“One of the hidden realities in Afghanistan is the consequence of more than thirty years of war. No one escapes its effect—the death of loved ones, personal injuries, destruction of homes and families, and shattered lives…Higher education must not only produce students who will have the training, knowledge, creativity, entrepreneurial talents, and citizenship skills to provide for their own well-being and help foster national development but also ensure that the traumas and other legacies of the violence and carnage of war are adequately addressed. Only then can our nation move forward.”
—M. Osman Babury, PhD, Deputy Minister of Higher Education for Academic Affairs, 2013
Dear ROOM Readers,
Early on February 10, 2002, I sat in a large, crowded room in Kabul, Afghanistan. With coats pulled tight against the icy blasts from broken windows, representatives of the Afghan Interim Authority’s Ministry of Education prepared a plan to open Afghanistan’s schools at the traditional start time, Nowruz, the New Year. UNICEF was to offer logistical support with the distribution of books and supplies and, if necessary, tents for classrooms. Afghan teachers and school administrators were to register students in every district and be ready to teach. Six weeks later, on March 25, 2002, 1.5 million registered students, girls and boys, along with their teachers successfully restarted the public school system in Afghanistan in all 32 provinces. During the next months, more than 2 million refugee families returned home from exile, swelling the school attendance rosters. For the next nineteen years and six months, Afghans worked tirelessly to build their country’s institutions, which had been completely destroyed during the many years of war. It was not only physical but intellectual resources that had been reduced to rubble. (I was there as a member of the UN assessment team, looking at the needs and resources of adolescents, thirteen to eighteen years old, through a large, nationwide qualitative study.) Highly cognizant of the effects of the ongoing war on the lives of the students and indeed the faculty members, the Ministry of Higher Education determined to build capacity in social work and counseling so that graduates could serve their communities around the country through the development of uniquely Afghan curricula implemented on the nineteen campuses of Afghanistan’s public universities. My colleagues developed three Model Counseling Centers to train Afghan students. Together we also developed several publications.
However, following the fall of the Islamic Republic, our colleagues were visited by the Taliban and marked for future harm. The Model Counseling Centers were seized for other purposes, classrooms were monitored, homes were ransacked, and female faculty were confined to their homes. Their lives were threatened, and with the help of many readers of ROOM, they had to be assisted to leave the country. Thanks to generous donors, all but one of those endangered are out of Afghanistan, and almost all are in safety in Iran, Canada, the United States, and Germany. Those in the United States are here on temporary visas as academics, and filing their asylum claims is in itself an arduous and expensive process. Among those seeking asylum is Dr. Jafar Ahmadi, who shared his thoughts with ROOM readers. He and his wife have been publishing their clinical work with great success.
- Martha Bragin, PhD, is a professor at the Silberman School of Social Work at Hunter College. She is an internationally recognized specialist in developing psycho-social support with communities affected by structural violence, armed conflict, and disaster within the US and around the world.
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