Kabul, Afghanistan, is “home” to hundreds of thousands of children who have no home. Many of them live in squalid refugee camps with families that have been displaced by violence and war. Bereft of any income in a city already burdened by high rates of unemployment, families struggle to survive without adequate shelter, clothing, food, or fuel. Winter is especially hard for refugee families. Survival sometimes means sending their children to work on the streets, as vendors, where they often become vulnerable to well-organized gangs that lure them into drug and other criminal rings.
Last year, the Afghan Peace Volunteers (APV), young Afghans who host me and other internationals when we visit Kabul, began a program to help street children enroll in schools. The volunteers befriend small groups of children, get to know the children’s families and circumstances, and then reach agreements with the families that if the children are allowed to attend school and reduce their working hours on the streets, the APVs will compensate the families, supplying them with oil and rice. Next, the APVs buy warm clothes for each child and invite them to attend regular classes at the APV home to learn the alphabet and math.
Yesterday, Abdulhai and Hakim met a young boy, Safar, age 13, who was working as a boot polisher on a street near the APV home. Abdulhai asked to shake Safar’s hand, but the child refused. Understandably, Safar may have feared Abdulhai. But when Abdulhai and Hakim told Safar there were foreigners at the APV office who were keen to help, he followed them into our yard.
Finally, as President Obama has announced, this American war will soon be over, with most of the 44,000 American troops still in Iraq coming home in time to be with their families for Christmas.
The initial feelings that rushed over me after hearing the White House announcement were of deep relief. But then they turned to deep sadness over the terrible cost of a war that was, from the beginning, wrong; intellectually, politically, strategically and, above all, morally wrong.
The War in Iraq was fundamentally a war of choice, and it was the wrong choice.
This Friday, October 7, 2011, marks 10 years since the United States invaded Afghanistan in the name of the "War on Terror." Sadly, this summer President Obama announced he'll continue our military presence in the country until 2014, and Congress has agreed to follow his lead.
Where do we go from here?
? U.S. troops on the front line believe that the war will go on for another 10 years after they leave.
? An audit shows that the surge of U.S. civilian advisers has cost nearly $2 billion.
? The U.S. mission in Afghanistan has suspended the transfer of detainees to several Afghan jails, following torture allegations.
They say at some point in their lives great leaders experience a "dark night of the soul," or a period in life when your feet, knees, and face scrape and stick to the proverbial bottom." It is a time when even your soul feels forsaken. Ultimately, the dark night is not about the suffering that is inflicted from outside oneself, even though that could trigger it. It is about the existential suffering rooted from within. St. John of the Cross, the 16th century Carmelite priest, described it as a confrontation, or a healing and process of purification of what lies within on the journey toward union with God.
"Whenever you face trials of any kind," explained the apostle James, "consider it nothing but joy, because you know that the testing of your faith produces endurance; and let endurance have its full effect, so that you may be mature and complete, lacking in nothing." (James 1:2-4)
The Olympics is the greatest representation of national athletic pride. Somehow every couple of years, patriotism is met with a degree of innocence and acceptance that is too often forgotten in conflict and negotiation.
Five years ago, Afghanistan re-entered international basketball when the county's Olympic committee decided to draft a team for the 2006 Asian Games. A year later, the committee hired Mamo Rafiq, who was the first Afghan immigrant to play in the NCAA first for Idaho State and then UC Davis.
Bamiyan is a central Afghan town, home to two monumental Buddha statues carved out of sandstone cliffs. In a zealous attempt to purge anything considered un-Islamic, the Taliban targeted these historic statues a decade ago when they occupied and controlled Afghanistan. The defamation of non-Islamic monuments and sites caused a global response. The efforts of national leaders failed, and the Taliban destroyed the statues in March, 2001. The world community -- from Russia to Malaysia, from Germany to Sri Lanka -- expressed horror at the Buddha's demolition.
Sitting over the Bamiyan Valley since the early sixth century, one of the Buddha figures stood nearly 180 feet tall and the other 120 feet. Before their destruction, these statues were the largest Buddha carvings in the world. They were once a major tourist attraction, but the decades of conflict drove away tourists years before the Taliban blew up the statues.
I just watched a 60 Minutes expose on Greg Mortenson, co-author of Three Cups of Tea and co-founder of the nonprofit the Central Asia Institute. Watching this news story that accused Mortenson of fabricating key stories in his book, lacking organizational/financial transparency and effectiveness, and receiving "excessive" personal benefits from his organization felt like a punch in the gut, even if it's of the too familiar heroes-come-crashing-down variety.
It must have felt like a punch to many. None of us like to give our hard-earned pennies or dollars or peace prize money to someone who betrays our confidence.
I felt it in my gut, too, because Mortenson and I have a lot in common. We've both published two memoirs about our experiences and work for education in the developing world -- he in Afghanistan, and me in Haiti. We both travel to speak about our work -- albeit he on a much grander, best-selling-er scale than me. Once I stood for half an hour in a book line to talk with him for two minutes and he seemed touchingly humble and friendly.