Afghanistan is a name that most Americans associate with violence and fear. I certainly had my own concerns before arriving here, but I have found the Afghani people to be very warm, welcoming, and generous. They are a people of big and very open hearts, filled with kindness. These people have suffered a great deal, and their future remains uncertain, but they are also a people of hope.
The humanitarian professionals here work in some of the most difficult contexts I have seen, and yet they continue to work tirelessly to help restore the lives and dignity of the Afghan people. My first night here there was a bombing just before we gathered with the country leaders from several humanitarian, NGOs. Here is a telling quote from one of those country leaders. Commenting on the bombing she said, "We had been having such a good week, and I was so hopeful that today would be another good day."
The humanitarian workers here live and work in an environment in which violence is a daily reality. As I asked questions, they talked about the devastating bombing of a Lebanese cafe last year, one I had read about. It was a gathering place for NGO workers, one of these people characterized it as a place, "you could go after a hard day to relax and enjoy each other's company. A real oasis in the middle of so much pain and violence." The violence has changed their lives in profound ways: they can no longer eat at restaurants, they all live behind walled and heavily guarded compounds, and most difficult, they gather together much less often. All of them commented on how great it was to be together, and I think much of that experience was the sense of mutual care and respect they have for each other. This is a group that truly understands each others' experiences, that honors both the joys and sufferings, and that cares for each other. There is no competition, just mutual care and compassion. It is sometimes communicated in teasing, but warm bear-hugs were exchanged during greetings and partings.
These humanitarian professionals don't want to be admired, but it is hard not to feel admiration for them. They are truly chasing the lives of the Afghani people--creating and sustaining schools that bring, for the first time, high-quality education to girls and boys, working to help develop livelihoods with dignity so that these people can support themselves and their family, and providing knowledge and resources to bring high-quality food into their daily lives.