Development News from Afghanistan

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Afghan education and humanitarian programs at risk from violence

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Kelly Cryderman
CanWest News Service
Saturday, December 08, 2007

Qala-i-Naw, Afghanistan — Bibi Hoor, an Afghan woman who believes her age to be about 32, has an elegant, almost regal beauty about her.

This is why it’s such a shock when she lifts up her baby and you can see her hands, which are thick and clawlike. In their coarseness you can see the lifetime of poverty, washing clothes in cold water, and an early marriage at age 12 that led to eight children in less than 20 years.

“We as Afghans have too many children. With the current state of affairs it is difficult to educate them, feed them and bring them up as good citizens,” said Bibi Hoor, whose family lives on about $80 US a month.

Bibi Hoor has more pressing concerns than the insurgency in Afghanistan, like how to feed her family this winter. But Talibs are now riding their motorcycles across the countryside just outside her town of Qala-i-Naw, and a spate of attacks was seen this fall in local districts that until recently had been spared much of the violence commonly seen in the southern part of the country.

And at some point, the worsening security situation in the surrounding areas could eventually affect the family.

For the past three years, Bibi Hoor has been attending literacy classes sponsored by World Vision Afghanistan. Helping her family is another World Vision Food for Education program that gives the family two kilograms of rice and one litre of cooking oil every month, for each child who attends school.

“If this program was ended it would be very hard,” said Bibi Hoor.

Right now there is no concern that the programs will end. But increasingly the services delivered to families like Bibi Hoor’s are facing far greater stresses.

It has been a year that may be the most violent since the Taliban were overthrown in 2001. People working to help redevelop and educate the country — they say they are on a mission to help ease Afghanistan’s grinding poverty — are being threatened alongside the military and security forces. And increasingly there are security concerns in provinces such as Badghis, which previously had been considered relatively quiet.

Just this week in Kabul, senior defence ministry spokesman General Mohammad Zahir Azimi said 2007 was the “bloodiest” the country has experienced.

A recent report from the United Nations Department of Safety and Security paints a grim picture, saying that most analysts believe the situation has deteriorated across the country in 2007. The report displays a list of abducted aid workers and a quote from a senior Taliban commander that those working for the United States, United Nations or Afghan government will be targeted.

“The Afghan National Police (ANP) has become a primary target of insurgents and intimidation of all kinds has increased against the civilian population, especially those perceived to be in support of the government, international military forces as well as the humanitarian and development community,” said the report.

The report listed Badghis province as an area it is “watching closely.” And the Institute for War and Peace Reporting said of Badghis, “insurgents have occupied most of the mountainous parts of three of the province’s seven districts. They have also established intelligence and operational networks in most district centres.”

For World Vision, the new security reality means the organization is constantly looking at how to protect its staff, said Mary Kate MacIsaac, a Calgarian who is working as communications manager in Herat, and also working in Badghis and Ghor provinces.

Last year, four local World Vision workers were killed in attacks. MacIsaac and other staff based in Herat are no longer driving to Qala-i-Naw when they go to pay teachers or assess the programming, and are now taking charter flights. A home school program in Bala Murghab district, the site of much recent Taliban activity, has been closed because of worries over security.

“It’s affected everything,” MacIsaac said. “It’s central to our work here. Especially since we lost four colleagues it’s become our first concern.

“We’re no good to anyone dead.”

The problem for development workers and educators is perhaps most acute where Canadian Forces operate, in volatile Kandahar province in the south. There, work by non-governmental organizations or the military’s development arms is extremely limited by the threat of kidnappings, suicide bombs or other attacks.

At the Afghan-Canadian Community Centre in Kandahar, 250 girls and women studying in vocational courses for free – some online through the Southern Alberta Institute of Technology – regularly have to put up with taunts and teasing on their way to school from men who don’t believe they should be attending classes.

However it is the male director of the school that perhaps deals with the most serious threats.

Ehsanullah Ehsan is hesitant to talk about it in front of his teachers, but he acknowledges that he regularly receives angry letters and phone calls from “extremists” who don’t like the education the centre is providing to girls and women, and in the last two weeks a handful of boys and men. He closely watches every house and car as he passes by on his way to work.

“I don’t think we receive all the threats from the Taliban. There are people who are jealous. There are people who don’t want light in Afghanistan. The school is intolerable for them,” Ehsan said.

But Ehsan seems adamant that no matter the risks, his work must go on.

“The only end to the war and destruction can be education. It’s education that brings development.”

Calgary Herald

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Written by afghandevnews

December 9, 2007 at 2:30 am

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