Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Scott Jackson: Growing Global Philanthropy with Global Impact

Scott Jackson
President and CEO, Global Impact  
Introduction:  Scott Jackson is the newly appointed President and CEO of Global Impact, one of the world’s top nonprofits supporting international charities and aid work.  He is a recognized expert in global philanthropy, development, fundraising, marketing, and social enterprise.  In his new role as Global Impact’s president, Scott Jackson will lead the full range of Global Impact fundraising campaigns, workplace giving, advisory services, partnerships and strategic alliances

       Mr. Jackson has led and worked in high-visibility nonprofit and international aid programs for over 20 years.  Before joining Global Impact he served as Vice President for External Relations at PATH, where he built strong relationships with partners and donors and increased the visibility of PATH’s work with global health initiatives in the developing world.
      He has also served as Senior Vice President at World Vision US, where he managed a portfolio of over $60 million and directed external relations, key partnerships, community relations and strategic initiatives.  At World Vision he was a founding member of the management committee of ONE: The Campaign to Make Poverty History.   This well-known global health and poverty advocacy and awareness campaign included a coalition of international relief and development organizations such as Debt AIDS Trade Africa, Bread for the World, World Vision, and CARE 
Scott Jackson helped lead the World Vision team that managed ONE: The Campaign to Make Poverty History, a coalition of aid organizations brought together by U2 lead singer and activist Bono

       Prior to his work at World Vision, Scott Jackson was President and Managing Director of APCO Seattle, a worldwide public affairs and strategic communications consulting firm.  He also founded TRADEC (Trade and Development Consortium), one of the first marketing and communications firms in North America to specialize in international trade promotion, technology transfer and market access.

      Mr. Jackson serves on a number of national boards and committees, holds an MBA from the University of Edinburgh, and is a Rotary scholar.   He joined Global Impact as CEO in October 2011, and now succeeds Renée S. Acosta as President.  Ms. Acosta retired in April 2013 after more than 20 years with the organization.

      Scott Jackson speaks here with Edward Zellem, author of “Zarbul Masalha: 151 Afghan Dari ProverbsandAfghan Proverbs Illustrated.”   Zellem also serves on Global Impact’s Board of Directors, all of whom are unpaid volunteers from a broad spectrum of professions.   

Edward Zellem:   Scott, it’s a privilege to speak with you.  You’re the new President and CEO of Global Impact, one of the largest and most experienced non-profit organizations in the world.  What can you tell us about the mission and vision of Global Impact?

Scott Jackson:  That’s very kind of you to say, Edward.  But the privilege is mine to have the opportunity to lead Global Impact, which is a world leader, broker and pioneer in raising money to help people in developing countries.  Global Impact has been doing this for 57 years, far longer than any other organization of its kind.  During that time we’ve been known by other names, such as the Federal Joint Service Crusade (FJSC) and the International Service Agencies (ISA).  We changed our name to Global Impact in 2003.  But it’s not the name that matters so much.  What’s important is that in six decades we’ve raised and distributed more than $1.5 billion dollars to help people in need all over the world.

One of Global Impact’s partner charities is the International Rescue Committee (IRC). Here the IRC assists displaced women and children during the current conflict in the North Kivu province of the Democratic Republic of the Congo. (Photo by Sinziana Demian) 

        Global Impact’s mission statement is To assure help to the world’s most vulnerable people, and we excel in doing just that.  We support a large partner, client and project network that includes initiatives in health care, clean water, job training, education, small business loans, disaster response, and many other critical areas of need. So you can see why I say that the privilege is mine to help lead and support the people and organizations that do such vital aid work in developing countries all over the world.

EZ:  What wonderful and compelling work.  How does Global Impact do that?

SJ:   We provide funding to more than 70 of the top U.S.-based international charities that work at the local level in developing countries.  These include UNICEF, World Vision, Ashoka, CAREDoctors Without Borders/Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) and the Clinton Foundation, to name just a few.  They’re all doing tremendous and critical work.  We are quite careful to ensure that all our charity partners are vetted to the highest standards, exceeding those of rating agencies such as Charity Navigator and the Better Business Bureau.

Global Impact supports AmeriCares and the Central Asian Cardiovascular Disease Initiative (CACDI), a joint venture with Merck to improve heart health in Uzbekistan.   
     Global Impact raises money to support these charities in a variety of ways.  One way is through workplace giving campaigns and special funds.  We also provide a number of critical services to corporations that want to increase their level of corporate social responsibility, social enterprise, and charitable campaigns. These services include strategic advisory services, campaign design and management, and targeted distribution to ensure that aid projects result in the success stories and “bang for the buck” that corporations want to see and publicize.

Global Impact has received many honors and awards for fundraising and campaign management

EZ:  Please tell us about some of these services.

SJ:   Global Impact provides fully integrated services designed to meet the specific philanthropic interests and needs of corporations and other businesses.  The client’s interests come first, with Global Impact working collaboratively to establish partnerships, develop strategies, set goals, achieve meaningful results and serve as fiscal agent.  Our menu of corporate services covers three categories:

Advisory Services
  • Philanthropic/Corporate Social Responsibility Strategic Counsel
  • Benchmarking and Research
  • Marketing and Visibility Strategy
  • Employee Engagement Strategy
  • Program Design and Development
Campaign Services
  • Charitable Fund Development
  • Strategic Alliances and Partnership Brokering
  • Campaign Design, Management and Representation
Support Services
  • Distribution of Funds, Donor Receipts, Reporting
  • Charity Vetting
  • Technology Products and Services 
    Global Impact is a trusted partner in philanthropic solutions for over 70 private sector companies

      Global Impact combines these services to provide fully integrated philanthropic solutions based on corporate clients’ individual needs and desires.  This low-overhead, “one-stop-shop” approach means that charity, aid and development efforts are maximized for the people who need it the most.  We offer a similar menu of services for charity partners that we support.  This is not just our common goal and the right thing to do.  It is Global Impact’s entire reason for existence.

 “Global Impact made our goal of raising money for rebuilding and relief in Lebanon a reality. Their administrative partnership helped five corporations give over $1.7 million to provide young people with job skills, assist with housing, train teachers and educate communities. By focusing on one area and working together, the impact of our work made a profound difference.”
         — George Akiki, Senior Director of Corporate Affairs, Cisco Systems 

EZ:  What are your thoughts on how corporations and the private sector can benefit from charitable campaigns and philanthropy?     

SJ:   The private sector is becoming more and more aware that sustainable philanthropy can both help people and also be good for business at the same time.  It also helps employees feel that they are empowered and making a difference.  But in many cases, the dilemma of these companies is that they want to do it - but they aren’t quite sure how to do it.  That’s an area where Global Impact can help them a lot. 

        Global Impact can and is helping the private sector find ways to excel in global philanthropy and social enterprise We’ve supported corporate charity and philanthropy for a long time, and we’re good at it.  My strategic plan for Global Impact is to leverage our deep experience in this area to provide even more services to the corporate sector, and to expand our offerings to new partners.  Everyone benefits – from corporate stockholders in wealthy nations to the world's most vulnerable people in developing nations who just need a hand up.   And that’s a very, very good thing for everyone.

Arian Rashid: Afghan Proverbs in Psychotherapy and Counseling

Introduction:  I’ve heard Afghan Proverbs used in a thousand ways.  In high-stakes negotiations inside Afghanistan’s Presidential Palace. In friendly conversations over many cups of chai. Shopping in the bazaar. Picnicking in the mountains. Teaching kids how to read in both Dari and English.   

     I heard and used Afghan Proverbs everywhere I went in Afghanistan. That’s why I wrote a book translating 151 of them from Dari into English. It’s why an illustrated children’s edition has been published in eleven languages, with more editions coming soon.  Interest around the world in Afghan Proverbs has been high, and a new edition of 151 Pashto Proverbs ("Mataluna”) will be published in early 2014.    

     I also know that the books are now being used in Sweden and Greece to help new Afghan immigrants with language and social integration. But with all this work on Afghan Proverbs, I had never heard of using them medically in psychotherapy and counseling until I met Afghan-American psychologist Arian Rashid.   

    I was stunned when Rashid explained how she has used Afghan Proverbs for years as a therapeutic tool with her clients. After she told me, it seemed so obvious and natural. I wanted to know more. 

     Arian Rashid was born in Kabul.  Her mother was a teacher, and her father was a respected professor at Kabul University and a judge at the Ministry of Justice.  Soon after attending Kabul University in the late 1970’s Rashid fell in love, got married, and moved to England for what she and her new husband thought would be a temporary work-related stay. 

 They hadn’t lived long in England when history intervened.  When the Soviets invaded Afghanistan in 1979, the young family’s “temporary stay” in England became a permanent one.  Rashid decided to be a stay-at-home mom until her two sons became teenagers.  Then she went back to university, received an MA in Analytical Psychology from the University of Sussex, and worked as a therapist and counselor in England for years.  After 23 years in England, she moved to the United States for advanced studies in psychotherapy at Johns Hopkins University.  

     Rashid has been a therapist and counselor for almost twenty years, and she specializes in treating immigrant and refugee populations.  The majority of her clients have been diaspora Afghans dealing with depression, anxiety, adjustment problems, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), and other serious mental health issues.  

     In addition to her practical work, Rashid has published academic papers in the European Journal of Psychotherapy and Counseling, and serves on the boards of the Afghan-American Medical Association (AMPAA) and the Afghan-American Womens’ Association (A-AWA).  She also has done TV and radio interviews with Voice of America and other major media. 

     Arian Rashid speaks here with Edward Zellem, a U.S. Navy Captain and award-winning author of “Zarbul Masalha: 151 Afghan Dari Proverbs” and “Afghan Proverbs Illustrated,” now in eleven languages.   
Edward Zellem:  Ms. Rashid, tashakur تشکر  for speaking with us about your fascinating work with Afghan Proverbs in psychotherapy and counseling.
Arian Rashid:  With pleasure, Dagarwaal Zellem.  دگروال  زالم   I’ve been using Afghan Proverbs in my practice for years, and I am so glad you published your own collection of Afghan Proverbs to share with the world.  I’ve really enjoyed your books both personally as an Afghan, and professionally as a psychologist and psychotherapist.

EZ:  You began including Afghan Proverbs in your practice as a therapeutic technique many years ago. What gave you the idea for that? 

AR:   Good communication is the key to good therapy.  For therapy I developed a professional “menu” of graphic language, metaphors and proverbs, and I used all three of these means to communicate.  Because I am a native-born Afghan and speak Dari and Pashto,  whenever I found myself in empathy with a client the right Proverbs would come to mind without much effort.

     As a therapist, I discovered that using Afghan Proverbs and metaphors with my clientele of native speakers made my relationships with them stronger because it deepened our relationships.  It helped me concisely understand a way of thinking and a collective wisdom with which I could identify.
     Of course, I also grew up hearing Afghan Proverbs that were directly connected to Afghan culture, so this approach came rather naturally to me.  You saw this yourself in Afghanistan, Edward – Afghans use proverbs and metaphors a lot when they speak.

EZ:  How are Afghan Proverbs useful in therapy and counseling? 

AR:  Proverbs provide powerful and useful messages for both the client and the counselor. They not only help the client to identify problems concisely, they help the unconscious become conscious.  As the therapist, this helps me to speed the therapeutic process. I have found that it is very important to identify problems and remedies as quickly as possible; there is no time to waste. The sooner I can identify a client’s problems and begin working to resolve them, the less dependency for the client.

     Using Afghan Proverbs in conversation with a client can help a lot with this.  The right proverb can help a client see the depth of his or her problems very directly, and can help take these insights further.  One benefit of using Proverbs is that the client instantly knows where the therapist is in terms of empathy.  Another is that the therapist can see by the client’s response to a Proverb whether the client wants to elaborate on a particular subject.  So Proverbs in this way not only help crystallize and identify problems, they also help speed the treatment process.

     However, it is important to note that like everything in therapy, a trusting relationship between the therapist and client is the key.  Only after that trust has been established, and after the therapist has an in-depth knowledge of the client’s difficulties, can Proverbs be used appropriately.

EZ:   Why do you think it is effective to use a culture’s Proverbs in counseling people  of that culture?  Does it always need to be done in the native language?

AR:  I think the beauty of using Proverbs and metaphor is that they not only make the learning process quicker, they enrich it at the same time.  It feels good to hear a Proverb that one has grown up with, and hearing new ones also adds to our knowledge in a multicultural way.
     I still remember when I first heard the American Proverb "The squeaky wheel gets the grease here in the United States.  It was very different from the traditional way of Afghan culture, i.e. being patient, showing respect and silence.  When I use this proverb with my clients, it teaches them something about the culture of their host country and how it operates.  So Proverbs can be a great tool of acculturation too.

  I think it is of paramount importance to use culturally-bound proverbs, especially in the cases of people who have been traumatized by war such Afghans and Iraqis.  When possible, it is most effective to do this in the native language of the client.  But therapy in general is a process of learning.  So it also can be valuable to translate Proverbs into a second or third language to convey meaning, and to help the client get another frame of reference. It’s all about communication
EZ:  Can you give us some specific examples of Afghan Proverbs that you have found to be effective in counseling and therapy?    
AR:   Proverbs are useful in therapy a variety of ways, depending on the situation.  Here are a few examples:
  • Refugees, survivors of politically motivated torture and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD):  The question of blame often surfaces in our sessions.  One Afghan Proverb I have used effectively is “Dar jang, naan wa halwaa taqsim na meysha.” (In wartime, food and sweets are not distributed). This often brings home the reality of war, and the fact that many people suffer in war and most of them are not to blame for it.  It helps them see the personal effects of war on themselves in a different way. 

  • Depression, anxiety and memory problems:  When clients seek therapy, they often do not like to take medication.  So my first attempt is to focus on their health and rule out any physical illness.  When clients face depression, anxiety and related problems I use the proverb Aqle salem dar badan salam ast. (A healthy mind through a healthy body).  This can help them to focus on the importance of healthy eating and physical exercise to help improve their mental health.
  • Religious issues:  As a coping mechanism for other issues, some Afghan and other refugees will sometimes talk about the superiority of their own religion.  As part of their therapy and to help them show respect to other people and other religions, I often remind them of the Proverb “Isa ba deen e khod, Mousa ba deen khod.”  It translates as “Jesus to his religion and Moses to his,” and it means “to each his own.”  This is actually a short translation of a Sura in the Qur’an.  So I use this Proverb to help them understand that they must respect the religious beliefs of others as well as their own. This often has transformative results and enriches their experience of counseling.

  • Children’s education:  I am happy to say that with almost all my clients from Afghanistan and many other parts of the world, one of their main concerns has been the education of their children.  We often spend hours talking about this area, and the important job of raising the next generation and all the responsibilities that come with that. “Elm taj-e saar ast”  (Knowledge is like a crown on the head) is one of my favorites, and it really resonates with them.  
  • Adult education:  With adults who think it is too late for them to learn, I often use the famous Afghan Proverb  “Maahee-raa har waqt az aab biggeree, taaza ast.” (Whenever you take a fish from water, it is fresh).  They understand the meaning right away - starting something new is always a fresh chance for success.  This Proverb has great significance.  It’s true for education, for therapy, and for life in general.          
EZ:  Thank you, Ms. Rashid.  This is a fascinating and very important subject.  Zenda bosheyn!   !زنده باشین  

Afghan Education for a Better Tomorrow and Washington's "Afghan Picnic of the Year": The 4th Annual Afghan Arts and Culture Festival


As Labor Day is celebrated in the United States this weekend, Afghans and Afghan-Americans in the Washington, D.C. area are contributing a major event to the holiday mix.
       The all-day event is the Fourth Annual Afghan Arts and Culture Festival.  This year's Festival will be held from 11:30AM to 7:30PM this Sunday, September 1, in the heart of Washington’s famed National Mall.  Admission is free.  People from all cultural traditions are welcome, reflecting Afghanistan's world-renowned hospitality toward guests of any nationality.    
     The Afghan Arts and Culture Festival is one of the highlights of the year for the Afghan community in the Washington area, which is home to one of the largest U.S. concentrations of Afghans, Afghan-Americans, and people with Afghan connections. In past years, the Afghan Arts and Culture Festival has drawn thousands of guests from all cultural traditions.

      This year’s event promises to be the biggest ever.  It is organized and hosted by Afghan Education for a Better Tomorrow (AEBT), a registered nonprofit organization operating nationwide in the United States.  AEBT is committed to supporting health and education sectors in Afghanistan with fundraising and other charitable initiatives.  All its members are volunteers. 100% of AEBT fundraising goes directly to support Afghan education and health care in Afghanistan.

 Numerous dignitaries are expected to attend, including some local Washington elected officials. Many others have sent greetings and best wishes for the event.  Ambassador Said Tayeb Jawad, former Afghan Ambassador to the United States, says that the Afghan Arts and Culture Festival “will be an opportunity to meet with other Afghans, and friends of Afghanistan, to pursue our shared goal of a peaceful, prosperous, and vibrant Afghanistan."

      Maryam Rashid is the AEBT’s East Coast Executive Director and the organizer of this year’s FestivalShe speaks here in an exclusive interview with Edward Zellem, author of Zarbul Masalha: 151 Afghan Dari Proverbs and the Afghan Proverbs Illustrated series. 
Edward Zellem:  Maryam jaan, it’s a pleasure to speak with you.  Please tell us a little about yourself and how you became involved with the Festival.
Maryam Rashid: It’s great to speak with you too, Dagarwaal Zellem. دگروال  زالم  And it is a great privilege to serve as the East Coast Executive Director of Afghan Education for a Better Tomorrow (AEBT), the host and organizer of the Afghan Arts and Cultural Festival to be held September 1 on the National Mall. 

     I’ve always been very interested and curious about my Afghan heritage, and I feel a special urgency to give back to Afghanistan because I have been afforded with so many opportunities here in the United States. 

You can blame my passion for helping Afghanistan on a cultural identity crisis I had a few years ago. That encouraged me to learn more about my culture, and also to support Afghan youth here in the Washington, D.C. area to learn more about their heritage and culture too.

EZ:  Please tell us more about the Festival.  How did you get the idea for it? 

MR:  I came up with the idea of having an Afghan Festival back in 2010. I wanted to have a fundraiser and event that would be educational for the community, and one that would bring together different generations to share and appreciate Afghaniatan’s art.
      The Festival is a free, all-ages event designed to help create a platform for cultural exchange and an embracement of ethnic and cultural diversity. It also aims to increase advocacy and active participation within the Washington, D.C. metropolitan area for the rebuilding effort in Afghanistan. 100% of the funds raised from the Afghan Arts and Cultural Festival will benefit AEBT-sponsored education and health programs in Afghanistan.
   It’s great that we are able to have the Festival in the center of Washington’s National Mall.  For people who haven’t been there, the Mall is a lovely, giant park-like area surrounded by the Smithsonian Institution museums.  It is framed on one side by the Washington Monument and on the other side by the U.S. Capitol. It is a beautiful location and a very meaningful one too.
      Afghans like to have fun wherever they are in the world, and we especially love family picnics (mey-la).  میله  So I like to also think of this as Washington’s biggest Afghan picnic of the year and surely one of the biggest in the United States too. But it will be much, much more than a picnic.

EZ:  What events will take place at the Festival?

MR:  The Festival will include stage shows throughout the day, with a special guest appearance by cutting-edge rapper and humanitarian Immortal Technique, an Afghan musical performance by Fardeen Nawaz, dance and theatrical performances, an Afghan Fashion Show, and comedic performances by popular Afghan-American YouTube sensations Qias Omar and Harris Khattak. They're hilarious, and their YouTube video series is well worth watching. Afghans have a great sense of humor, even about themselves.

Also featured throughout the day will be poetry readings; Afghan Proverbs skits; presentations by several authors and book sales; an art exhibition featuring the works of local artists; Afghan jewelry and rug displays by Zamani Gallery and Antiques; and a history exhibition featuring an interactive timeline of Afghanistan’s rich history.

    There will be kite-making and crafts workshops too.  For film fans, short-length documentaries and films will be screened continuously all day at the Festival’s Media and Film tent.  And of course, visitors can delight themselves with delicious Afghan food and free Afghan chai (tea) tasting throughout the daylong event.  It will be tremendous fun and very memorable for everyone. Afghans are famous worldwide for their hospitality to guests.  

EZ:  This event sounds like great fun, while at the same time it supports very important charities.  Please tell us more about how AEBT will support Afghan education and health with this event.

MR:  As we said earlier, Afghan Education for a Better Tomorrow (AEBT) is a  501(c)(3) nonprofit that is fully committed to supporting the education and health sectors in Afghanistan.  AEBT’s mission is to help create and build an education system to help prepare Afghan women, men, and children for a better tomorrow. AEBT also is developing programs to help ensure that the health needs and goals of Afghans are met.  We focus particularly on the needs of the most vulnerable people, specifically women and children.

     The founding members of AEBT believe that education and health care are the most basic, yet also the most important, cornerstones for Afghan society to survive and progress in the 21st century.  AEBT has no overhead cost. All members are volunteers and work for the benefit of Afghanistan. 100% of donations go to Afghanistan for education and health care. Some of our projects include the Herat Vocational School in western Afghanistan, which helps provide solar energy training, English as a Second Language courses, tailoring and seamstress courses, and child daycare.  We also partner with the Soholat Health Services and Vocational Organization for Afghans in Kabul, which provides midwife and computer literacy training. 

     Some sponsors of the festival include the Foundation for Afghanistan, the Ayenda Foundation, La Tulipe, and Worldwide Language Resources.

EZ:  How can people find out more about the Afghan Arts and Culture Festival? 

MS:  The best way for people in the Washington, D.C. area is to come to the Festival!  We will be impossible to miss on the National Mall on Sunday, September 1. The Festival will run from 11:30 AM to 7:30 PM.  Just look for the big stage and tents in the center of the Mall near 14th Street, the Smithsonian Metro stop, and the National Museum of American History.

     There is a lot of information and regular updates on our Facebook event page.   Twitter users can follow the very latest by following the hashtag #afghanfestival.  Even people who are too far away to join us can enjoy reading about the Afghan Arts and Culture Festival, even readers in Afghanistan!

      After the event, we will post lots of photos on our Facebook event page.  I am sure that many friends who join us will post their photos and videos too. We also expect some media attention.

     Finally, I want to thank the many great volunteers who supported the planning for this event with their time, talents and donations over many months. People have contributed from near and far.  It has been humbling and moving to see, and to be a part of. The planning effort has been far larger than any one of us alone, and the event itself will be too. As the Afghan Dari Proverb says, Ba yak gul, bahaar na-meysha. (One flower doesn't bring spring).  به یک گل، بهار نمی‏شه  It means that it takes many hands and much teamwork to achieve something big.     

     We hope you can join us at the Afghan Arts and Culture Festival this Sunday.  And no matter where you are, please remember to support Afghan education and health!  These are the keys to a brighter future for Afghans, and for everyone all over the world.

    Zenda bosheyn!  (Long life to you!)  !زنده باشین          


Arif Parwani: A Recipe for Chaos and a Recipe for Afghan Development

Arif Parwani
Introduction: Arif Parwani is an Afghan-American author and engineering consultant.  He was born in Afghanistan’s Helmand province, studied civil engineering in Germany, and moved to the United States in 1986.

     An engineer by trade, he continued to help Afghans as a private citizen.  He returned to his homeland shortly after the fall of the Taliban to help rebuild the nation, and remained there for almost ten years working in various capacities for NATO, the United States, and the Afghan government. 

     He has served as a senior adviser to Afghanistan’s Ministry of Public Health;  director of the Ministry of the Interior’s Afghanistan Stabilization Program;  special adviser to the Inspector General for Afghan Reconstruction (SIGAR); and as a Ministerial Development adviser for the NATO Training Mission-Afghanistan.  In 2006, he turned down an offer by President Karzai to become Mayor of Kabul.           

        He also is the author of Cry of Angels, a novel based on the true story of an Afghan woman’s hopes and struggles against all odds in a country brutally damaged by politics, corruption and war.

     Afghan-American television personality and author Dr. Farid Younos, host of NOOR-TV’s “The Dr. Younos Show,” has called Cry of Angels “the most powerful, chilling and stimulating story ever written about Afghanistan in the form of a novel.”

     Arif Parwani speaks here with Edward Zellem, a U.S. Navy Captain and author of “Zarbul Masalha: 151 Afghan Dari Proverbs.”
Edward Zellem:  It’s a pleasure to speak with you, Arif.  We really enjoyed Cry of Angels. It’s a very powerful book.  Please tell us a little more about your background.  

Arif Parwani:   Thanks very much, you’re very kind.  Zenda bosheyn زنده باشین  (long life to you). Please allow me also to congratulate you on your beautiful compendium of Afghan proverbs, Zarbul Masalha. And I‘d like to congratulate Film Annex on its very pragmatic and innovative approaches toward Afghan literacy and women’s empowerment through the Afghan Development Project. I am fascinated by both your initiatives, and wish both of you even more success in your endeavors.

     I was in my senior year of engineering college at Kabul University when Soviet troops invaded Afghanistan in 1979, and I escaped my country for Pakistan in a matter of days as a refugee. During my three months’ sojourn in Peshawar, I worked with the United Nations Development Program (UNDP) on shelter and literacy projects for other Afghan refugees before leaving for Germany to continue my education. It was 1986 when I finally joined my family in California.  They left Afghanistan after me. 

Arif Parwani meets with Afghan villagers at a development site
      Prior to the fall of the Taliban regime in 2001, I made several extended trips to visit Afghan refugee camps in Pakistan. My first trip was a survey visit in 1985 during the midst of the anti-Soviet jihad era.  I discovered at that time that proactively helping Afghan refugees was rather complicated for Afghan volunteers who were not affiliated with one of the seven major mujahideen parties. However, the trip was very productive in the sense that I documented my observations and personal reservations about the dominating sociopolitical theology at the time, which has endured in some places until even today.  This outlook has changed the lives of Afghans for the worse in the past three decades, especially the lives of women.

     I visited Afghanistan frequently after the fall of the Taliban regime, at first for shorter-term consulting efforts.  Then I remained in Afghanistan full-time from 2003 to 2012 to work on development-related initiatives. As you mentioned in the introduction, I worked on a variety of governance, reconstruction and capacity building projects during that time.

Opening a new District Center complex in the village of Khak-e Jabbar, Kabul Province

EZ:  Please tell us about your “Peace Through Education” initiative and what you saw during your 2001 trip to Peshawar.  

AP:  I went to Peshawar in March 2001, still during the Taliban rule in Afghanistan, and I visited many Afghan refugee schools there. I was shocked to see that the school curricula in most of those refugee schools, mostly orphanages, were promoting the culture of guns and violence in the name of jihad. It was then that I decided to establish and register a NGO in California called “Peace Through Education.” Our motto was “Inspiration in the absence of education is a recipe for chaos.” My purpose was to help promote modern school curricula tailored to the traditions and realities of the refugee culture at the time. It was not an easy task for an engineer to engage in projects of this nature, but thanks to Afghan volunteers in Pakistan and other organizations in the United States, I was able to identify the challenges and to come up with a mitigation plan. But as I was ready to move forward with my plan, the 9/11 tragedy happened.

EZ:  Fascinating.  Educating young children to promote jihad with guns and violence reminds me of the well-known Afghan Proverb, “Tegh-raa ba dast-e daywaanah daadan.”  تیغ را به دست دیوانه دادن  (To put a knife in the hand of a maniac.). What happened then?  

AP:  Despite the post-9/11 security restrictions and political obstacles, I was able to represent Peace Through Education in the first post-Taliban reconstruction conference in Islamabad in November 2001, even as large pockets of Taliban were still fighting in southern and southwestern Afghanistan. With the newly established Afghan Transitional Government, the Afghan refugee repatriation started very soon.  Due to the high demand for engineering and construction skills, I wanted to help with the reconstruction of schools and clinics through USAID projects across the country. I was very happy to plant the seeds for Peace Through Education at the Peshawar conference in November 2001. Very soon, a similar program and locally managed NGO with the name “Peace Through Education” emerged there.  It is still actively involved in adult literacy in remote areas and underserved villages across Afghanistan. 

Arif Parwani and the Governor of Kabul cut the ribbon at a new facility  

EZ:  Was “Peace Through Education” your last literacy project? 

AP:  After the successful completion of school and clinic reconstruction programs, I was fortunate enough to have another opportunity to help Afghans in the area of adult literacy, vocational training, and institution building as director of the Afghan Stabilization Program under the Ministry of the Interior.  This started as a foreign-sponsored, donor-funded initiative, and was one of the national priority programs that promoted stability and good governance through infrastructure development and capacity building.  We had a presence in all 34 provinces and 364 districts. It ultimately transitioned in 2008 to become the Independent Directorate of Local Governance (IDLG) and a Cabinet-level organization of the Government of Afghanistan.

EZ:  You have a diverse portfolio of experience in rebuilding Afghanistan starting in 2001.  How do you assess the efforts of the international community and Afghans themselves in improving Afghans’ lives, especially the lives of women and youth, in the post-Taliban era?

AP:  We should not forget that Afghans fought the Soviet superpower for more than a decade, followed by a decade of tragic civil war, and the draconian rule of the Taliban that barred women from working outside their homes and closed girls’ schools. And let’s also bear in mind that Afghanistan is currently in a state of war.  When the world gathered in Bonn in December 2001 to draw a roadmap for the reconstruction of Afghanistan, not only was the infrastructure of the country totally destroyed, but the social, political and cultural state of Afghans was suffering from incredible damage. Thus, Afghans and the international community had a very difficult road ahead.  Despite all these challenges, the achievements in the state of women’s lives and freedom of expression is enormous in comparison to the post-Soviet mujahideen administration and the Taliban era in the 1990s.

At lunch with female members of the Afghan Parliament

I still remember the thrill I felt when I inaugurated the first-ever women’s rights and sexual harassment seminar in Afghanistan for Provincial civil servants.  It was a joyful moment to help inaugurate dozens of vocational training and computer literacy projects, and provide internet access and TVs in areas that had been controlled by the Taliban. Just because we still hear tragic stories of rape, torture and even honor killings of Afghan women, it doesn’t mean that women were better off in the 1990s. The truth is that these facts were not being reported, and the world largely had left helpless Afghans to deal with their problems on their own. However, we could have had better results had we taken more culturally appropriate strategies and coordinated our efforts better among the many NGOs engaged in these fields.

EZ:   Can you elaborate on the “culturally appropriate strategies” that you believe could have improved the situation?

AP:  I am confident that you know from your experience (and your collection of wonderful Afghan Proverbs supports this rationale) that many Afghan tribes still live in a patriarchal society, and surprisingly the women of these cultural groups abide by their cultural codes of conduct and accept to certain degrees a male-dominated household.  This is true even though these women have been productive members of Afghan society throughout history.  They have worked side-by-side with men in the fields, and have even participated in the wars against outside invaders – even without the so-called “blood related” members of their families. But instead of trying to repeal these long standing cultural codes, there are traditional ways to work within the culture to improve this situation and legacy.

     We can learn much from the lessons of the various failed eras of Afghan democracy and secular constitutions in the past eight decades, starting with women’s emancipation under the reformist King Amanullah in the early 1920s.  For example, one good method would be to better leverage the power of the tribal elders and religious clerics, consistent with cultural awareness and the teachings of Quran, to promote a relatively liberal standard of education and working environment for Afghan women.  This can help overcome the oppression of women that is advocated by radical groups such as the Taliban.
Speaking at a Provincial reconstruction seminar

EZ:  What do you think of the role of social media in today’s Afghanistan?

AP:  I’d like to cite an Afghan Proverb from your book Zarbul Masalha (“Proverbs” in Dari), a Proverb which is found in both the Dari and Pashto languages. “Aaftaab ba doo angusht pen-han na-mey-shawad.” (The sun cannot be hidden by two fingers).   آفتاب به دو انگشت پنهان نمی‏شود
This means that the truth cannot be hidden. Thanks to the internet and social media, the world community has turned to a small village. In this context, social media is the Sun that can relay the voice of freedom and social justice, and also the true message of the Quran. Social media can be very instrumental in teaching the world about the rich history and glorious civilization of the Afghans, and female heroines like Malalai of Maiwand, Rabia Balkhi, Nahid Sahed, and Nazo Tokhi.

 Opening a new police building in Shakardara 

EZ:  You’ve written and published Cry of Angels, a novel of war fiction with a central female character. Please tell us what motivated you to write a book on the plight of Afghan women. 

AP:  Cry of Angels is based on my decades of research and interviews that I began conducting in refugee camps in Pakistan in the 1980s, and continued in Afghanistan through 2012.  The book documents many real-life people and events, but was written as fiction for technical, cultural and privacy reasons. Some of the characters and places were fictionalized. The purpose of Cry of Angels is to remind the world one more time to look back and see what Afghans, and especially women, went through after the Soviet troops left Afghanistan.                             

EZ:   How do you see the future of women and young people in post-2014 Afghanistan, after most NATO and foreign forces withdraw?  
AP:  The future of women in Afghanistan will depend on good governance, which in turn depends on the state of security and the economy in post-2014 Afghanistan.  Security and the economy are two sides of a coin.  The mint that makes the coin must design, hammer and shape a political framework tailored to the culture, needs and realities of today’s Afghans and Afghanistan. History tells us that that you cannot govern today’s Afghanistan with tomorrow’s government. There are traditional Afghan ways of developing good governance and democracy that can sustain security and economic development.

Medieval Persian poet Saadi Shirazi 
     I believe that Afghan women and youth ultimately will succeed no matter what.  But a political settlement and a legitimate form of government that can be accepted by the majority of Afghans will pave the road ahead, and prevent the positive achievements of the last decade from becoming lost or otherwise compromised.

EZ:  What is your message for the Afghan people?
AP:  As the famous Persian poet Saadi (1184-1283) wrote, “Individuals are the body parts of one main body (Mankind) and grew from one stem; if one part suffers from pain, the whole body will feel pain.” My message is not only for Afghans, but for the friends of Afghanistan as well. Optimism is good; as another Afghan proverb says, “Doon-ya baa omeed zenda ast.” (The world is alive with hope).
 دنیا با امید زنده است

"The world is alive with hope." (original art from Zarbul Masalha)
     But we also should look back at the days before the Soviet withdrawal, and learn from the story of an educated young Afghan woman and her sisters in Cry of AngelsAnother Afghan proverb from your great book Zarbul Masalha also applies: “Aazmuda-ra aazmudan khatast.” آزموده را آزمودن خطاست   (Testing of a tested one is wrong). Trying something that you have already tried, but has failed, is wrong.

     I would like to conclude with the motto behind the “Peace Through Education” program in Peshawar in 2001: “Inspiration in absence of education is a recipe for chaos.”  A good example is found in the recent U.S. concert tour by the Afghan Youth Orchestra. These young Afghan musicians send messages of peace and hope by pressing their fingers against musical instruments.

     On the other hand, we have many young Afghans sent by the Taliban on suicide missions.  They are deprived of education, but inspired by radical ideas. The first group presses their fingers on musical instruments to send messages of peace and hope. The second group presses their fingers to detonate suicide jackets.  We must encourage and support the first group however we can, or there will be chaos again.