of domestic abuse. But, according to one Milford woman who has lived in the country for several years, there has been progress in women’s rights in that war-torn country since the fall of the Taliban, even if it isn’t readily visible. “There’s no doubt that being a woman in Afghanistan is difficult. But the changes that need to happen will happen over decades, not years,” said Mary Louise Vitelli, 42, an attorney who has done international development work in a number of countries overseas. She will speak Monday at a meeting of the Retired Professional Women of Milford about her time in Afghanistan and the social and economic climate in that country. Her mother, Mary Lou Vitelli, 68, also of Milford, is a member of the organization and said her daughter spoke to the group a year ago and got good response. “The advantage that she has is that she gets into the people there,” said Mary Lou. “She lives their lives.”
The younger Vitelli opted to move to Afghanistan a year ago — although she still has a home in Milford — because she felt it was an interesting time in the country’s history.
“I really fell in love with the place,” she said. “And right now, it’s going through such dramatic changes on every front.”
For the past year she has had her own international development business, Vitelli & Associates, in Kabul. In the time she’s lived in Afghanistan, she’s been funded by the World Bank to assist Afghanistan’s government with mining and natural resource development. Before that, she worked for the U.S. Agency for International Development as its senior energy adviser in Afghanistan. She’s back in the states for about a month, but will eventually return to Kabul, where she plans to stay for a while, she said. She’s even become conversant in the Afghan language of Dari.
Among the topics Vitelli plans to discuss is the country’s attitude toward women, which she said is more evolved than many people think. For instance, she said, there was a time when it was illegal for women to sit in the front seat of a car or leave the house without a male relative. Her own experience as an American woman living in Afghanistan has been largely positive. “The Afghan men treat me with absolute respect, and the women treat me with even more respect,” Vitelli said.
In addition to women’s rights, Vitelli plans to discuss social and economic issues in Afghanistan, issues that are close to her heart.She said the country is obviously poverty-stricken and in need of serious help, but she’s hopeful that it’s moving in the right direction.
“There’s incredible poverty and a lack of development,” Vitelli said. “Having elections [in Afghanistan] was important. Now they need electricity. They need roads. They need basic things.” Vitelli will speak at 2 p.m. Tuesday at the Milford Senior Center, 9 Jepson Drive. Public welcome to meeting. Non-members should call 877-5131 to register.
Institute for War & Peace Reporting
By Amanullah Nasrat in Kabul (ARR No. 178, 15-Jul-05)
In a country where communications are often either poor or nonexistent, the Afghan government has launched a major effort to make internet access more widely available by introducing a digital wireless network.
Currently operating only in the capital, the network will soon be available in 12 provinces and should be operational throughout the country by the end of the year, according to Communications Minister Amirzai Sangeen.
So far, the government has spent 70 million US dollars on creating, and expects to spend another 50 million to complete the project this year. Sangeen said that 9,000 digital phones are ready to be connected to the network.
Linking Afghanistan up via wireless internet connections is seen as vital to both economic and political development, as the government in Kabul continues to struggle to exert control over some provinces.
“Trade centres, government offices, schools and other institutions will benefit from the internet network,” said Sangeen.
Deputy Communications Minister Baryalai Hasaam said the government had contracted two Chinese telecommunications companies – ZPE and Huaway – to build the network.
In addition to providing improved communications for the government and private business, officials hope ordinary people, who until now have been unable to afford internet access, will benefit as well.
Currently, access to the web is available through the internet cafes that dot Kabul. But prices, as much as one dollar an hour, mean using the internet is too expensive for most people in a country where civil servants and teachers often earn as little as 60 dollars a month.
Although specific rates have yet to be set, the government plans to charge 30 per cent less than these private firms, and night-time rates could be as low as 20 cents per hour, said Sangeen.
In addition to having their own computer, said Hasaam, customers will need to buy a wireless digital phone, costing between 140 and 160 dollars, and have it installed. They will also have to buy a pre-paid card that will provide them with a certain number of minutes. In addition, the government will impose a four-dollar-a month tax on such connections.
Hasaam said the government plans to provide the first two months of service to new customers free of charge.
Not everyone is happy with the new network.
Hasaamuddin, who runs the Sabah Internet café in Kabul, said the lower costs offered by the government network will hurt his business. “This new system of the ministry of communications will damage our business by 50 per cent. People will get web access at a low price, and no one will walk through my internet café door any more,” he said.
But the Afghan Wireless Communications Company, one of the largest of the 12 private companies currently providing wireless communications in the country, said it welcomed the government’s new project.
Mohammad Naeem Haqmal, a spokesman for the company, said, “We are in favour of peaceful competition. Whether it is the ministry of communications or other companies that are providing facilities to ordinary people… it is still a kind of service.”
Amanullah Nasrat is an IWPR staff reporter in Kabul.
Four Afghan students win top prizes in international competition and change some minds in the process.
Institute for War & Peace Reporting
By Mohammad Jawad Sharifzada in Kabul (ARR No. 178, 15-Jul-05)
Four young Afghan students did more than merely stun their competitors when they came away with some of the top prizes at an international mathematics competition held recently in Almaty, Kazakhstan. They also changed how students from 22 other countries perceive Afghanistan.
Ahmad Mustafa Naseri and Mustafa Naseri, both 17 (and unrelated), students at the Turkish-run Afghan-Turk School in Kabul, won gold medals while Omid Sadiqyar and Mohammad Rafi Firoz, also 17 and students at a similar school in the northern Shiberghan province, were awarded silver medals following a day-long algebra competition in May.
Ahmad Mustafa said that while he was proud of his gold medal, he was saddened to discover that students from other countries thought of Afghanistan only as the home of terrorism, drugs production and internecine conflict.
“One competitor from Australia told me, ‘I was very surprised that Afghans were taking part in this competition – we always hear that Afghanistan is a major drug producer and a country for terrorists who are always fighting one another,’ ” said Ahmad Mustafa.
But now, Ahmad Mustafa said, the Australian promised to return home and talk of the talented and brave Afghans he had met.
Mustafa Naseri smiled as he recalled the moment he heard he had won gold.
“Even though the other participants were happy that there were Afghan students in the competition, they never thought that we would get such positions. They were all left wondering after the results were announced and the Afghans were awarded two gold and two silver medals,” he said.
Maths teacher Hilmi Engoren, who started teaching at the high school two years ago and accompanied the students to Kazakhstan, praised the boys, adding, “Afghan students are talented – I am sure that if the way is paved for them, they will be successful in any field.”
The Afghan-Turk schools, supported by a Turkish non-governmental organisation, were first established in 1995 but were quickly attacked by the then-ruling Taleban regime, which accused them of spreading Turkish propaganda.
Today, there are 35 teachers, including 18 from Turkey, for the 500 students at the Kabul school. According to Abdul Fatah Sabar, deputy director at the school, the teaching system is more concentrated than others in the country, with students attending classes 46 hours a week, compared with the 36 hours normal at Afghan schools.
The schools only accept male students. “These schools were established during the Taleban regime and girls were not allowed to go to school at that time,” said Sabar. “So only boys are still educated here.”
Mustafa’s father, Abdul Wasay Naseri, is full of praise for his son’s school. “If my son didn’t go to the Afghan-Turk School, his talents would be wasted like those of thousands of other Afghan youths,” he said.
Mohammad Sediq Patman, a deputy education minister, said that if Afghanistan had the means to educate its children, “I am sure they would amaze the world in different fields.
“Unfortunately we don’t have enough schools or teachers and we are not on top of things in the regions; we can’t dismiss any teachers in the provinces. Most of the teachers who were appointed during the war era [in the Nineties] don’t have diplomas.”
Winning the math award was almost too much for Mustafa Naseri. “When I was given the gold medal, my heart began beating so fast I thought I had a heart disease,” he said.
Mohammad Jawad Sharifzada is an IWPR staff reporter in Kabul.