CAI Communiqué (Blog)
Welcome to CAI’s blog. This is where CAI will post news items and stories about what is happening with the organization both stateside and overseas! Please send any comments or questions to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Welcome to CAI’s blog. This is where CAI will post news items and stories about what is happening with the organization both stateside and overseas! Please send any comments or questions to email@example.com.
Kevin Sieff, the Washington Post’s former Afghan bureau chief requested and was given extensive information about Central Asia Institute’s (CAI) operations in Afghanistan and Pakistan in the course of reporting his story this past summer. CAI has initiated 400 total projects, 292 of which currently receive support, and 108 of which have been either completed, suspended, or operate independently of CAI. By design, the projects we support are often located in rural, high-conflict regions where poverty and oppression of women’s rights by extremist groups are prevalent. Because of the complicated regions we serve, we expect that not all of the projects will continue to be supported by their communities or the government after we have turned them over. Mr. Sieff and his editors at the Post knew or should have known that, based on the materials provided to you, which are also publicly available. Instead, Mr. Sieff’s article is riddled with inaccuracies, generalizations, and false information that portray CAI as inept and ineffective.
We have no quarrel with the Post, the Associated Press, and NBC for continuing to cover the “Greg Mortenson Fallen Hero” storyline. Apparently they collectively believe “inquiring minds want to know.” It would only seem fair, however, that they not repeatedly paint CAI with the same broad brush, which places CAI in a false light.
It is true that CAI suffered from the growing pains of colossal success from 2009 through early 2011. During this period, while the media was busy hoisting Greg Mortenson on their shoulders like a God, CAI’s revenues grew by over 300 percent and our business processes and procedures, as well as the personal capacity of a small management staff, split at the seams and broke. That has been acknowledged, but that was also years ago.
Since then, under the oversight of the Montana Attorney General’s office, CAI has shored up its systems, procedures and personnel policies, meeting and exceeding every reporting requirement. Today, with several years of successful external audits, tax filings, and management reviews, CAI functions effectively and efficiently; operating at efficiency levels at or above national and international standards. For more details, please visit our website (www.ikat.org).
Unfortunately, the story of CAI’s perseverance, good works, and an 18-year record of continuous expansion isn’t deemed newsworthy. Instead of telling the story of thousands of young women in war-torn Afghanistan being liberated by literacy and education, Mr. Sieff and his editors at the Post wasted our time, and readers’ time, by treating us all to another tired old tale that does nothing to move us all ahead. Instead of disseminating constructive, newsworthy information, they have diminished the ongoing success of all those who seek to bring about sustainable peace through education. We think we deserve better from the leaders of our national news media.
Central Asia Institute
NOTE: Below is the introduction from the opening pages of the 2015 Journey of Hope calendar. Central Asia Institute is now taking preorders for the calendar, at $12 each, including shipping. ORDER YOURS NOW! All proceeds go toward CAI’s work promoting education, especially for girls, in Pakistan, Afghanistan, and Tajikistan. The calendars are scheduled to ship by mid-November.
“Welcome to Afghanistan, the land of stones,” an Afghan woman told me as we sat down to tea in her house last spring.
“The ‘Land of Stones?’” I asked.
“Yes,” she said, “the Land of Stones, because it is a hard place to live.”
The same could be said for all of the places where Central Asia Institute (CAI) works to promote education, especially for girls, in Pakistan, Afghanistan, and Tajikistan.
Our focus has always been on impoverished, isolated, mountainous areas where few if any other humanitarian organizations dare to tread and government programs are scarce or nonexistent. Many of these historically underserved areas are also plagued by conflict and extremism, which magnifies their isolation. And we emphasize serving girls and women because, as CAI Co-Founder Greg Mortenson says: “You can hand out condoms, drop bombs, build roads, or put in electricity, but until the girls are educated a society won’t change.”
This pioneering work is making an indisputable difference. Because of CAI’s patient and persistent dedication over the past 18 years:
CAI’s work helping communities develop the tools to help themselves is particularly important in a world increasingly defined by the great divide between the haves and the have-nots.
Studies show that, “By the most meaningful measures – how long we live, how healthy and happy we are, how much we know – life has never been better,” as David Leonhardt wrote in the New York Times Book Review in late 2013. “The share of people living on less than $1 a day has dropped to 14 percent.”
We celebrate the progress. But it’s not enough for us. Even if a person earns $2 or $4 a day, that’s not enough to cover the basic costs of living – food, shelter, clothing and medical expenses. And it means that families face difficult choices, not the least of which is whether to send children to school or put them to work.
We need to do more. CAI’s mission is based on the premise that education is the best way to ensure that everyone has access to economic progress and the related health and welfare benefits that accompany it. As Leonhardt wrote: “Knowledge – which is to say education – is humanity’s most important engine of improvement.”
CAI’s perseverance and commitment are illustrated in the photos in this year’s Journey of Hope calendar. Photojournalist Erik Petersen’s images depict students in our nontraditional Afghan nomad school (January) and others in a classroom at the end of the road in Hushe Valley, Pakistan (March). His photo of a school in the Wakhan Corridor illustrates the stunning beauty of the harsh landscape (February). His photos of children working (June and October) and children playing (August and November) show life outside the classroom.
All of these photos have stories behind them, will be published in CAI’s annual Journey of Hope magazine, due out in November. If you would like a copy of the magazine, let us know and we’ll send you one.
As the woman in Ishkashim told me, Afghanistan is a hard place to live. But despite the obstacles, CAI’s schools, vocational and literacy programs, public health and community programs really are making dreams come true.
Thanks for joining us on another journey of hope.
QUOTE: We cannot always build the future for our youth, but we can build our youth for the future. – Franklin D. Roosevelt
- Karin Ronnow, communications director
We can drop bombs, send in drones or troops, hand out condoms, build roads or put in electricity, but unless girls are educated, a society will not change. – Greg Mortenson
Central Asia Institute (CAI) and all the tens of thousands of female (and male) students and teachers we serve congratulate Pakistani girls’ education advocate Malala Yousafzai and Indian child rights campaigner Kailash Satyarthi on being awarded the 2014 Nobel Peace Prize.
In announcing the prizewinners Friday, the Nobel committee in Oslo praised the pair’s “struggle against the suppression of children and young people,” the BBC reported.
“God bless you dear Malala,” CAI Co-Founder Greg Mortenson said upon hearing the news. “We are all with you and forever grateful for your courage, inspiration and advocacy for girls’ education.”
Mortenson also thanked Nobel committee for “having the foresight to give this award appropriately to a woman. This gives me great hope for the future.”
Malala, 17, is the youngest-ever Nobel Peace Prize winner. She burst onto the international scene after Taliban shot her in the head in October 2012 for her support of girls’ education. In the years since, she has written a book, started a foundation, and become a vocal advocate for education. She and her family now live in Birmingham, England, having opted not to return to their home in Pakistan’s Swat Valley.
“Despite her youth, Malala Yousafzai, has already fought for several years for the right of girls to education and has shown by example that children and young people too can contribute to improving their own situations,” Thorbjorn Jagland, chairman of the Nobel committee, said. “This she has done under the most dangerous circumstances. Through her heroic struggle she has become a leading spokesperson for girls’ rights to education.”
She was in school Friday when the award was announced, the BBC reported. Her comments will be aired live on her website
Kailash Satyarthi, a 60-year-old electrical engineer turned children’s rights campaigner, quit his job in 1980 to found Bachpan Bachao Andolan, Save the Childhood Movement, fight child trafficking, Reuters news agency reported Friday. He is married and has two children.
Satyarthi dedicated the prize to children in slavery, Reuters reported. He also pledged to “join hands” with Malala in the fight against child slavery and “the menace of illiteracy.”
The shared prize was particularly poignant given the current India-Pakistan fighting over Kashmir. For the past week, the two countries have engaged in the worst violence in more than a decade, Reuters reported, with heavy shelling at the border that has killed nine Pakistani and eight Indian civilians. Kashmir has been a disputed territory since the two countries were portioned in 1947.
The committee said it was important that a Muslim and a Hindu, a Pakistani and an Indian had joined in the common struggle for education and against extremism, according to the BBC report.
Mortenson said the timing of the Nobel award “came at an appropriate time” for another reason.
“One of the global Millennium Development Goals set in 2000 was to mandate that every single child in the world would have the right to learn to read and write and go to school by 2015,” he said. “Although initial progress was good, and a few countries achieved their objectives, since 2007 there has been poor progress with education, especially for girls. Today there are 58 million primary-school-age children out of school and another 63 million children under 16 who are not in school. So next year, in 2015, we will have to give the millennium goals in education an ‘F.’”
Mortenson said that giving the prize to an education advocate inspires hope that countries will begin to think differently about education.
“Although there is more global awareness and advocacy of girls’ education in the past five years, in terms of investment and real numbers, the actions do not reflect the political rhetoric,” he said. “It would take an additional $ 8 billion a year for the next decade to realize education for all in the world. That sounds like a lot of money. But worldwide defense spending in 2012 was $1.6 trillion, according to Jane’s Report, which makes $8 billion look like a drop in the bucket.
“While countries spend hundreds of billions of dollars on war, military equipment, and hardware, all in the imperfect illusion that security equals peace, few countries and political leaders have realized that the only real road to peace, stability, and prosperity is education. Sadly, teachers, schools, and education are still a low priority with politicians and governments,” he said.
He specifically encouraged Pakistan’s government to accelerate efforts to improve children’s access to education.
“This is also a special moment for the great people of Pakistan,” Mortenson said. “I hope the Pakistan government will finally, 67 years after independence, decide to put more than 3 percent of GDP into education and especially focus on girls’ education. Right now it’s only 2.1 percent – the lowest in history and one of the lowest in the world.”
In addition to Malala’s advocacy, many others have given their lives in the fight for girls’ education, Mortenson said.
“Today we remember all those girls, teachers, headmasters and advocates who have paid the ultimate sacrifice or been injured for supporting girls’ right to go to school in countries like Afghanistan, Pakistan, Somalia, Yemen, Congo, Nigeria, Niger, Mali, and other countries,” he said. “We will not forget you.”
In addition to the international recognition of their work, the Nobel also comes with a financial reward. The two will share a $1.4 million prize.
QUOTE: Extremists have shown what frightens them the most: a girl with a book. – UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon
- Karin Ronnow, communications director
A chokidar (guard) was killed in September when Taliban fighters attacked construction workers at the Central Asia Institute (CAI)-supported Genno School in Urozgan province, local sources reported.
Ghulam Nabi, 31 and a father of six children, was a “very poor and very brave man” who had lived in Dae Rawood village all his life, said Wakil Karimi,” Kabul-based community program manager supported by CAI.
“Taliban beat the laborers in that school and Ghulam Nabi is killed because of helping labors and protecting school,” said Wakil Karimi. “He had two sons and four daughters.”
One of the most isolated and underserved areas of Afghanistan, Urozgan has been a Taliban stronghold for decades. In 2011, an estimated 382,000 mostly Pashtun people lived in the province, located in semi-mountainous central Afghanistan.
Genno School is 90 percent complete, but the work has taken much longer than anticipated due to fighting and Taliban opposition to education, especially for girls, said Haji Ibrahim, a community leader and education champion.
“There are 22 schools in all this area, but 12 of them are closed by Taliban,” Ibrahim said. “The other 10 schools are running, but no girls’ school.”
Taliban fighters in the area, who include both local and foreign militants, do not control any village 100 percent, “but attack and escape.” They attacked the laborers because “they want to keep people poor and not getting any money for working,” Ibrahim said.
Karimi said work continues on Genno and another school in the village, Kakrak, despite the attack. Both schools have been under way since 2010. The goal is to “finish soon so we will try to deliver them to government as soon as possible. Then we will not be responsible to protect the school,” he said.
Ghulam Nabi’s death was not the first associated with CAI’s efforts to improve access to education in Urozgan. In January, Ibrahim’s 17-year-old grandson, Abdul Basi, was killed by a roadside bomb while walking to the Kakrak construction site.
The 11th grader was the first literate person in his family and supported his grandfather’s work with CAI, Karimi said. The boy attended high school in the provincial capital Tarin Kowt and was in the village visiting family for the weekend.
Urozgan is extremely conservative. Women are rarely seen in public. When they do venture out of their homes, it is under the cover of a burka.
But the demand for education is huge. “Urozgan is one of the neglected and backward provinces in terms of education,” according to Pajhwok Afghan News. “A few numbers of boys and girls go to school. However … people demonstrate keen interest to send their children to school.”
In Dae Rawood, Ibrahim requested “more help for students and more quick-learning centers,” which bring students who missed out on education during the fighting up to age-appropriate grade levels.
Ghulam Nabi is survived by his wife, mother, and six children: Sangeena 11, Rubeena 9, Farzana 7, Ghutee 6, Sardar Wali 3, and Noor Ali 5. The two youngest children are boys. The three oldest girls attend a CAI-supported school now operating in a discrete location.
QUOTE: Causes do matter. And the world is changed by people who care deeply about causes – about things that matter. We don’t have to be particularly smart or talented. We don’t need a lot of money or education. All we really need is to be passionate about something important; something bigger than ourselves. And it’s that commitment to a worthwhile cause that changes the world. – Steve Goodier
- Karin Ronnow, CAI communications director
People in the international development world, especially funders, are always on the hunt for the “secret sauce” that leads to successful aid programs.
A couple of weeks ago, Duncan Green, a strategic advisor for Oxfam in the UK, identified some new research along these lines. In his From Poverty to Power blog, Green wrote about a September paper entitled “Politically smart, locally led development” from the Overseas Development Institute (ODI), an independent think tank in the UK.
ODI’s David Booth and Sue Unsworth looked at seven large, successful aid programs in search of the ingredients that, when combined, allow NGOs to succeed “despite the odds” working against them.
Those elements include:
* “Purposive muddling”: Project teams experimented, hit dead ends, and tried something else. Spending and results built up over time. There was a lot of learning from previous failures, which required having experienced staff who knew where the institutional bodies were buried.
* Brokering relationships: Teams invested in the hugely time-consuming effort to establish relationships and build trust and credibility with partners and institutions.
* Politically smart: Leaders were politically well informed and had the skills to use that knowledge effectively. They acquired
their knowledge and skills in a variety of ways (personal experience, commissioned political economy analysis, well-connected intermediaries). * Local leadership: The projects addressed issues with real local salience and solutions were locally negotiated and delivered because project managers allowed local actors to take the lead. There was a common willingness of the funder to take a back seat; donors provided external stimulus and had their own vision of the kind of change they sought to support, but avoided dominating either the agenda (in the sense of specifying what to do) or the process (specifying how to do it). This was critical in freeing the front-line personnel to explore changes that were both worthwhile and tractable.
* Flexible funding: None of the programs were under pressure to meet particular spending targets or timetables. That supported iterative approaches to design and implementation and allowed people to respond to opportunities as they arose.
* Long-term commitments: Funders were willing to make extended commitments and , there was an unusual degree of staff continuity.
“What is the ‘so what’ for donors?” Green asked. How can funders and organizations work together to create an “enabling environment” where local people “who happen to emerge at the right time and place” can actually get things done?
He quoted the ODI paper: “Iterative, adaptive problem-solving requires an underlying relationship of trust between the funder and front line operators: the funding agency must show some willingness to let go. … The good news is that there is nothing inherently new or esoteric about politically smart, locally led approaches that support iterative problem-solving: they have much in common with good policy-making anywhere.
“Indeed it is a measure of how detached the aid business has become from everyday reality that we should consider any of the seven cases remarkable. They show that donors can facilitate developmental change in very challenging contexts, but only if they are prepared to align their own thinking and practices with the uncomfortable reality that processes of developmental change are complex, unpredictable, mainly endogenous, and pervaded by politics.”
We agree wholeheartedly.
- Karin Ronnow, communications director
The 2015 limited-edition Journey of Hope calendar is available for pre-order. Each calendar is $12, with delivery available mid-November.
This year, photographer Erik Petersen and CAI Communications Director Karin Ronnow documented CAI projects in Pakistan, Afghanistan, and Tajikistan. The calendar includes stunning photography of CAI projects, explanations of CAI’s programs, and a map of the areas we serve.
Proceeds from all calendar sales help CAI carry out its mission to promote and support community-based education, especially for girls, in remote regions of Pakistan, Afghanistan, and Tajikistan.
CAI calendars make great gifts and you can help us spread the message of peace through education.
Feel free to call 406.585.7841, email firstname.lastname@example.org, or send a note to: Central Asia Institute | P.O. Box 7209 | Bozeman, MT 59771, USA.
Thanks for your support.
- CAI staff
Sneak peek at what’s inside:
Central Asia Institute Co-Founder Greg Mortenson this week did his first print-media interview in 40 months. He sat down with Montana-based Associated Press reporter Matt Volz for more than four hours and discussed a wide range of topics.
The interview took place at Mortenson’s house in Bozeman, Mont., and was followed by an interview with CAI Board Chairman Steve Barrett at the CAI office. Videographer Peter Bando filmed the accompanying video.
“Thank you for the hundreds, if not already thousands, of calls, emails and responses to the AP story that came out yesterday and has been circulated extensively here in the US and even internationally,” Mortenson said Friday. “Despite the US troop withdrawal and election controversy in Afghanistan, increased violence and political turmoil in Pakistan, I appreciate that many people still have hope and are resolved to help with girls’ education as a means to promote stability and peace for the future.
He said he has been disappointed that media does not pay more attention to the “life-changing work that CAI has always continued to do despite setbacks.”
“I remain in awe of the courage of the girls who attend our schools, and am grateful to their incredible parents, who often make huge sacrifices or even risk their lives so that their daughter can go to school,” he said.
The story was posted on the AP wire on Thursday and has since been picked up by newspapers all over the world. The ABC-affiliated television station in Bozeman also did a follow-up interview with Barrett, which aired Thursday night.
The story has generated an enormous amount of traffic on our Facebook page, with more than 1,800 “likes” and more than 50 comments Friday morning, including these:
• Karim Akbar: The contribution by Greg and his team is undeniable. We the people of remote areas know what he has done for the mountainous community of Pakistan and Afghanistan and we hope he is going to contribute more.
• Peggy L. Durst: I believe in Mr. Mortenson and I hope he keeps doing the work he started.
• Teri Rouvelas Santagata: Mr Mortenson is a brave man doing brave things in countries you couldn’t pay me to visit due to potential violence. Did he make errors in judgment? I’m sure he did. I doubt any of us would do otherwise considering the burden that was placed on him to do EVERYTHING while not having a law degree/accounting degree/etc. Did he purposefully fill his own coffers at the expense of others? I see no evidence of it. Please let him continue to do what he does best: help children receive an education where there is none available, especially female children.And stop attacking him and questioning his every move. Education is the main key to fighting terrorism. That’s a no-brainer. And Mr Mortenson seems to be the most determined person on this planet to achieve it.
• Wakil Karimi: I have a request from the people all over the world – please do not watch CAI work through Krakauer glasses. Seeing is believing.
• Munsif Ullah Anwari: Absolutely what Mr Greg Mortenson did for the afghan boys and girls student specially at the rural areas and places where others don’t want to go is imaginable and high gratitude goes to his dedication and efforts, Afghanis respect this very humble and humanitarian person for years and years, people should not have wonder about the work he did to vulnerable and deserved communities at Afghanistan. Organization, especially charity based, should always be ready for the social audit, still it is appear that proper accountability system should be in place with in this organization to avoid the mismanagement of the pennies and dollars of a common US person who believe that his money would be spent at right place for the right cause to the right people. It is the proper check and balance, accountability and social audit which may keep this organization to sustain and will give a second opportunity to the common people to trust and donate to this organization.
• Taylor Richards: Everyone deserves a second chance.
CAI and Mortenson are grateful for this outpouring of support.
One point of clarification: Despite suggestions to the contrary in the AP coverage, Mortenson never left CAI. He resigned as executive director in December 2011, but has remained a full-time employee and non-voting member of CAI’s board of directors.
Thank you to all our amazing supporters around the world. We couldn’t do this without you.
QUOTE: “No matter what sort of difficulties, how painful an experience is, if we lose our hope, that’s our real disaster.” – Dalai Lama
- Karin Ronnow, communications director
No toilets + poor sanitation + no clean water = Decreased quality & enrollment in girls’ education.
One of the top three reasons, girls who hit puberty drop out of school is because of a lack of toilets, sanitation and clean water, and yet little initiative or effort is put into fixing this problem.
In Pakistan, 37 percent of all schools have no latrines, 41 percent have no clean water, and 45 percent have no electricity, according to Dunyan News.
According to Dawn, even in urban Rawalpindi district, one of the most progressive places in Pakistan, there are 37 schools without toilets. Pakistan Gender News also reports on the importance of sanitation for girls’ education.
Here is a beautiful, inspiring video about a school in Bangladesh where the community decided to do something a put in toilets and clean water with a profound impact.
- Greg Mortenson, cofounder
My prayers and thoughts are with the family of Dr. Sheik Umar Khan, one of the world’s leading infectious disease doctors, who passed away recently after contracting the Ebola virus, which he risked his life to fight.
Khan, a renowned physician, medical school professor, and leader, had rejected a prestigious offer for a Harvard University residency, opting instead to stay on the front lines serving his people to fight the Ebola virus.
When Khan got the Ebola virus in late July 2014, he went to a Medecins Sans Frontieres (Doctors Without Borders) hospital, where doctors debated whether to give him ZMapp, a drug that at that point had not yet been tested on humans. The MSF doctors decided not to favor Khan over others individuals with ZMapp, and he died within a few days.
In early August, American medical workers Kent Brantly and Nancy Writebol picked up the Ebola virus in Liberia, received ZMapp, and within three weeks walked out of Emory Medical Center, cured of the disease.
According to Reuters news agency, 1,427 people have died in the latest Ebola virus outbreak, including at least 100 medical workers who risked their lives to work with the deadly virus.
BBC News also reports on the death of Mr. Khan.
- Greg Mortenson, cofounder
It’s back-to-school time in the United States, which means new beginnings for millions of students and teachers. Here in Bozeman, it has brought lots of talk about the importance of girls’ education in the world.
This week, incoming freshmen and returning students at Montana State University in Bozeman joined local residents at the annual convocation to hear keynote speaker Shiza Shahid, CEO and cofounder of the Malala Fund.
A 24-year-old Pakistani with deep ties to her country and a dedication to education, especially for girls, Shahid is a bit of a rock star in her own right. When Malala Yousafzai was shot by the Taliban for speaking out for her right to education, Shahid rushed to her side.
“I dropped everything,” Shahid said, explaining that she had met Malala a few years earlier, “and never looked back.”
On Monday night, Shahid urged MSU freshmen to focus on three things over the course of their journey as students: growth and development, passion, and power. She wove education through all three, explaining that it is at the root of personal growth, motivates passion, and bolsters power.
“We are the change we’ve been waiting for,” she said. “There are no superheroes – just us.”
She recalled losing her best friend at age 16 in the 2005 earthquake. Her grief prompted her to volunteer at an earthquake relief center in Islamabad. As the only female volunteer, she was called upon whenever there were “women’s issues” to deal with and frequently helped young girls cope with the disappointment – and shame – that accompanied their male relatives’ insistence that girls could not go outside.
At Stanford University, Shahid continued to fight for gender equality in her native Pakistan. She hosted a girls’ summer camp for 30 girls, including Malala, then 11 years old. Shahid laughed as she remembered the difficulty of planning the event: She had no NGO affiliation, and was simply asking donors to help her cover the costs. But despite warnings that her efforts were dangerous, Shahid never gave up.
Shahid is often referred to as “Malala’s right-hand woman.” She was profiled in the 2014 Forbes “30 Under 30″ social entrepreneurs for her commitment to social change and girls’ education.
Her convocation speech was delivered in conjunction with the assigned reading of the book I am Malala for all incoming MSU freshman. The book was also chosen for the One Book-One Bozeman communitywide read, prompting discussions about gender equality, privilege, and the right to education.
Last week, CAI partnered with the Bozeman Public Library to kick off a series of community events focused on girls’ education. And on Monday night, at a library foundation dinner prior to convocation, Central Asia Institute cofounder Greg Mortenson talked about his life’s work promoting education in Pakistan and Afghanistan.
“Education is the most effective investment, it’s also the cheapest of all the things we can do,” Mortenson said. “If you want to get bang for your bucks, then educate girls.”
He pointed to the increased enrollment in Afghanistan’s schools since 2001.
“Before 9/11 there were about 40,000 girls in school and about 800,000 boys in school,” he said. “Today, there are over 10 million children in school in Afghanistan, including 2.6 million females. That is the greatest increase in school enrollment in any country in modern history.”
But, global progress on girls’ education is far from finished. Mortenson cited examples such as Boko Haram, the extremist organization in Nigeria, which still attempts to prohibit females from their right to education.
And he praised the role of books, and libraries, as educational tools. He fondly recalled seeing women read a book for the first time, and said the joy on their faces was “indescribable.”
Both Shahid and Mortenson left us with a powerful message: everyone can make a difference.
On Tuesday morning, the Bozeman community continued its celebration of girls’ education with a talk by Shahid at the public library. Shahid spoke of her work with the Malala Fund and took questions regarding the organization’s progress.
She also publicly thanked CAI for its dedication and leadership on girls’ education in Pakistan.
CAI is honored to be included in the community events on girls’ education, and grateful that this topic has been brought into the Bozeman spotlight over the past month. As Shahid reminded us in her presentation at the library, “change is slow” and is often difficult to wait for.
Together, we are headed in the right direction.
QUOTE: “One child, one teacher, one book, and one pen can change the world.” – Malala Yousafzai
- Sarah Webb, communications assistant
The late-summer thunderstorms cleared just in time Thursday afternoon for the Central Asia Institute (CAI)-Bozeman Public Library kickoff celebration of One Book-One Bozeman (OBOB) and celebration of girls’ education.
Children blew bubbles and helped illustrate the sidewalks on the large plaza outside the library in downtown Bozeman while some of the older kids wrote pen-pal letters to CAI students overseas and young and old jotted down their ideas for CAI’s Global Chalk Campaign – all to the steady beat of bluegrass music provided by Backwoods Dreamers.
The library and Montana State University (MSU) invited CAI to participate in OBOB this year after organizers selected “I am Malala” as the 2014 feature book.
“The story of Malala Yousafzai’s determination to get an education in Pakistan and her fight for girls’ education is a good match with CAI’s mission,” said CAI Executive Director Jim Thaden. “The purpose of OBOB is to connect community members along a common theme and we are proud to be included. Plus, we are thrilled to see so much energy and discussion going into the expanded understanding of the importance of girls’ education, especially in the developing world.”
Upcoming events in the OBOB programming include:
* Aug. 25: Shiza Shahid, CEO of the Malala Fund, will speak at MSU’s freshman convocation at 6:45 pm; tickets are required.
* Aug. 26: Shahid will speak at the city library at 8:30 a.m.; CAI staff, including Greg Mortenson, will also attend to talk about girls’ education.
* Sept. 16: CAI will lead a community wide evening program about girls’ education at the library.
* Sept. 29: Karin Ronnow, CAI communications director, will join a panel discussion on women’s voting rights. Hosted by the League of Women Voters, the event begins at 7 p.m. in the library community room.
- By Sarah Webb, CAI communications assistant
Every child has a right to go to school. Yet around the world, millions of boys and girls never have the opportunity to see the inside of a classroom or achieve even basic literacy.
That’s why Central Asia Institute (CAI) is encouraging all its supporters to join #EducationCountdown , a 500-day international campaign urging world leaders to fulfill their promise to get every child into school and learning by 2015.
Campaign organizers chose today, International Youth Day, to launch the campaign urging fulfillment of Millennium Development Goal (MDG) #2, which calls for boys and girls everywhere to receive at least a primary education.
“As we approach the 2015 deadline, 58 million children remain out of school,” according to campaign organizers. “Hundreds of millions more are not learning. At the current rate of progress, it will be 2086 before the last girl is able to attend primary school. This is unacceptable. We must accelerate efforts to get every child into school and learning.”
Pakistan, for example, has the second-largest number of out-of-school children in the world; 32 percent of its children are not receiving education, according to A World at School. And the quality of education received by those enrolled is often marginal: one of every eight Pakistani children cannot recognize basic digits after two years of schooling.
As the MDGs target date draws closer, many are taking a hard look at their relative success and failure. No doubt these arguments will be debated for some time. However, CAI believes one of the greatest accomplishments of the MDGs was to put the issue of education front and center on an international development agenda.
We know that education helps to advance social justice objectives: girls’ rights, poverty alleviation, health, economic empowerment, conflict resolution, and child labor, among others. By urging governments everywhere to enroll children in school, the MDGs have raised awareness of the crucial role education plays in building a better future for all.
However, progress has stalled on the education goal, as noted by A World at School, so this campaign was conceived as a way to revitalize efforts.
“We are here to make education the No. 1 priority,” according to the campaign. “We believe education is the key to opportunity and the right of every child.”
How do they plan to do it? “We make noise and champion the work done to accelerate progress in education. We share stories, highlight challenges and … turn to our network to mobilize support. We engage with governments,” organizers said. Ultimately, “We form a relentless campaign that will not stop until every child is in school and learning.”
CAI urges everyone to take action and help us keep education at the top of the list of development priorities.
To accomplish the goal, the campaign urges people to take the following steps:
1) Pledge your support for the #EducationCountdown here.
2) Change your social media profile photo to show your support here.
3) Sign up for updates here.
And send CAI your photos and stories of how you, your classmates, friends or coworkers are taking steps to help protect every child’s right to an education.
Make noise! Help us raise the volume on the call for Education for All.
- Karin Ronnow, communications director
Dear Friends of CAI,
I write as the new Executive Director of Central Asia Institute (CAI) with a positive report and message to accompany our 2013 financial statements.
In April 2011, CAI suffered a nationally televised assertion of widespread wrongdoing by a powerful reporting source. Within months, the Office of the Attorney General of Montana (OAG) had launched an investigation that resulted in a voluntary settlement that required CAI make specific improvements to its governance, management, and operations systems. These changes have all been made. A civil suit also resulted from this report; but in October 2013 the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit upheld a lower federal court judge’s ruling that the lawsuit stemming from the media accusations contained “imprecise, in part flimsy, and speculative” claims and theories and permanently dismissed the claims.
But, CAI was far from vindicated. Grave damage had been done. These allegations directly led to a devastating 80% drop in CAI donations and CAI’s reputation was significantly harmed. Yet, in spite of this onslaught of adversity, CAI learned from its mistakes and has survived and is living up to its promises to be an improved, more transparent, and efficient organization.
CAI grew rapidly from 2007 through early 2011. With an extremely lean management team and a rapid pace of growth, the organization’s management made some noteworthy mistakes in judgment during this period. Yet it is worth remembering that in the 18 years since its inception, CAI has provided funds to build 191 new schools and pioneered another 208 education and community-service programs. This is an accomplishment nearly everyone, including CAI’s critics, regard as nearly miraculous. Today, contrary to accusations in the press, CAI remains committed to the hundreds of schools, projects, and programs it built and/or currently supports. And most importantly, that ongoing commitment means that even now, tens of thousands of students, mostly girls, are enrolled in school.
CAI learned some important lessons from this experience. In addition to addressing all of the actions required in its agreement with the Montana Attorney General, the Board of Directors and employees have gone far beyond these to verify that every penny donated is accounted for, making numerous improvements in financial and operating systems. CAI goes through an annual, rigorous audit and has recruited well-schooled and experienced additions to its domestic team. Finally, CAI has developed a new respect for the necessity of conforming to and complying with regulations and reporting requirements in the United States and each of the countries and provinces it serves.
As you will see in the pages that follow, CAI made substantial improvements in every facet of operations in FY 2012/2013, with one vitally important exception: Donations remained depressed. The favorable federal court ruling came too late in the year for CAI to reverse the tide of negative donor perceptions in 2013.
But time is a healer and CAI has proven its resiliency. Armed with the decision of the courts, in FY 2013/2014 CAI expects to halt the downward trend in donations while simultaneously consolidating its gains in international operations.
It is an honor and a privilege to be part of the resilient team at Central Asia Institute. We love our mission and the people we live to serve. CAI does frontline work in regions where the need for literacy and education is desperate and where few others dare to tread. Many times this work is difficult and dangerous, and the difficulties and dangers increase daily. I am filled with personal admiration for each and every member of the CAI team. Every day, I see them working with energy, enthusiasm, and a deep sense of commitment to the worthwhile cause of promoting peace by enabling literacy and education.
CAI is on the move again. We hope you will join us, or re-join us, on this marvelous Journey of Hope*. We look forward to walking this path with you and the good people of the mountainous regions of Afghanistan, Pakistan, and Tajikistan.
Central Asia Institute.
* Journey of Hope is CAI’s annual magazine. Visit www.ikat.org to register for a free subscription.
There’s no disputing it: Children who learn to count and recognize letters of the alphabet before they start first-grade get the best start in life — academically, socially, physically, and intellectually.
And these benefits to the individual child are just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the merits of investing in early childhood development (ECD).
“We know ECD helps prepare children for better success in school and in life,” said Dilshad Begum, a CAI-supported program director with Central Asia Institute (CAI) – Gilgit in northern Paksitan. “And we know it helps build better society in the long term.”
When CAI first began its work in the mid-1990s, its focus was on primary education, with an increasing emphasis on girls. As those students climbed the academic ladder, communities began to ask that the CAI-supported primary schools be expanded to include middle, then high school classes. In some communities, CAI has even built and supported higher-secondary or college-level schools.
But at the same time, there has been a growing awareness in regions where CAI works of the value of ECD, or preschool, classes.
The greatest opportunity for helping disadvantaged children “attain a more equal start in school” is during “the earliest years of life,” “when children’s brains are developing most rapidly, and the basis for their cognitive, social and emotional development is being formed,” according to Unicef.
Preschool classes prepare children for success by nurturing their “physical, social and intellectual development” at a critical time, said Nahida Ikram, an ECD teacher and trainer who has helped CAI-Gilgit.
Children “who don’t learn to read and write in the first few grades become handicapped learners who struggle in school and quit,” Ikram said.
In addition to prepping children for academic success, ECD classes have proven community benefits, according to the World Bank.
“Higher levels of social and emotional functioning encouraged by ECD programs make them a highly cost-effective means of strengthening society as a whole by ensuring that it’s individual members live up to their full potential,” the World Bank reported. This is especially true in underdeveloped and impoverished areas. “There is mounting evidence that interventions in early childhood particularly benefit the poor and disadvantaged.”
Of particular importance to CAI are the benefits to girls and women. Investments in early childhood development: Lead to more girls entering primary school; Increase enrollment rates for older sisters, by reducing the need for child care at home;And increase female labor force participation, by freeing up mothers to take paid work.
Thus far, CAI’s greatest investments in this arena have been in the Gilgit region, including this school in the Chapurson Valley. The school was inspired by Begum, an ECD-certified teacher, and community program manager Saidullah Baig.
“I think it is more accepted here because the whole region is more open minded,” Ikram said. “Now girls are in school and have gone to many countries for education, no problem. It depends on the area where you are working if this is accepted or not. Here we accept early the new things.”
QUOTE: “Let us think of education as the means of developing our greatest abilities, because in each of us there is a private hope and dream which, fulfilled, can be translated into benefit for everyone and greater strength of the nation.” – John F. Kennedy
- Karin Ronnow, communications director
“As we celebrate Malala Day on July 14, I have both hope and heartbreak. I thought we had hit a turning point in our history, that never again would a girl face what I had to face.”
Malala Yousafzai recently wrote these words in anticipation of the day set aside to commemorate her determined battle for girls’ education. Two years ago, the Taliban shot Malala in the head as she returned home from school in her northwest Pakistan village. She was 15 years old.
Since then, Malala has pursued her own education while speaking out on behalf of girls’ education around the world. “I know education is what separates a girl who is trapped in a cycle of poverty, fear and violence from one with a chance at a better future,” she wrote.
She’s right. Education is the first step in preventing child marriage, reducing maternal and infant mortality, and promoting female empowerment.
“My birthday wish this year is that we all raise our voices for those under oppression, to show our power and to demonstrate that our courage is stronger than their campaign of fear,” she wrote.
Join Central Asia Institute in wishing Malala a happy 17th birthday. You can also support Malala and her #StrongerThan campaign. It’s time to raise our voices to stop international oppression of girls. Learn more about her #StrongerThan campaign.
QUOTE: “No student, anywhere, ever, should be a target of conflict or violence. Let us all lay down our weapons.”
- Malala Yousafzai
- CAI Staff
Central Asia Institute’s Communiqué is “a winning blog” replete with “compelling narratives about the people it works with,” according to judges of PR Daily’s 2014 Nonprofit PR contest.
Those judges named the Communiqué winner of the Chicago-based publication’s “Best Blog” award. They called it “a vivid reminder of just what a blog can do to promote the work of a nonprofit, not only in this remote but geostrategic region, but around the globe.”
“For the past 16 years, CAI has pioneered schools, education and literacy programs in the most remote and often dangerous regions of Afghanistan, Pakistan and Tajikistan,” said Jim Thaden, CAI’s executive director and a former Rand McNally senior executive.
“We think we best tell the stories of the people we serve through compelling narrative and creative images and we are very grateful for the recognition of our efforts by PR Daily.”
More than 200 organizations around the world participated in the contest, according to Danielle Schultz, award programs manager at PR Daily.
“A girl living high in the Himalayas gets surgery to repair a hole in her heart. Rural teachers study map reading. Children attending an Afghan tent school become the first literate generation of their seminomadic community,” the judges wrote. “These are some of the stories featured in the blog of the Central Asia Institute. Along with a compelling design, they won the institute the gold in the Best Blog category.”
The blog is edited and primarily written by Karin Ronnow, CAI international communications director, with contributions from Co-Founder Greg Mortenson and Communications Assistant Sarah Webb. It was launched in 2011 as another way for CAI to share news, profiles, feature stories and photos from the field.
“Sustaining peace in these long-troubled regions is vitally important to the rest of the world,” Thaden said. “CAI believes peace is best promoted by liberating people through literacy and the free access to information. We admire the hard work of everyone who helps to tell the truth of the goodness of the people of this region. And we also admire those who give them hope by sharing their stories throughout the world through the global media.”
Contest winners will be featured on PR Daily’s website, where banner ads will also direct people to the Communique, according to Danielle Schultz, award programs manager at Ragan Communications, which publishes PR Daily. A list of all the winners is posted on online.
QUOTE: “After nourishment, shelter and companionship, stories are the thing we need most in the world.” – Phillip Pullman
- Karin Ronnow, communications director
Just as summer has finally arrived in the mountains of Montana, Central Asia Institute’s Muslim friends around the world have begun to observe the month of Ramadan.
Ramadan is the ninth month of the Islamic (lunar) calendar and represents the historic period during which the Koran was revealed to Prophet Muhammad. The Koran is “the sacred scripture that Muslims revere as the words of God,” Imam Sohaib Sultan, of Princeton University, wrote for Time magazine this week.
“For most of the rest of July, it is Ramadan in the Islamic world, and the focus is on faith, humility, sacrifice, and forgiveness,” said Greg Mortenson, CAI Co-Founder. “Most of the communities we serve observe Ramadan. Even the schoolgirls and teachers observe the fast, but continue on with their education.”
Wakil Karimi, a CAI manager in Afghanistan, said by phone, “Children are taught to observe Ramadan from an early age as one of the five pillars of Islam. But they also learn that the first word of the revelation of Allah in the holy Koran is Iqra – the Arabic word that means ‘read’ – and that education should be a top priority of all Muslims.”
Muslims observe the holiday with extra prayers and by fasting from sunrise to sunset each day, from Suhour, the meal before dawn, to Iftar, the meal after sunset.
As the faithful do not eat or even drink water throughout the day, work slows down during this time in the places where CAI works, Mortenson said. People are tired, having gotten up early to eat before sunrise and stayed up late each night to break the day’s fast. Plus, when Ramadan falls during the summertime, it coincides with power outages in the areas that have electricity, which means no fans or air conditioning on these hot summer days.
“I’ve spent about seven Ramadans in Pakistan or Afghanistan over the past 21 years and often fast with my colleagues,” Mortenson said Wednesday. “During this time, things often fizzle out midday. Everyone is quasi-functional and expectations of productivity are down, however the personal introspection helps renew hope and perseverance. For me, this time has special meaning as a time to slow down, serve the poor and neglected, have reconciliation, introspection and reflection, to make amends, repent, and forgive.”
For non-Muslims, particularly those in the hard-charging Western world, it is important to respect this period of spiritual renewal, he added. CAI Executive Director Jim Thaden agreed.
“Here in the USA, CAI is invigorated and continues to forge ahead with great determination, yet during Ramadan we make an extra effort to do our work with humility and respect,” Thaden said. “Energy and direction are important, but so too is respect for the spirit of the season celebrated by our friends and family.”
The universality of the Ramadan message is important, said Iram Shah, a Chicago-area member of CAI’s board of directors. For Muslims, this is a time for soul-searching and charity, but the principles are shared by people of all faiths around the world.
“I pray that this holy month brings health and happiness to all, regardless of religion or belief, as we are all so close, with the same fears and hopes,” she said.
All the Abrahamic faiths are represented on CAI’s board, which includes three Muslims: Shah, Talat Khan, and Farid Senzai,.
“Ramadan is about love, sacrifice, devotion, forgiveness and caring,” Khan, a retired chemistry teacher from the San Francisco Bay area, said. “It is patience, charity, effort, and one month in a year to try to be a complete human.”
Gratitude is of particular importance during Ramadan, and Karimi took the opportunity to thank CAI and all its supporters “for the gift of education to the poor, which is the most precious and holy gift anyone can give us, to provide a future of hope and peace.
“Peace is important to everybody, but especially to families here, who worry everyday whether their children will return home from school, or be injured or killed in suicide bomb, roadside bomb, or shooting,” he said.
Because the Islamic world uses a lunar calendar, the dates of Ramadan change each year on the Gregorian calendar. This year it began on June 29, when the first crescent of the new moon was sighted, and will continue through late July.
QUOTE: I think it is only important to love the world, not to despise it, not for us to hate each other, but to be able to regard the world and ourselves and all beings with love, admiration, and respect. – Hermann Hesse
- Karin Ronnow, international communications director
Six-year-old Nolan says education should be a right for all children, “so they learn.”
In etching his answer on a chalkboard in Bozeman, Mont., last week and then posing for a photo, Nolan joined hundreds of children and adults all over the world who have participated in CAI’s Global Chalk Campaign.
And he’s the opening act in this video of CAI’s gathering.
The chalkboards were just one activity that stormy June evening. The event was held at Red Tractor Pizza, which generously donated space, free pizza samples, and fountain drinks.
As Nolan wrote his answer, other kids were whirling and twirling to the foot-tapping bluegrass music by the Backwoods Dreamers, which also donated its time and talent.
Sidewalk chalk art, bubbles, and a raffle for CAI swag rounded out the evening.
CAI is extremely grateful to all of our local sponsors who have made the Global Chalk Campaign such a great success. We feel very lucky to have the support of so many Bozeman businesses and individuals. Our sponsors include: Red Tractor Pizza, the Backwoods Dreamers, Wild Joe’s Coffee House, Leaf & Bean, Lockhorn Hard Cider, Rockford Coffee, International Coffee Traders, The Daily Coffee House, and The Gem Gallery. And we would like to thank Irving Elementary School for donating extra chalkboards for our campaign.
Shukria. Tashakur. Thank you.
- CAI staff
(Video Credit: Erik Petersen 2014)
At first glance, Khalida Darwar, 25, looks and acts like other female students at Karakoram International University (KIU) in Gilgit, Pakistan. She wears layers of brightly colored shalwar kameez (two-piece, pajama-like tunic and pants), pulls her long hair back in a braid, and lights up the room wherever she is with a happy smile.
Perhaps a bit unusual is that she often wears tennis shoes instead of the low-heeled leather shoes popular with young women. And she is always on the move.
What sets Khalida apart from her classmates is that she plans to get an advanced degree in agricultural sciences, and return to serve her people in northern Pakistan’s Hunza Valley with improved agriculture and farming methodologies. She is also the first female in her family to get an education. Her father was killed in service with the Pakistan Army when she was just 7 years old.
Since early childhood, Khalida has wanted to be a farmer. “It’s the only thing I ever wanted to be,” she said. “Since I was a little girl in Hussaini village, Upper Gojal, I’ve loved farming and animals, and I told my father Ghulam and mother Shah Bibi that I always wanted to be a farmer.”
Najma Najam, former vice chancellor of KIU, said, “Khalida is an exceptional student and one of our bright stars, and we are excited she is paving new grounds in a profession typically reserved for men.”
Khalida’s family has always supported her pursuit of education, however being quite poor, they often had to pool their resources and make significant sacrifices for Khalida to remain in school. They also made her work hard tending the goats and sheep, and fields of buckwheat, barley, wheat, and potatoes.
For centuries the Hunza, Burushushki, and Wakhi people of northern Pakistan have farmed on alluvial terraces that cling to the steep mountain terrain. The terraces are irrigated with an intricate system of dykes that channel glacier melt and spring water through the fields and provide the alkaline soil with water and nutrients.
About 75% of Pakistan’s roughly 180 million people are directly or indirectly linked to agriculture, according to the U.N.’s Food and Agricultural Organization.
However, in recent decades, more farmers are looking to produce cash crops, which puts excess stress on the soil, nutrients, and limited water supplies. It is not sustainable.
“Two and three generations ago, my ancestors practiced more sustainable farming, and were aware of rotating crops and using local fertilizers to keep the soil fertile,” Khalida said in a phone interview. “But now people are more interested in money instead of sustainability.
“We grew up in a paradise for farming, and had buckwheat, barley, corn, wheat, spinach, herbs, lettuce, cabbage, carrots, potatoes, mustard seed, cherries, mulberries, apples, pears, apricots. My brother, two sisters and I did almost everything related to farming – planting, weeding, fertilizing, watering and irrigation, cutting grass, picking fruits, canning, and making jams.
“We mainly grew the potatoes as a cash crop, and ate the rest or traded with our community,” Khalida said. “Besides farming, we had cows, sheep, and goats and we all took turns as shepherds to take them into the mountains to graze and protect them from predators.”
Her middle school was a 30-minute walk from home. “I was so happy to go to school, I sometimes would run to save time,” she said. “The teacher that inspired me the most in middle school, and really inspired me to get into agriculture, was Sir Firasat Shah. He taught me to believe in myself and follow my dreams.”
However, her daily walk to Al Amin Model High School, was twice as far, and took her about an hour each way. Khalida said she used the time to memorize some of her math and science problems. “We had to walk, as there was transportation problem, being girls it was security issue to take lift from any strangers,” she said.
Khalida receives a Central Asia Institute-supported scholarship for her studies at KIU. The university was established by President Pervez Musharraf in 2002 as the first higher degree institution in the region, and has 2,400 students in bachelor’s to PhD programs. Approximately 100 professors and education staff serve in 16 academic departments.
Although she has a scholarship, Khalida still has a hard time making ends meet. Sometimes paying fees on time, buying extra lab equipment and reference materials is difficult. And she does not have a laptop computer, which makes it hard to compete with other students, “As an orphan girl I face many problem as you know in our society,” she said.
But she is determined. “My strongest subjects are agriculture, horticulture, soil science, and statistics. I basically like all my subjects, and love to learn more. Since all of our society depends on agriculture, I will always have a job and can help our society improve. Food is important, it is the substance of life that God has given us to enjoy. In these modern times, people are eating more and more unhealthy food, and it is causing health and nutrition problems.
“When I get done with my BSc honors program, it is my dream to go to a developed country like Europe or America and learn advanced technology and techniques so I could return home and influence the agriculture of my own region.”
Even though Khalida got married this year, she plans to continue her studies, “He and his family support my education, as much as I want to go, including a PhD. Many women are not allowed to continue their education after they get married, but his family believes that education is top priority in life.”
When asked what her dream is, Khalida said, “The biggest dream in my life is to serve my people, who are basically poor and suffer in many regards, especially nutrition and farming. Even in my short lifetime, I’ve seen our land turned into barren fields and farmers out of greed to make money do not try to farm in a sustainable way.
“There are many challenges we face in the future, but I am excited to make difference with sustainable agriculture after I complete my studies,” she said.
QUOTE: Agriculture not only gives riches to a nation, but only the riches she can call her own. – Samuel Johnson
- Greg Mortenson, CAI Co-Founder
KABUL, Afghanistan: Over the many trips that I have made to Afghanistan and Pakistan over the past two decades, the question I often ask women is, “What is most important to you and how can we help?”
You would think that a woman would say she wants prosperity or a good husband or list some desired material or luxury goods.
But in Afghanistan, women consistently tell me three things, “We want peace, we want education, and we don’t want our babies to die.” More recently, I’ve learned that they desperately fear dying in childbirth and being unable to take care of their babies.
Although there has not been peace in this war-torn country since 1979, I’ve witnessed two dramatic and inspiring changes since my first trip to Afghanistan 13 years ago: a surge in school enrollment, and a substantial decrease in maternal mortality rates.
The number of students in school, according to the Afghan Ministry of Education, has increased from around 800,000 before 9/11, to more than 10 million today, which makes it one of the greatest increases in school enrollment in any country in modern history.
But the decline in maternal mortality rates is simply a miracle. Just a decade ago, the Afghan Ministry of Public Health states, 1,600 of every 100,000 births ended with the death of the mother. In 2013, “only” 327 of every 100,000 women died while giving birth.
NOTE: School enrollment figures vary from 8 million to over 10 million, depending on the source (Afghan government, United Nations, World Bank, USAID), and the situation in a given area (security, displacement, and funding are all contributing factors). Maternal mortality rates also vary and it is difficult to ascertain the number of women in remote rural villages who die during childbirth with no trained provider to help them.
The Afghan Midwives Association (AWA) attributes the reduction in maternal mortality to the introduction of about 3,500 trained midwives who often provide critical services in remote areas where there is little or no health care. Other factors are increased literacy, and improved roads, cellphone, and public health awareness. However, Afghanistan still needs and hopes to at least double the number of midwives to 7,000 in by 2020, and then up to 20,000 later.
“When we lost my aunt during delivery, it really motivated me to pay more attention to the rural areas, where women have no resources or hospital or even trained midwives to help,” Victoria Parsa, AMA executive director and a midwife since 2004, said at a recent AMA conference.
Parsa has worked relentlessly to get more midwives in Afghanistan, especially in the rural areas, and more recently has been advocating for increased awareness of and treatment for debilitating fistulas, which are often the result of child-brides having babies at very young ages.
Remote Badakhshan province, home to about half of CAI’s Afghan schools and projects, previously had one of the highest maternal mortality rates in the world at 6,000 deaths per 100,000 live births. But that figure, too, has dropped dramatically, to an estimated 1,000 deaths/100,000 births.
“Now that we are starting to have the first wave of literate and educated girls in high school and beyond, we are prepared to get as many local educated women as possible into maternal healthcare training,” said Pariwash Gouhari, CAI’s manager in the Badakhshan’s Wakhan Corridor and one of the region’s first educated females. “But the problem is that there are few programs like that in Afghanistan.”
In the isolated and remote Wakhan, CAI has helped train and supports two maternal healthcare providers. These two brave women, Bano and Parveen, have essentially reduced the maternal mortality in their villages from several women per year to zero or one. Bano and Parveen’s villages have no phone, electricity, Internet, or potable water.
Last fall Parveen said to me in her village of Wargeant, “It’s not just about the delivery. What really makes a difference is what we do every day to educate the mothers and children about hygiene, nutrition, and sanitation. Also, since nearly all the pregnant women are anemic and suffer from malnutrition, we get angry at their husbands who don’t want to share meat, eggs or protein with their wives – sometimes I carry a big stick with me to make that happen”.
Dr. Suraya Dalil, Afghanistan minister of Public Health, is also a fierce advocate for midwives. She recently received the Global Leaders Council for Reproductive Health’s Resolve Award for leadership in expanding health service access.
Ironically, the maternal mortality rate in the United States maternal mortality rate in the United States has simultaneously risen sharply, from 7.2 deaths/100,000 live births in 1987 to 18.5 deaths/100,000 live births in 2013, according to a University of Washington study. The US maternal mortality rate is double that of Saudi Arabia and Canada.
Women’s literacy also helps reduce maternal mortality, as literate women are more aware of their own and their children’s health, can read educational materials and medical directions, and more. CAI has established women’s literacy centers – some in formal settings in buildings and others in teachers’ homes. Some of the women are afraid to tell their husbands that they are learning to read and write for fear they will be beaten or shunned. However Nasima, a women in a CAI literacy center near Kabul, said her illiterate husband quickly changed his mind when Nasima was able to help him enter names and numbers on his cell phone.
Rahima, a widow who teaches a CAI woman’s literacy course in a rural house courtyard packed with women, also teaches her students about infant and maternal mortality. Last week Rahima told me, “None of my women had literate mothers, many have lost their babies at an early age, and nearly all of them had someone in their extended family die in childbirth. That is my fight, not only for peace through education, but to prevent unnecessary death.”
As a former nurse and advocate of home births and midwifery, being in the presence of confident midwives in Afghanistan or Pakistan easily ranks among the most moving experiences I’ve had over the past 21 years of working in these regions.
When I visit most CAI schools in rural Afghanistan, about 80 percent of the girls say they want to become doctors. Another 10-15 percent want to be teachers (not desired due to low pay), and the others police, lawyers, engineers, businesswomen, journalists, farmers, and even pilots.
Few of the girls have ever heard of midwives, so I have encouraged some of these high school girls who want to be doctors to consider becoming midwives, especially in villages without healthcare. In the months and years ahead, we plan to encourage our teachers to motivate female students about midwifery and have midwives visit some of our schools to talk to students about careers in this noble profession, so that the miracle of life and fulfillment of one of the women’s main wishes continues.
QUOTE: Only mothers can think of the future – because they give birth to it in their children. – Maxim Gorky
- Greg Mortenson, CAI co-founder
“When a great man dies, for years the light he leaves behind him lies on the paths of men.” – Henry Wadsworth Longfellow
With a heavy heart, I write to inform you that Ghulam Faruq, headmaster of Central Asia Institute’s (CAI) Saw Village School in Afghanistan’s Kunar province, was killed by militants on May 6 as he walked to school that morning.
Villagers said Ghulam died immediately. It was Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) fighters who deliberately targeted him with a remotely detonated bomb that exploded on the trail he walked every day to the school in Kunar’s Naray district, according to CAI’s sources in Saw village. He left behind a wife and eight children.
I had the honor to meet with Ghulam twice in Kabul. He was in his 50s, a handsome, engaging man with a silver beard. He was a battle-hardened, former mujahedeen (fighter), who fought the Soviet occupation in the 1970s, yet had a humble spirit. While many tribal leaders are known for their speeches and talking, Ghulam was known for his listening skills.
A well-educated man with a college degree in teaching, Ghulam was the area’s greatest advocate for education, including for girls. Today, more than 50 percent of the approximately 400 students at Saw School are girls, although enrollment rises and falls depending on the security situation. Saw is in the mountains near the porous Afghanistan-Pakistan border, right along the corridor for militants who come from Pakistan to attack U.S. and Afghan forces and then retreat back across the border.
Ghulam started the community-run Saw School a decade ago, using tents and rented rooms in a mud-brick house as classrooms. The school had no government support at that time.
In September 2007, I received an e-mail from Col. Chris Kolenda, who is now CAI’s new senior international advisor and a former U.S. commander at Forward Operating Base (FOB) Naray, near Saw village. He wrote about the dire need for education in north Kunar and Nuristan provinces, which at the time was a hotbed of fighting, conflict, and Taliban cross-border attacks.
Two months later, Wakil Karimi and the late Sarfraz Khan, former CAI manager, made a difficult, dangerous journey to meet Kolenda and discuss a CAI school with villagers. Jirga meetings ensued between Ghulam, religious leader Malik Akbhar Khan, elders, government officials and even the Taliban. All parties agreed to support a community school, built by CAI. A Naray district chief, who even had a son in the Taliban, helped secure the local Taliban’s cooperation and agreement not to attack the school or harm the students.
In 2008, CAI built Saw School, which became a catalyst for a school in nearby Samarak village, and other villages in Naray district, even though it remained a region of considerable turmoil. The school grew thrived. More and more students enrolled, especially girls.
Then in 2012, more TTP fighters started to cross the border from Pakistan into Kunar province. Compared to local Taliban, who were more ideological, the TTP began a ruthless campaign to extort money, food, supplies, and shelter from the villagers, kidnap for ransom and/or kill local Afghan civilians.
In June of that year, TTP militants “arrested” CAI teacher Mualeem Hayatullah and Malik Akbhar Khan, conducted a short illegal tribunal, charged them with spying for the Afghan government, and executed them. The men left behind two widows and 14 children. Afghan and U.S. forces later killed the TTP fighters responsible for the men’s deaths.
Mualeem (teacher) Hayatullah was the first CAI teacher killed. Now Ghulam is the second. According to locals, both teachers were killed, not because they taught girls, but because they refused to concede to extortion. Saw community is in mourning, and has lost an education pioneer and leader, but plans to continue on with the school. The Afghan Army, Naray lashkar (vigilante), and even local Taliban are determined to find the men who killed Ghulam for justice and revenge.
This senseless murder of our dear brother Ghulam is a huge loss, and difficult to process. He was not a polarizer, but a consensus builder. Ghulam was a true tribal Pathan Kunari, never cut off communication with his enemies, and tried to solve problems through dialogue and mediation. His courage and resolve to support girls’ education, in the middle of a conflict zone, and with antagonistic forces at work against him, is his lasting legacy.
Please remember Ghulam’s family in your thoughts and prayers. May Ghulam’s light of hope through education and Iqra (‘read’ in Arabic) never be forgotten.
- Greg Mortenson, CAI co-founder
BOZEMAN, Mont. –Central Asia Institute (CAI) this week announced executive-level staff changes, aimed at continuing to build the international NGO’s long-term commitment to community-based education and empowerment.
On Tuesday, CAI announced that Development Director James T. Thaden has been named interim executive director.
In addition, Christopher Kolenda, an expert on international operations and strategy in regions where CAI works, has joined CAI as its senior advisor for international affairs, a new position.
“Both Jim and Chris are very well qualified to help guide CAI’s ongoing work to promote education and literacy, especially for girls, in the remote and underserved parts of Afghanistan, Pakistan, and Tajikistan – a very important and strategic part of the world,” CAI Board Chairman Steve Barrett said. “Their combined experience and leadership will be enormous assets as we reignite CAI’s engines and move ahead into the next phase of the organization’s evolution.”
Thaden, 61, brings to CAI a wealth of executive-level experience in both for-profit and nonprofit business sectors. He has been a key national and international executive level leader at Graphic Packaging, Rand McNally Media Services, McQueen International, and Discovery Place.
Kolenda, 48, adds a new dimension and depth in international operations and program development to CAI’s management team. He served as senior advisor on Afghanistan and Pakistan to the U.S. undersecretary of defense for policy and to three International Security Forces-Afghanistan (ISAF) commanders. In his advisory role for CAI, he will help craft and communicate strategy to sustain and strengthen its overseas projects.
“Jim Thaden has a particular expertise in building the necessary infrastructure which allows organizations like CAI to continue to carefully grow and achieve their mission over the long term – and CAI is committed to the long term,” said Greg Mortenson, CAI’s co-founder. “I’m very happy to see Jim taking on this new role at this time.
“Chris Kolenda has been a friend of CAI since 2007,” Mortenson said. “His exceptional leadership skills along with his relationships and understanding of the nuances of managing operations in Afghanistan will be invaluable. His input at the strategic level for CAI, especially amid the current transition in Afghanistan, will help insure our continued success in achieving CAI’s long-term mission.”
If you have any questions, please email us at email@example.com.
Central Asia Institute continues to monitor the humanitarian relief effort in Ab-e-Bareek village in northeast Afghanistan, where torrential rains triggered landslides that killed hundreds of people and left thousands homeless.
Afghanistan’s worst natural disaster in a decade occurred May 2 in a remote village in the Badakhshan province’s Argo district. CAI supports dozens of projects in the province, but none in the Argo district.
“We want to express our deep sorrow for the families affected by this disaster,” CAI Executive Director David Starnes said this week. “CAI is surveying the situation on the ground to determine how best to be of meaningful assistance without interfering or disrupting efforts of the UN and other well-positioned disaster-relief organizations that are the best at responding to such events.”
Janagha Jaheed, the CAI-supported project manager in central Badakhshan, is consulting with government and charity disaster-relief agencies. If and when CAI decides to contribute directly, our efforts will be mission-oriented, focused on providing support for children to continue to have access to education.
The Ab-e-Bareek school in Badakhshan was not destroyed by the landslide, “but it is 90 percent at risk of more slides so students won’t go to it anymore,” Jaheed said.
CAI’s history of post-disaster assistance includes setting up tent schools in northern Pakistan’s Hunza River Valley after a massive landslide in 2010 damned the river and created a lake, flooding numerous villages. Later that year, CAI also assisted hundreds of victims of the epic Pakistan floods.
Most significantly, after the earthquake in Azad Kashmir in 2005, CAI quickly set up some temporary tent schools and later pre-fabricated earthquake-proof structures so children could continue their education during reconstruction. Some of those temporary structures are still being used as a lack of government funding has limited construction of new schools.
“In times of disaster, often the physical needs of food, shelter and medicine are met, but education needs come last, and children sit around with nothing to do,” said CAI Co-Founder Greg Mortenson. “Simply putting up tents, rounding up a few teachers and getting a few supplies or slateboards can be an enormous psychological boost and galvanize a mourning community to focus on the future.”
The Ab-e-Bareek disaster actually included two landslides. After the mountain broke loose the first time, people in the area rushed in to help those buried by the wave of mud and rocks. Just 20 minutes later a second landslide occurred, and the rescuers were buried alive along with area residents, according to news reports. About 300 homes were destroyed, and 500 to more than 2,500 people were killed.
The numbers vary so much because no one “could say exactly who was home and who was out,” the Guardian reported.
“The disaster site is going to be left as it is, essentially a mass grave,” the Wall Street Journal reported Sunday.
For those who did survive, the situation is bleak. Many are now homeless and hungry. Even if their homes were not buried, many people are terrified of returning for fear that the visible cracks in the mountain will lead to another slide.
“Right now we have nothing except our life and we are very scared” of another landslide, Ab-e-Bareek resident Mohammad Zia told Dawlat Mohammad, a CAI representative who visited the area last weekend. “Our children are much afraid. They need help. Their school is not destroyed but it is at risk and we cannot send them to that school anymore.”
Provincial and national government agencies, the United Nations, and the Afghan Red Crescent Society have served as first responders to the disaster, delivering medical care, food, water, tents, blankets, and other supplies, according to news reports.
“The scene was very sad and noisy because people were trying to find their dead relatives, but they did not have any useful equipment except one dozer that was very weak,” Dawlat said. “They were also not satisfied with distribution of the aid and support, so they were shouting at government and other NGOs to help them.”
The chaos reportedly escalated and the relief effort was temporarily suspended amid “a host of problems,” including whose names were on the list to receive aid, the New York Times reported. However those issues appear to have been resolved for the time being.
QUOTE: Love knows not its own depth until the hour of separation. – Kahlil Gibran
- Karin Ronnow, communications director
Central Asia Institute (CAI) announces the resignation of David Starnes as the Executive Director effective immediately. David has served an integral role in moving CAI forward in pursuit of its purpose of supporting education in remote areas of Pakistan, Afghanistan, and Tajikistan. Jim Thaden, Director of Development, will serve as acting Executive Director in the interim. CAI is grateful to David for his hard work and role as a critical change agent for CAI. CAI wishes the best for David in his future endeavors.
Education should be a right for all children because “Everyone deserves to shine!” says Red Tractor Pizza co-owner Tiffany Lach.
Lach’s contribution to Central Asia Institute’s (CAI) social-media campaign, the Global Chalk Campaign (GCC) Global Chalk Campaign (GCC), came amid the grand opening of her new brick-oven-baked pizza restaurant in Bozeman, Mont. Dozens of people gathered on a rainy Saturday evening to enjoy pizza samples and live music. CAI was the featured charity at the event.
With the iconic red tractor behind them, Lach then joined CAI Executive Director David Starnes for a photo. Their photo (seen at right) is one of hundreds collected and posted online to promote discussion of the question “Why should education be a right for every child?”
The festive event included pizza samples, fresh from the restaurant’s one-of-a-kind brick oven. Selections included BBQ Chicken and the Hot Hawaiian, an old favorite spiced up with the addition of pickled jalapeños and honey drizzle. All the pizzas, including the gluten-free varieties, are made with local ingredients.
Under a canvas canopy outside the restaurant, the band BozoMojo entertained the crowd with Latin tangos and 1930s-era swing tunes, followed by bluegrass music by Flatt Cheddar.
Alongside the temporary stage, CAI Communications Assistant Sarah Webb handed out chalkboards and chalk and asked people to join the campaign. Chalkboards were also available inside for visitors to offer their thoughts while feasting on a slice of pizza.
A few people had to mull the question with the help of a glass of beer, provided by Red Lodge Ale for the grand opening. Their answers ranged from “Education is art,” by Loretta to “Every child has something unique to contribute and deserves the chance!” by Sahara.
After writing their thoughts, people of all ages had their photos taken by the red tractor.
CAI’s Bozeman staff joined the fun, too. Development Director Jim Thaden wrote, “Education is Growth.” Greg Mortenson, co-founder, chose to pose with a fire hydrant with the words, “Education lights the fire within.”
Lach, who also owns Bozeman’s Sola Café, and Adam Paccione opened Red Tractor Pizza at 1007 W. Main St in January. Hailing from New York City, Paccione brought a passion for pizza and has been dubbed the Pizza Magician.
“Adam works very hard to connect with local farmers to bring fresh ingredients to Red Tractor,” Lach said.
Red Tractor serves more than 15 pizza varieties, many with gluten- and dairy-free options, as well as salads and desserts. The New York-style thin crust is hand tossed and made from organic Montana grains. New creations are added regularly, depending on the availability of ingredients.
After the event, Paccione offered his thoughts for the Global Chalk Campaign.
“Education goes beyond the classroom,” he said, “In my opinion it’s also important that kids are educated with the knowledge they need to know about growing good food.”
The Red Tractor already has a display of GCC contributions, including many from students at Bozeman High School, which is just around the corner from the restaurant, and will host a benefit event for CAI’s ongoing efforts to promote education, especially for girls, later in May.
“I want to thank Tiffany and Adam for allowing CAI to participate in their big event, and for their support of education as a right for every child,” Starnes said.
QUOTE: Alone we can do so little; together we can do so much. – Helen Keller
- Sabre Moore, executive/administrative assistant
Asalaam Aleikum. Peace be with you. Spring has finally arrived in the mountains. Trees and flowers are blossoming, the air smells sweet, and the songbirds are singing. It is indeed a season of renewal, rebirth, repentance, and charity.
In many of the remote mountain villages of Afghanistan, Pakistan, and Tajikistan that Central Asia Institute (CAI) serves, early spring is bittersweet. Food stocks are depleted, immune systems are weakened, and snow has meant months of isolation, far from medical care. Too often, babies die in the spring. Yet the season also brings hope and optimism as students head to school for the start of a new academic year.
Sixteen years after the first CAI-supported school opened its doors, we have reached a critical milestone in our efforts to work toward stability and sustainable peace through education – especially for girls. With the support of many thousands of individuals just like you, we have educated a generation of young people, and today our first students are becoming teachers, health workers, and leaders in their communities.
Shakeela is a good example. She attended the CAI-supported school in her village in northern Pakistan. She then received a CAI scholarship for higher education. Now 25, married, and the mother of a little girl, Shakeela is the sole healthcare provider in a valley not far from her childhood home.
“Mostly my work is to give help delivering babies, sometimes in my clinic, sometimes home delivery,” she said. “I cover 16 villages – the whole valley.” She knows women are more likely to die in childbirth if there is no midwife present. So when the call comes for help – she gets there.
Shakeela is among a growing cadre of young CAI graduates who take risks and make sacrifices to sustain the mulit-generational change required to build a better future. Yet their continued success depends upon people like you who see the value of this powerful positive change – especially now.
May 1 marks the official start of CAI’s 2014 Spring Campaign. We are asking for your help to raise $650,000 by Sept. 30, 2014. CAI is unique in that the majority of our funding comes from individual supporters; we have not accepted any government funding. By making a one-time or recurring donation today, you can continue to participate in this essential life-changing work.
Just before he left Afghanistan last year, Gen. John Allen, former commander of U.S. and NATO forces, told Reuters news agency that improved access to education was one of the most important accomplishments in Afghanistan in the past decade. “Here’s an opportunity for this young generation … to grow up in an environment where education is inherent in who they are,” he said.
This is an opportunity we cannot afford to miss. With ongoing instability in Pakistan, and U.S. forces withdrawing from Afghanistan, the prospects for extremism and violence will likely increase.
But CAI is committed to sustaining the enormous investment in the future that we have made together. Local heroes like Shakeela and other CAI graduates can be counted on to carry the ball on their end, but they need our help. And there’s so much work yet to do.
Please give generously. Every penny you donate to this campaign will go exclusively to CAI’s overseas programs, unless otherwise specified by you.
The children and their families thank you.
QUOTE: “Love only grows by sharing. You can only have more for yourself by giving it away to others.” – Brian Tracy
- CAI Team
A new 12-room Central Asia Institute (CAI) -supported high school was inaugurated in Safed Sang village in eastern Afghanistan’s Logar Province this month.
In speeches and prayers, the students and teachers, community leaders, and the provincial governor, education director, and police commander praised CAI for its contribution to a better future, CAI-Afghanistan Director Wakil Karimi said.
“The physical fight has finished,” local elder Haji Jan Mohammad said. “It is the time of the pen and the book. The person who has knowledge will be strong and will have power. So it is important for all of us to send boys and girls to school to get education. If we want a strong and a developed Afghanistan, we should give education to our children.”
The new school has eight classrooms and four teacher-administrative rooms, five toilets, and a water well, Karimi said. It will accommodate all 1,618 students, 28 teachers, six administrative workers, and three janitors. The new structure replaces an old, six-room school that was so overcrowded that students had to attend in three shifts.
Safed Sang is in Logar’s Mohammad Agha district, south of Kabul. The region’s population is mainly Pashtun, and classes are taught in that language.
The area desperately needs more schools. In 2012, Afghan Minister of Education Dr. Farooq Wardak encouraged CAI Cofounder Greg Mortenson and Karimi to consider establishing more schools in Logar. Even though Logar is close to the capital in Kabul, ongoing violence has curtailed other nongovernmental organizations’ work there and the Afghan government faces a severe lack of funding for schools. CAI has four schools in the province, including Safed Sang.
Literacy rates in Logar are low – 31 percent for men and 9 percent for women, according to the Afghan Ministry of Rural Rehabilitation and Development. The Kuchi population, a nomadic group, in Logar “has particularly low levels of literacy with just 5.6 percent of men and 0 percent of women able to read and write.”
Although there are 236 primary and secondary schools in the province, only an estimated 45 percent of children between 6 and 13 are enrolled in school – 30 percent are boys and 13 percent are girls, according to the ministry. Three-quarters of the schools are boys’ schools.
However, a report by Pajwok (Afghanistan) newspaper last summer said the number of schools in the province had increased to 266, including 85 schools for girls. Yet “as many as 88 schools have no buildings, forcing the students to get education in rented houses.”
One resident complained that in his village, the “girls’ school has no building, forcing the kids to study in tent or open sky in this scorching heat. He said that owing to the problems, his daughter stopped going to school.”
Other problems include shortages of textbooks, professional teachers, and teacher housing.
As for security in the area, the United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan recently “reported that the security situation in Logar province is not good although it is stable in some districts. The biggest risk is anti-personnel mines for military forces and attacks by opposition groups operating during the night,” according to the Afghan Ministry of Rural Rehabilitation and Development.
Taliban briefly kidnapped some of the carpenters and masons working on a CAI-supported project in 2012, Mortenson recalled.
But during construction of Safed Sang school, Karimi said, “We did not have any problem with security because there were many police and army” in the area around the school.
Security was out in force, too, for the inauguration ceremony, which marks the official handover of the project to the Afghan government.
QUOTE: Knowledge will bring you the opportunity to make a difference. – Claire Fagin
- Karin Ronnow, communications director
Flooding caused by heavy spring rains killed more than 180 people in northern Afghanistan this past weekend, according to news reports and a Central Asia Institute (CAI) supported project manager.
Two days of torrential rain triggered the flooding that began Thursday April 25. The remote province of Jowzjan – 242 miles northwest of Kabul, on the border with Uzbekistan – has been the hardest hit. But flooding has also been reported in Faryab, Sar-e-Pul, and Badghis provinces.
CAI does not have projects in the area.
Dozens of people were still missing as of early this week, and local authorities said exact information on the most remote areas was still hard to come by.
“Thousands of people remained on the roofs of their mud houses and due to so much floodwater, there was no way to come away,” Janagha Jaheed, the project manager in Badakhshan province, said after seeing news reports of the flooding. “As their houses are made of mud, they face much risk of damage and destruction of houses [dissolving] into the floodwaters.”
Although no CAI projects were affected, “these types of disasters often have severe implications for education, as people are displaced and schools are often destroyed,” said CAI Cofounder Greg Mortenson.
Rescue helicopters worked the area, the BBC reported, and carried hundreds of people to higher ground in neighboring districts. The helicopters, provided by the Afghan military, were also able to help with distribution of food and other emergency supplies.
Jaheed said local officials and media are asking for help from national and international NGOs, companies, UN agencies, government, and individuals.
“In Jowzjan province, floods caused many human, animal, agricultural and economic casualties,” he said. More than 3,000 houses were destroyed and “25,000 people are displaced and they have nothing to eat, wear, or place to stay.
“The roads are damaged and closed. Thousands of domestic livestock – sheep, goats, and cows – are dead. And farmland has washed away. Help is needed for those who have lost everything, to save those on the roofs, and also to help find those people who are missing,” he said.
Local officials reported shortages of drinking water, food and medicine, Agence France-Presse reported.
Flooding is not unusual during the rainy spring months in northern Afghanistan. Earlier in April, rains combined with a minor earthquake triggered a landslide in Takhar province, killing four people and destroying around 100 houses, AFP reported.
Unfortunately, natural disaster is just one of many hardships Afghans face every day, Jaheed said.
“It is so hard to watch the men, women, and innocent children in Afghanistan dying, being kidnapped, and facing so many more problems,” he said.
QUOTE: How strange it must all have seemed to them, here where they lived so safely always. They thought such a dreadful thing could happen to others, but not to them. That is the way. – William Dean Howells
- Karin Ronnow, communications director
Motivated by a desire for change and empowered by their hard-won educations, women and girls from Central Asia Institute’s (CAI) Afghanistan schools and literacy centers joined the millions of voters who turned out for their country’s historic national election this month.
“Almost all the women from my village who were eligible to vote, voted,” said Noor Banu, a CAI high school student in northeastern Badakhshan province. “I voted because I am tired of watching other Afghans die every day while the president is silent. I want someone who really cares about us – our country and people.”
Gul Nisa, 19, walked for an hour and a half to reach the polling station near her home in Badakhshan’s Ishkashim district. Like Noor Banu, it was her first election. And her CAI-supported education gave her the tools to participate in a meaningful way.
“Most of the women in my village voted, but many must ask their husbands who to vote for because they are illiterate and don’t know who to choose,” said Gul Nisa, who also attends a CAI girls’ high school. “This was not the same with those who are educated, like me. I think we better understand about politics than the older, uneducated women of my village.
“But we all voted because we believe the next president will bring peace and make a better life for everyone in Afghanistan,” she said.
Nearly 40 percent of the 7 million Afghans who cast votes on that rainy Saturday were women. They challenged traditional gender roles. And they defied Taliban threats to disrupt the election.
In Kabul, women stood in line for hours waiting for an opportunity to cast their votes.
“At the time of distribution of election cards, my husband didn’t allow me or our daughters to [register],” said Rohgul, CAI literacy center student in Kabul. “But I said, ‘I am a member of Afghanistan people and I have the right to vote.’ On Election Day, my daughters and my daughter-in-law and I went together to the polling place and gave our vote.”
Their ink-stained fingers (Afghan voters’ fingers are marked with blue ink to prevent repeat voters) became a symbol of their defiant participation in the election. “Social media was overrun with women in blue burqas raising blue fingers,” Farishte Jalazai of Radio Free Europe reported.
Young people, too, posed for photos with their inked fingers and uploaded them to Facebook and Twitter, the Guardian newspaper reported.
Afghanistan’s youth – 68 percent of the population is under age 25 – were particularly motivated to participate, Uri Friedman wrote in the Atlantic magazine April 4. “These young people appear to be more concerned with building the country’s future than litigating its past.”
“About 1.5 million Afghan youth are unemployed,” Ehsanullah Hikmat, of the Kabul-based Young Activist Network for Reform and Change, told Friedman. “What are the schemes for this unemployment? What are the schemes for the economics of our country?”
Back up north in Badakhshan, Fahira, a 12th-grader at a CAI girls’ school, was so invested that she volunteered as an election monitor at one of the women’s polling places in her area.
“Especially women and girls now know better their rights and the importance of their vote,” she said. “We voted because we hope life will get better by our vote.”
“Education does make a difference, and these young people – inspired by [CAI] schools – are seeing changes that their generation must address,” said Martha Church, former president of Hood College, and lifelong advocate of female education, wrote on CAI’s Facebook page.
It wasn’t all good news. In some areas, voters were turned away at the polling places when ballots ran out and male relatives insisted women stay at home.
“In my village most of the Ismaili women voted because their families let them, but the Sunni women were not able to vote because their families and husbands didn’t let them,” said CAI student Sahira, 18, who lives in a rural village in Badakhshan’s Ishkashim district, “But I voted because I am 18 and am able to vote and choose the better president for my future.”
Education gives women a voice, CAI Cofounder Greg Mortenson said, “and it was certainly true in this election. Afghanistan has come a long ways in the past 13 years since 9/11. The number of girls in school has increased from under 100,000 to about 3 million today. Nearly all the people I’ve been in contact with in Afghanistan, especially the women, were excited and proud to participate in these elections.”
WHO TO CHOOSE & WHY?
In the months leading up to Election Day, presidential candidates campaigned with rallies and speeches, and via proxies in the remote areas.
The April 5 ballot included eight candidates vying to replace President Hamid Karzai, who served for 12 years and is banned by the constitution from seeking a third term. Votes are still being counted, and Afghan election authorities are investigating complaints of voting fraud. If no one candidate receives a majority – 50 percent or more – of the votes, a runoff election will be held for the top two candidates, with the presidency going to the winner.
The news media played an unprecedented role in this election, Reuters news agency reported, as did live broadcasts of debates.
“Most of the people knew about different candidates because there were a lot of debates on TV among the candidates and people watched with interest,” Sahira said. “Also there were a lot of posters about candidates in bazaar and village.”
Social media made a difference, too. “Campaigning via social media and mobile technology have, for the first time in Afghan electoral history, become critical components of the race,” Friedman wrote, adding that in 2013 there were 2.4 million Internet users in the country, up from 2,000 during the 2004 election.
Despite the proliferation of information, some Afghans were still inclined to choose their candidates based on religion or ethnicity. In the Baharak district of Badakhshan, “Unfortunately, as I saw, most of the people voted for ethnicity,” said Feroza, manager of the CAI-supported Baharak Learning Center. “For example, all Uzbek people in our area vote for Dr. Ashraf Ghani because his first vice president is Dostum, who is an Uzbek leader.”
But many women defied the tradition of voting based on the recommendation of their husbands or fathers, local mullahs or commanders.
“My father said, ‘Give your vote to Dr. Abdullah,’” said Soghra, a student at a CAI women’s literacy center in Kabul. But I gave my vote to the candidate whom I like because he is talented. I voted according to my wish.”
Soghra and her classmates said the literacy program helped them understand the democratic process and their role in it. “Because of the literacy class we know our rights,” Soghra said. “We know we are citizens of Afghanistan and have right to participate in deciding our country’s future. And because of literacy class, we can study the candidates and give our vote to our choice.”
In Badakhshan, too, education made the difference, Feroza said. “Surely education and literacy programs, general information and awareness helped the women to vote their choice and participate in the election. People voted for their hope to have a better life and a government by their votes.”
“Education has changed my ideas and my friends’ ideas about politics and democracy,” Noor Banu, the 12th grade student in Ishkashim, said. “My [illiterate] aunt had to ask my uncle who to vote for. But I read about what is going on in my country and the world. Being educated helps you a lot in choosing your candidate yourself.”
These changes don’t happen quickly, noted Church, a longtime CAI supporter. Today in the United States, for example, 30 percent of the nation’s university and college presidents are women and female students have begun to outnumber men on campuses. But, she said, “This took hundreds of years to happen.”
Likewise, this first generation of literate voters, especially in remote areas of Afghanistan, represents the evolution of democracy in Afghanistan, she said. “The young women and men who graduated from CAI schools are part of a new generation that is much more aware of all the needs ahead for Afghanistan and all its citizens, women and men.”
Note: According to Afghan media, at the time of this post, former foreign minister and physician Abdullah Abdullah leads the polls with 44 percent of votes, ahead of former finance minister and World Bank official Ashraf Ghani, who has 33 percent of the vote.
- Karin Ronnow, communications director
Students leaned forward on the edge of their chairs while others climbed over one another, trying to get a better glimpse of the small map. I pointed to Pakistan, Afghanistan, and Tajikistan.
“In the areas where we work, it’s very difficult for children to go to school,” I told them. “Especially for the girls.”
The students looked at me wide-eyed as I explained Central Asia Institute’s work. The overhead fan shut off, indicative of another power cut, and the stale heat of India’s spring sunk in to this mixed class of fifth and sixth graders in Anaikatti, India.
I kept talking. They kept listening. And I watched as they started to understand, and to empathize.
In rural India, much like the remote, mountainous areas where CAI works, there are major obstacles to accessing education. Extreme poverty, poor quality government education, and lack of infrastructure limit access to education in India’s rural villages. Ongoing discrimination from the caste system, as well as a persistent gender gap, disproportionately affect India’s most marginalized populations.
Last year, I worked as a teacher at Vidya Vanam, a tribal school located in southern India. This past February, I returned to visit the students and introduced them to CAI’s Global Chalk Campaign (GCC).
“CAI is grounded in the importance of education, which we see as a crucial component to empowering local communities and promoting peaceable solutions to both everyday problems and larger regional and global problems,” CAI’s Executive Director David Starnes said. “We launched the Global Chalk Campaign to remind the international community why. Why should education be a right for every child, rather than just a privilege?
“The campaign is Sarah’s brainchild, and it is intended as a global effort, so it made a lot of sense for her to expand it to include the students at Vidya Vanam,” he said.
Despite India’s geographical proximity to Pakistan, Afghanistan, and Tajikistan, most of the students were unfamiliar with these countries to the northwest. A few had heard of the conflict between India and Pakistan, having been told of the ongoing political tension and animosity between the two countries. Yet none of them could articulate why that tension existed.
As we talked about the Global Chalk Campaign, and about education as a human right, the students began to recognize similarities between themselves and their peers in Pakistan, Afghanistan, and Tajikistan. As in many communities where CAI works, most of Vidya Vanam’s students represent the first literate generation in their families and their villages. They, too, struggle to access education. Through education, they were able to unite.
“The education should be right to all child. Because some child didn’t go to school,” Chandru wrote on a chalkboard. “Some parent don’t let the children go to school. Please give education for girls.”
With those words, Chandru joined the campaign. His awareness of the importance of education for all children is the point of the GCC.
The array of black-and-white images featured on CAI’s social media sites over the past seven weeks are the GCC. In each image, a student (or a teacher) displays a chalkboard with his or her answer to the question: Why should education be a right, rather than a privilege?
In the United States, we often take education for granted. In fact, it’s sometimes difficult to articulate why education is so important. But, we know that it is.
We began the campaign this past winter in Bozeman, Mont., schools. The CAI team explained the difficulty of accessing education in the remote, mountainous areas where we work and challenged the students to envision a world without education, without written communication, newspapers or books. We challenged them to imagine a society where illiteracy was the norm.
The Bozeman students then helped kick off the GCC. We have also included students from Montana State University in Bozeman. “Ignorance is the most powerful weapon of the corrupt and abusive,” Montana State University senior Nate Kenney wrote.
And, we’ve started receiving responses from around the world. For example: “Education is wisdom and wisdom is better than silver and gold,” Ibrahim wrote on our Instagram page.
Roberta weighed in on Facbeook: “Everyone has an inalienable right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness — and the ONLY way to ensure those rights is by being able to READ and to WRITE! Literacy should also be an inalienable right. … Help stamp out illiteracy.”
The Global Chalk Campaign illustrates our commonality. It transcends cultural difference and teaches cultural tolerance.
All too often, political difference and long-standing cultural tensions trickle down to children. Rhetoric of violence teaches them to hate. It encourages them to judge people based on cultural identity. Eventually we reach a point where our children are fighting wars that they don’t even understand. Education is the best weapon we have to fight back against injustice.
Now CAI wants to hear your voice. Write your answer on a piece of paper, take a “selfie” and post the photo on one of our social media sites (make sure to include the hashtags #CAI and #GlobalChalkCampaign), or email it to us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
You can see the amazing array of answers to the question on the Global Chalk Campaign’s own Facebook page: www.facebook.com/globalchalkcampaign.
The Global Chalk Campaign is powerful because it provides a platform for the necessary dialogue on peace through education. It promotes empathy and unity, while simultaneously opening the door for literacy. So, join us in the campaign and tell the world why YOU think education should be a human right.
If you are looking for a source of inspiration, check out Orchard Park High School’s video on the campaign.
Thanks so much to all who have joined and supported the campaign. Together, we can make a difference.
QUOTE: Tolerance, inter-cultural dialogue and respect for diversity are more essential than ever in a world where peoples are becoming more and more closely interconnected. – Kofi Annan
- Sarah Webb, communications assistant
We are pleased to announce that Jim Thaden has joined CAI as our new director of development. He started the job in mid-March and is based in our Bozeman office.
Thaden, 61, brings years of senior corporate management and nonprofit fundraising experience to the organization.
“We are thrilled to have Jim join the CAI team and take a key leadership role in our fundraising efforts,” CAI Executive Director David Starnes said. “He has a particularly broad background in the for profit and nonprofit worlds, including significant experience with corporate turnaround situations. We are confident he will make a significant impact on our work.”
Thaden said he was attracted to CAI in large part because of its “considerable investment” in building long-term relationships and providing services and resources that “people need to self-determine their future.”
“Also, because CAI comes to them as a nonsectarian, politically autonomous friend focused on their children’s futures, CAI has the privilege of being able to provide the simple but invaluable help so many people in these areas desire and deserve,” he said. “I am confident the next years at CAI will be even brighter than prior years, because this team ‘gets it.’ I’m excited to be a part of the team.”
Born and raised in Washington state, Thaden spent much of his adult life in Tennessee. Most recently, he worked as development director for the Discovery Place in suburban Nashville, where he played a key role in that organization’s turnaround via a “solid and sustainable” social enterprise. A social enterprise is a business owned by a nonprofit that both generates income and achieves a sustainable social benefit.
Jim also worked as development director for the Shae Foundation in Chattanooga, Tenn., where, among other things, he developed a social enterprise strategy for the foundation and helped grant recipients build successful online-fundraising efforts.
Prior to his social enterprise work, which he called his “second career,” Thaden was a successful entrepreneur and executive in the technology, distribution, and client services industries.
In Nashville, he founded and served as president and CEO of MHS-Diabetes Direct, and was owner-operator of a small business and nonprofit organization advisory practice.
In the 1990s, Thaden led a Nashville-based printing firm, Nicholstone Inc., from near bankruptcy to its merger with Rand McNally, Inc. He then joined Rand McNally’s executive leadership team, where he founded and grew its international outsource services division, which was merged with a competing company and later sold.
Earlier in his career he was vice president of operations at Chase Packaging in Greenwich Conn.; executive vice president at Graphic Packaging in Paoli, Penn.; and marketing director at St. Regis Paper Packaging in New York.
“Throughout my career I was mentored by extraordinary business leader in companies that valued learning,” he said. “Consequently, I was trained to grow a business simultaneously with creating the systems and process infrastructure to sustain the future growth of the business. This is particularly important to CAI at this juncture. As we reignite our donor engines, we must also insure that we are investing our donors’ money systematically to insure that their donation investments continue to generate future returns.”
An alumni of Gonzaga University in Spokane, Wash., where he earned his bachelor’s and master’s degrees, Thaden continued his education with graduate-level courses in business systems, business development, and international business strategy at the University of Southern California and George Washington University.
A devoted father and grandfather, Thaden has two adult daughters, both educators, and three grandchildren. He now calls Bozeman home.
The spring fundraising campaign has been his first order of business.
“When we believe in something that we absolutely know grows peace, it’s our responsibility to fervently support it,” he said. “We’ve already proven that education is the pathway to peace in Central Asia. Just look at the young CAI graduates coming back as teachers and health workers. And look closer to see how their parents are now looking to them for community leadership.
“In the next few years, we have the opportunity to continue to grow sustainable peace in this region by sticking it out; even when others leave. By continuing to build local partnerships, through these years of transition, we’ll move ahead together to cement positive multi-generational change in this important part of the world,” he said.
- Karin Ronnow, international communications director
Greetings to all and best wishes. I hope all those who received our latest “Journey of Hope” enjoyed the stories, the photos, and the inspiration of the students, teachers, parents, and leaders who work every day towards the goal that all children have the right for education. I have provided some updates to all of our friends and supporters below. Please feel free at any time to call with questions or comments.
As many of you know, Tom Brokaw and the NBC’s “TODAY” show hosted Greg Mortenson for his first interview with the press since April 2011. The four-minute segment aired on January 21, a distillation of a longer 75-minute conversation between Tom and Greg on topics ranging from Greg’s health to the “60 Minutes” and Jon Krakaur allegations to the status of CAI and its continuing work. Overall, I am pleased with the interview. While we would have liked to have heard more, particularly about CAI’s mission and work continuing despite the controversies, it is good to see Greg engaging with the public, sharing his thoughts on the past two-and-a-half years, and returning to the work at hand of educating boys and girls in Pakistan, Afghanistan, and Tajikistan.
In addition to Greg’s interview, I would like to announce his new role and title, that of co-founder and advisor. As we position CAI to continue its mission and look to the future, Greg’s role will be to provide historical perspective and insight; identify and develop key relationships in the U.S. and around the world, with a particular emphasis on relationships overseas; and support that part of CAI’s mission that calls for conveying the importance of education globally.
I am also pleased to announce that Jim Thaden will be joining CAI as the director of development. Jim comes to CAI with a broad background of corporate management and non-profit fundraising. His official start date is March 17. Please welcome Jim and feel free to reach out to him with any fundraising comments or questions.
Please take a look at our new Global Chalk Campaign, which can be seen on our Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and Tumblr pages. Karin Ronnow and Sarah Webb initiated this social-media campaign to encourage people to think about the concept that education is a right, rather than a privilege. We want everyone to participate. Just write why you think education is important in large letters on a piece of paper, have someone take a picture of you holding the paper, and send it to us at email@example.com. We’ll post it with the others!
CAI, in concert with the overseas project managers, continues to support our existing schools and complete those new schools that we committed to in the past. With 90 schools in Pakistan, 97 in Afghanistan, and four in Tajikistan, overseas partners and project managers have been busy sustaining and improving the work of providing educational opportunities for all.
Two situations have transpired relative to CAI’s work overseas that we’d like our supporters to be aware of:
1. CAI has begun the process of filing civil claims in Pakistan against one of the former project managers, Ghulam Parvi. For those of you who know of Parvi from the books, he was a prominent player in getting CAI established in northern Pakistan in CAI’s early days. In 2010, Parvi and CAI formally ended their relationship due to disagreements over use of funds and project management. Over the next few years, CAI received numerous allegations that Parvi had abused his role as a CAI-supported project manager and misused CAI funds and property. After a detailed internal investigation, CAI determined that Parvi had failed to meet the minimum standards CAI expects of its overseas partners, standards that befit a reputable and ethical charitable organization. We are sad that Parvi violated the trust of CAI and, most importantly, the community he was serving. CAI has a policy of zero tolerance for fraud, waste, and abuse. We place the highest value on the trust of our donors and supporters and on ensuring that our direct beneficiaries receive the maximum benefit from our donors’ generosity.
2. CAI has suspended its relationship with Ilyas Mirza and the Central Asia Institute Trust–Pakistan. CAI and Ilyas have been in dispute over CAI funds and overall project management since the fall of 2012. CAI attempted to resolve these differences amicably, however that effort came to a halt on January 22, when Ilyas filed suit against CAI in Los Angeles County for claims related to compensation. CAI rejects these claims categorically. While unfortunate, this issue has no real bearing on most of CAI’s work in Pakistan, which continues.
Both situations above are troubling. It is simply an unfortunate part of our human nature that some will attempt to take advantage of certain situations. The most important thing is to have systems in place to identify such misbehavior and, when it does occur, to deal with it quickly and effectively.
On a lighter note, we have just completed a series of meetings and discussions with all the CAI-supported overseas partners and key staff from the United States. The meetings took place over four days in Sharjah, United Arab Emirates, near Dubai. This was the first time this particular group of individuals had gathered in one location for such a meeting. Topics included presentations by each of the partners, updates on changes within CAI-U.S., and explanations of new policies and procedures for all partners moving forward. We were also fortunate to have two CAI board members participate as well.
In summary, it has been a busy winter at CAI and we are looking forward to a busy spring and summer. Please feel free at any time to visit us at our offices in Bozeman, Mont., or email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
As always and foremost, thank you to all who support our mission and the work to provide education opportunities in the remote and rugged areas of Pakistan, Afghanistan, and Tajikistan, with particular thanks to our sister and brother partners, who work in remote and dangerous areas of the world to provide educational opportunities for children, their families, and their communities.
QUOTE: We cannot feel whole until we are helping other people to reach for their potential and to grow as strong as they can grow. – Tom Walsh
- David Starnes, executive director
GICH, Pakistan – In the rural mountain villages of northern Pakistan, tradition has long dictated that men own and operate the shops in the local bazaar.
The male shopkeepers peddle their goods from simple wood or cement stalls facing the road, selling everything from food, tea and spices to car and bicycle tires and plastic shoes from China. Often, men do the shopping, too.
But here in Gich, a small town northwest of Gilgit, entrepreneur Chan Bali has turned tradition on its head.
After completing training at the Central Asia Institute (CAI)-supported women’s vocational center in 2012 Bali opened a tailoring shop, making her the first woman business owner in Gich – ever.
“I thought, I can do something for myself,” Bali, a mother of four, said. “I can stand on my own feet.”
She challenged tradition, with the full support of her family. “My husband is in the Pakistan Army,” said Bali, who declined to give her age. “He’s the one who has given me the idea. He said, ‘If you learn then you have to do.’”
And she’s ready to take on any naysayers. “If they create problems, I don’t care about that because I need to help my family,” she said.
Chan Bali is a pioneer. As CAI celebrates International Women’s Day (IWD) Saturday, March 8, we applaud her enterprising spirit and the accomplishments of women all around the world fighting to end discrimination, each in their own way.
RISING TIDE LIFTS ALL BOATS
Created more than a century ago as a way to show solidarity with women fighting for labor and voting rights in United States and Europe, IWD has spread throughout the world. It is an official holiday in Afghanistan and Tajikistan, although not in Pakistan, according to the IWD website. In the United States, IWD is part of an annual month-long celebration of women’s history.
The United Nations theme for IWD 2014 is “Equality for women is progress for all,” highlighting the idea that a rising tide of equality lifts all boats.
Although the number of people living on less than $1 per day has fallen around the world, poverty is still deeply entrenched in the remote mountain areas where CAI works. CAI’s emphasis on girls’ education, along with its women’s literacy, vocational and basic healthcare programs empower females to play a vital role in fighting poverty at home and in their communities.
The pivotal role of women in development is indisputable. UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon said, “Countries with more gender equality have better economic growth. Companies with more women leaders perform better. Peace agreements that include women are more durable. Parliaments with more women enact more legislation on key social issues such as health, education, anti-discrimination and child support. The evidence is clear: equality for women means progress for all.”
Like Chan Bali, women who earn an income spend most of it on their children and families’ health and education.
“I use the money for expenses with my kids, school fees and clothing,” she said. “We have not so big land here, so I use for children’s education. I have four children, three sons and one daughter. They are in good schools.”
She praised CAI – and CAI-Gilgit’s Saidullah Baig and Dilshad Begum, in particular – for giving her and other women the tools they need to help themselves.
“We have seen so many institutions working in different places, but I’ve never seen an organization trying so hard [as CAI] to empower every family member and pushing us in a proper way to do something for ourselves and our family,” she said.
EVERYONE ON BOARD
But everyone, not just the women, have a role to play, Ban Ki-moon said.
“I also have a message for my fellow men and boys: play your part,” he said in his annual IWD statement. “All of us benefit when women and girls – your mothers, sisters, friends and colleagues – can reach their full potential.”
In Islamic countries in particular, supportive family members “who put no limits on their movements or who they spoke to,” are key to female entrepreneurs’ success, according to a study by the University of Bedfordshire in England.
In Bali’s case, her husband encouraged her and “helped me negotiate [rent] with the owner of this building.”
Her simple one-room shop in a cement building is filled with tailoring supplies and equipment. The wooden planks on a floor-to-ceiling shelf are stacked high with fabric, yarn and thread. She has two hand-cranked sewing machines and one electric machine. She has hired and trained one employee and started an apprentice program, with 10 “students” who come for lessons from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. each day.
She is a role model, showing what women can do when they stretch their wings.
“I am earning more than my expectation,” she said. “My children are proud of me.”
And so are we.
QUOTE: Remember the dignity of your womanhood. Do not appeal, do not beg, do not grovel. Take courage, join hands, stand beside us, fight with us. – Christabel Pankhurst
Editor’s note: A longer version of Chan Bali’s story was published on pages 7-8 of CAI’s 2013 “Journey of Hope” publication, and can be read HERE.
- Karin Ronnow, communications director
|Students listen to a lesson at a Central Asia Institute-supported school in Azad Kashmir, Pakistan, this winter.|
Here’s a thought for today about learning and about the universal interconnectedness of all people:
“You may not see it now,” said the Princess of Pure Reason, looking knowingly at Milo’s puzzled face, “but whatever we learn has a purpose and whatever we do affects everything and everyone else, if even in the tiniest way. Why, when a housefly flaps his wings, a breeze goes round the world; when a speck of dust falls to the ground, the entire planet weighs a little more; and when you stamp your foot, the earth moves slightly off its course. Whenever you laugh, gladness spreads like the ripples in the pond; and whenever you’re sad, no one anywhere can be really happy. And it’s much the same thing with knowledge, for whenever you learn something new, the whole world becomes that much richer.”
– Norman Juster, “The Phantom Tollbooth”
Photos by Fozia Naseer for CAI, 2014.
Windows shattered and cement crumbled at a Central Asia Institute girls’ school last month as Taliban and Afghan National Army forces waged a fierce battle for control of a remote mountain region of Badakhshan province.
Although the battle took place at the Kharundab Girls’ High School, it erupted during the annual winter break and no students or teachers were injured, said Janagha Jaheed, CAI’s project manager in Badakhshan province. The school is in the Jurm district.
“Hard fighting between Taliban and Afghan National Army took place over our Kharundab School on Saturday, Jan. 25,” Jaheed said, citing information from a community leader involved with the school. “The fighting started at 2 (p.m.) and ended late at night.
“The ANA forces were based inside the school and Taliban were shooting and firing with different weapons from the mountains near to the school,” he said. When the fighting ended, the Taliban returned to their base over the mountains.
The community leader, who did not want to be named, told Jaheed that one policeman was killed, and two police and two soldiers were injured, “but there is no exact news.” Local police forces often assist the army.
A few months earlier, another battle took place near the school, “but the people at that time could avoid the forces to enter school, which kept the school safe,” Jaheed said. “But this time they were stationed there and the community leaders could not [intervene] during the [battle].”
This time, when the fighting ended, “the villagers and community leaders came to the school and insisted the army forces get out of the school in order to avoid more fighting inside the school,” Jaheed said. The soldiers complied.
CAI has two schools in Jurm district, Kharundab and Nawi Jurm Girls’ High School, with more than 1,500 female students, he said. “Fortunately, both of these times fighting happened in the time when schools are off and students are on winter vacation so no student or teacher has been killed or injured due to these fighting yet.”
When the community surveyed the damage to Kharundab, they found gunshots had shattered windows, rockets had destroyed the toilets, and a tank had damaged the main gate, village chief Gullagha told Jaheed.
The Jurm community leaders and teachers wrote a letter itemizing the damages and requesting repairs before the new school year starts.
They also confirmed “their continual support for education, especially for their daughters,” Jaheed said.
Militant activity has increased in once-peaceful Badakhshan in recent years, with the most violence occurring in the Jurm, Warduj, and Karan wa Manjan regions.
In related news, CAI’s Shirgal Primary School in Kunar province was also “damaged in fighting between Afghan army and Taliban” in January, according to Wakil Karimi, CAI’s Kabul-based project manager. “The government has estimated budget for rebuilding damaged parts of the school. I hope they rebuild that because we don’t have money to repair damage.”
QUOTE: War is a poor chisel to carve out tomorrow. – Martin Luther King, Jr.
- Karin Ronnow, communications director
A roadside bomb that exploded in a remote village in Afghanistan’s Urozgan province late last month killed the 17-year-old grandson of community leader and education champion Haji Ibrahim.
Abdul Basi was walking to the construction site of CAI’s Kakrat Primary School when the bomb exploded home, according to Wakil Karimi, CAI’s Kabul-based project manager. The 11th grader, who attended high school in the provincial capital Tarin Kowt, was in the village visiting family for the weekend.
Basi was the first literate person in his family and supported his grandfather’s work with CAI, Karimi said.
His grandfather is devastated, Karimi said, as he had wanted his grandson to continue his education, become a university graduate, and take a leadership role in the region’s future.
“Haji Ibrahim has been a huge advocate for CAI and for girls’ education and has often risked his life in support of CAI,” said CAI Cofounder Greg Mortenson. “This is a senseless and vicious act to kill an innocent young man who only wanted education and peace. May God bless Abdul Basi and Haji Ibrahim’s family during this time of great loss and grief.”
“Our thoughts and prayers go out to the family of Abdul Basi,” CAI Executive Director David Starnes said, “along with our support to all those students who risk their lives to attend school throughout Afghanistan.”
Urozgan is one of the most isolated and underserved areas of Afghanistan. In 2011, the population of the mostly mountainous and semi-mountainous province north of Kandahar was estimated at 382,000. It is a largely illiterate and tribal society, and has been a Taliban stronghold for decades. In December 2013, most of the Australian troops who had been in charge of security there left the country; only a small 400-soldier contingent remains to help train the Afghan Army and local police force.
Urozgan’s education efforts are frequently delayed or thwarted by the violence. In 2012, the Afghanistan government reported the province had 48 high schools, 40 middle schools and 158 primary schools, and needed 89 more schools. However, Ibrahim has said many of those schools are non-functioning or abandoned. In addition, although many of Urozgan’s community elders and religious leaders support girls’ education, outside Taliban and militants have discouraged local families from sending their girls to school.
CAI’s Kakrak School has been a work in progress since 2010, with frequent interruptions due to security problems, Karimi said. “I hope this school will be completed in 2014, as no other NGO has been able to start a school in this place,” he said.
Also, with help from Ibrahim and other Urozgan elders and the blessing of Urozgan Director of Education Tajwar Kaka, CAI has been able to start one of the only girls’ schools in the region in a discrete building in Dae Rawood village.
“Urozgan is a difficult area to gain access and moving forward will take time and patience,” Starnes said. However, “having met with Haji Ibrahim and other tribal elders during my visit last September, I know that support for education for girls in Urozgan is alive and well.”
Mortenson agreed, adding that “None of CAI’s work in Urozgan would be possible without Haji Ibrahim’s effort, negotiating skills, and encouragement. He told me last fall, ‘We have thousands of children ready to go to school, but no teachers, no money, and no buildings. We must start with education now.’”
QUOTE: At the temple there is a poem called ‘Loss’ carved into the stone. It has three words, but the poet has scratched them out. You cannot read loss, only feel it. – Arthur Golden
- Karin Ronnow, communications director
Central Asia Institute (CAI) is launching its Global Chalk Campaign: Advocate to Educate as a means of engaging the global community in dialogue about the importance of education. In a country like the United States, where education is often taken for granted, we at CAI wanted to know what students at all levels think about why education makes a difference.
This winter, CAI staff visited elementary, middle, and high school classrooms in Bozeman, Mont. We discussed the goals of global education and the obstacles facing children in remote and impoverished areas around the world.
After each presentation, we asked students to answer the question, Why should education be a right for every child, rather than a privilege? We gave them two of the most basic teaching tools: chalkboards and chalk, and asked them to write their answers. We even got a few teachers and some of CAI’s Bozeman staff to weigh in on the question.
The results confirmed our impression that some of the most convincing and compelling reasons to educate a community come from the demographic we target most: children.
In the United States, education is a right. In fact, education is required by law until a child is 16 years old. In most parts of the country, access to education isn’t a question.
But around the globe, education is still a privilege for too many children, available only to elite members of society, and, often, only to boys. In many of these areas, the adult literacy rates are still in the single digits. Those children who do have an opportunity to go to school sometimes have to walk miles – even during the cold, harsh winters common in the mountains of Pakistan, Afghanistan, and Tajikistan – just to reach a classroom. They brave the ongoing fighting with insurgents and, in some areas, risk attack. They battle traditions such as child marriage and child labor in order to stay in school.
The Global Chalk Campaign is more than just a social media campaign. It highlights the similarity of students globally: their dedication to education, understanding of the world around them, and making their communities a better place.
“Anytime students in Bozeman or Montana have the opportunity to learn more about the world around them, it is critically important to take advantage of that opportunity,” said Erica Schnee, who teaches government at Bozeman High School, and invited CAI to present the campaign to students in her advanced-placement class. “When I was growing up in Bozeman, Montana felt isolated, not only from the rest of the world, but also from the rest of the country in some ways. There are so many ways the world has changed and become more interconnected. If we don’t prepare students to engage in that world and interact with and learn more about other parts of the world, we aren’t preparing them to be successfully engaged citizens.”
After the CAI presentation to Peter Strand’s fifth-grade class at Irving Elementary School, Strand said students were excited to learn about their peers overseas, fascinated with the photographs shown by CAI staff, and empathetic to the difficulties CAI students face when trying to access education.
“I think students are able to pull from exploring Pakistan, Afghanistan, and Tajikistan on numerous levels,” he said. “What happened today only opens the door. My experience from being at Irving with all of its emphasis on this kind of learning is that the sky is the limit. The kids are mesmerized by where such an exploration can go.”
The Global Chalk Campaign gives students a window on cultures that differ from theirs, sparks talk about modern problems and possible solutions, and creates empathy.
“Our goal is to educate them so the ‘fear factor’ of the unknown will be minimalized, and they can accept differences and learn to live in a global community without, hopefully, war and discrimination,” said Ann Cannata, a social studies teacher at Chief Joseph Middle School.
“Any introduction to how a different part of the world views education, and a reminder of how fortunate they are to be getting one, is always welcome.
Strand added: “Our kids need to make personal connections with people like themselves who happen to live very different lives, in very different cultures, and with very different experiences.” The campaign helps students understand other ways of life, reflect on their own opportunities and imagine a world where things are much different, he said. This in turn “helps them to better understand themselves and the world in general. And it nurtures empathy, something essential to citizenship.”
We want to hear from you. Why do you think education should be a right for every child around the globe? Post a picture of yourself with your answer, and tag CAI (#CAI, #GlobalChalkCampaign, and our relevant social media pages) in the response. Help us promote the importance of education around the globe.
And keep watching as we post the Bozeman students’ responses here, and on our other social media sites.
QUOTE: Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world. – Nelson Mandela
- Sarah Webb, communications assistant
Last week was a bit of a roller coaster as we at Central Asia Institute waited for, watched, and then critiqued the Tom Brokaw-Greg Mortenson interview on NBC’s TODAY Show.
The interview was a big step for CAI and for Greg as we seek to reassure our supporters, and our critics, about CAI’s organizational health and ongoing work overseas. But without your comments and feedback – positive and negative – we’d be processing our impressions in a bubble.
Your comments on Facebook, for example, ranged from full-on cheerleading:
Meg: I believe.
To cautious optimism:
Tiffany: I read both of Greg’s books and I was genuinely inspired and grateful that a man like him still walked this earth and could give so selflessly. … I was disappointed when I heard about the allegations against him. … I don’t know where I stand or what to believe in this case. Although I am conflicted, I admire Greg for the interview he gave and can only hope he and CAI did more good than harm in this world.
To continued skepticism:
Eli: My wife and I freely donated many dollars to CAI because we loved what you were doing. It felt so good to send money directly to these schools. But as they say it is easy to break trust and much harder to gain it back. So sorry because we loved donating our money to you, but what you say or what the courts say is not enough.
Patrick emailed us his thoughts. “These short piece interviews are always unsatisfying by their nature, but I’ve continued to be a supporter of Greg and CAI and their work throughout all of this, and this interview only confirmed my support,” he wrote. “Although mistakes may have been made, I still believe that Greg’s motives have always been on target and honorable, and his work is essential in the troubled area of the world in which he does his work. I hope that Greg and CAI can fully recover from all this in the very near future, and I wish you all the best. You will continue to receive my support, both financially and from my heart.”
CAI supporters overseas weighed in, too.
“We love you Greg. We salute your works and hilly and hard area at Khanday village,” Alika, the headmaster at CAI-supported Khanday Sun Valley Middle School, in the Hushe Valley of Baltistan, northern Pakistan, wrote on CAI’s Facebook site. “You are the first pillar to promote education at Khanday. Nobody can challenge your works, inshallah.”
And Ellen Jaskol, who has actually seen CAI projects in Pakistan, Afghanistan, and Tajikistan weighed in, too. The Denver-based photographer who traveled overseas with me in 2010 and 2011 posted her comments on Facebook: “The accusations imply that CAI doesn’t do good, and it’s so far from the truth. (NBC) could have spent 30 seconds to show how much people continue to benefit from his bravery and persistence. So many schools, villages, girls, women (and boys and men!), get consistent education, health support and disaster relief from CAI. I was there. I saw their work. It’s hard enough to travel around there, but to actually contribute and help people? That’s just jaw-dropping wonderful, and I don’t get why the media doesn’t go over there and see for themselves. But I’m glad Greg did finally talk.”
When we tallied the Facebook comments (not including “likes” and “shares”), we found 84 percent of the comments were clearly positive for CAI (although not necessarily supportive of the interview content or format), nearly 4 percent were negative, and the remaining 12 percent rode the middle. Of the emails I received, two out of 12 were negative, or about 17 percent.
On Facebook, some people said they wanted more airtime for Greg and CAI. Others observed that making mistakes is part of being human. And many pointed to CAI’s good work overseas.
Andre: “While it’s obvious that mistakes were made, ultimately you have to look at the bottom line. Dozens of schools have been built and countless young women are getting an education in one of the most remote and ignored parts of the world. What Mr. Mortenson has been able to accomplish is nothing short of miraculous. Unfortunately, unlike the rest of us, he’s not perfect and mistakes were made. It’s comforting to know that the good people of ’60 Minutes’ … are there to bring these mistakes to light. God forbid that they would spend time highlighting the positive work that is being done, or better yet, actually doing something themselves.”
But, as noted, not everyone feels that way:
Kathy: “I was so very sad when I found out about the ‘mistakes.’ I really hope this organization is able to get back on track in an honest and transparent way so the work they said they were doing is actually done.”
On his blog, “Musings Along the Way,” Paul Krebill lamented what NBC didn’t cover, observing that the interview “focused upon questions of the veracity of his book, upon criticism lodged against Mortenson for his mishandling of funds, and how he feels about these negative responses to his work. This coverage, I think, has left the audience with the impression that the efforts of Mortenson and the Central Asia Institute to build schools in Asia are now considerably reduced.”
“Sadly, nothing was said about the reorganization of (CAI) in order to handle its funds and accountability more responsibly. Nothing was said about Mortenson’s continuing productive activity in Central Asia to build schools for children, particularly for girls who otherwise would remain unschooled.”
Joyce emailed us her thoughts: “It’s natural for bad news to be loudly shouted, while good news is often whispered. And although Greg made mistakes, he did apologize for them and the changes made to CAI have, I believe, been improvements. My personal contributions to CAI … are modest, but I didn’t even consider stopping them during the controversy. … Keep up the good works. The good you have done will come back to you!”
And finally, we got this from my dad, Kris Ronnow: “I am reminded it is easier to be a cynic than a visionary, and there are more cynics than believers. That is why the world is so screwed up. People who are willing to do something at great personal and emotional risk will always face a higher mountain. And there are many mountains higher than K2 to be climbed.”
Thank you everyone for contributing to the “conversation.” Tashakur. Shukria.
We’re excited about the future, full of hope, and happy to know so many of you share our optimism.
QUOTE: It’s hard to beat a person who never gives up. – Babe Ruth
- Karin Ronnow, worldwide director of communications
Greg Mortenson made his first television appearance in more than two years this morning when he appeared on NBC’s TODAY Show in a taped interview with veteran journalist Tom Brokaw.
For anyone who missed it, or would like to see it again, NBC has posted the interview online:
Greg Mortenson interviews with Tom Brokaw / January 2014
As noted here yesterday, this was Mortenson’s first interview in 33 months, since an April 2011 “60 Minutes” program highlighted alleged fabrications in his book, Three Cups of Tea, and financial mismanagement at Central Asia Institute.
Mortenson sat down with Brokaw in New York City earlier this month to tape the interview. NBC edited their 75-minute discussion to a four-minute segment, followed by a one-minute wrap-up with Brokaw and TODAY Show host Matt Lauer live on the set.
In the segment, Mortenson apologized for letting his supporters down. “I always have operated from my heart, I’m not a really head person,” he told Brokaw. “And I really didn’t factor in the very important things of accountability [and] transparency.”
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- Karin Ronnow, worldwide director of communications
BOZEMAN, Mont. – Humanitarian and author Greg Mortenson will tell his side of the story in an exclusive interview with veteran newsman Tom Brokaw set to air Tuesday morning, Jan. 21, on NBC’s “TODAY” show. The interview is scheduled to air in the 7 a.m. hour (MST).
This is Mortenson’s first interview in 33 months, since a CBS “60 Minutes” report in April 2011 accused Mortenson of fabrications in his book and mismanagement at Central Asia Institute (CAI), the nonprofit organization he cofounded in 1996.
Mortenson sat down with Brokaw in New York City earlier this month for a 75-minute taped interview, which NBC has edited to a much shorter segment. Their discussion ranged from the media allegations about the book and CAI to his health, how he and his family have handled the fallout, and his ideas going forward.
Mortenson, 56, told Brokaw that the stories in his book happened, although not always in the sequence or timing presented, according to an NBC press release. He also acknowledged that he ignored admonitions to slow down amid CAI’s rapid growth after “Three Cups of Tea” was published, and that he’s going to try as hard as he can to never make the same mistakes again.
“It still just has puzzled me and why there wasn’t, at some point, in your mind, an alarm that went off and said, ‘This just isn’t right in some way,’” Brokaw asked in the interview, according to NBC.
“There were alarms, Tom,” Mortenson said. “I didn’t listen to them. I was willing to basically kill myself to raise money and help the projects.”
The televised accusations in 2011 led to a state inquiry and a purported class-action lawsuit – both of which have been successfully resolved for the Bozeman-based CAI. The Montana Attorney General’s inquiry concluded in April 2012. Also that month, U.S. District Court Judge Samuel Haddon dismissed with prejudice the lawsuit against Mortenson, CAI, and other defendants, calling it “flimsy, speculative and without merit.” The 9th U.S. Court of Appeals in San Francisco upheld that ruling in October 2013. [For more background, see links below.]
CAI Executive Director David Starnes said Saturday, “We are pleased that after resolution of legal and health-related issues Greg was able to sit down with someone of Tom Brokaw’s stature, someone who represents that level of public trust, and share his thoughts, reflections, and experiences.”
Brokaw, who frequently retreats with his wife Meredith to their West Boulder ranch near McLeod, Mont., is now a special correspondent and analyst for NBC News. He has worked for the network since 1966 as a correspondent, “Today Show” anchor, “NBC Nightly News” managing editor and anchor, “Meet the Press” anchor, and documentarian. He is also the author or coauthor of numerous nonfiction books. His honorary degrees include one from Montana State University in Bozeman.
“This interview presents a tremendous opportunity to look forward and continue the mission that has brought education to many thousands of young women in this difficult part of the world,” CAI Board Chairman Steve Barrett said. “With political turmoil and domestic terrorism in Pakistan on the rise, and the US troop withdrawal in Afghanistan that will affect stability and peace, our mission to educate girls and empower women is more timely and important than ever.”
Mortenson said he is particularly grateful for the continued support he has received since 2011.
“Most of all, I would like to thank our supporters and our resilient staff for their incredible support, and especially for the outpouring of love and kindness to my family since April 2011,” he said.
Since its inception, CAI has established 191 schools, and significantly supports more than 100 others, primarily in remote areas of Pakistan, Afghanistan, and Tajikistan. In addition, CAI has nearly 100 other projects, including scholarships, women’s literacy and vocational centers, teacher training and health education programs.
Read more about the issues covered in the interview:
TODAY Show press release / January 2014
9th Circuit Court of Appeals upholds lawsuit dismissal / October 2013
Starnes comes on board / February 2013
New CAI board of directors / August 2012
Federal judge in Great Falls dismisses lawsuit with prejudice / April 2012
Montana Attorney General’s Office investigation concluded / April 2012
CAI Master Project List
QUOTE: Yes, a dark time passed over this land, but now there is something like light. – Dave Eggers
- Karin Ronnow, worldwide director of communications
What is the capital city of Gilgit-Baltistan in northern Pakistan?
What three countries border Pakistan?
What river flows the length of Pakistan?
In pondering these questions, most Westerners would likely reach for an old-fashioned map or atlas. Or maybe they’d go online in search of a good map of Pakistan.
But finding a map is not what comes to mind for most teachers in the remote mountain villages surrounding Gilgit. Paper maps are few are far between in this region. Internet connections are practically nonexistent. And until last week, many of the more than 70 teachers attending a Central Asia Institute (CAI)-supported training in Gilgit had never even learned basic map-reading skills.
“Before, I did not know about the elements of the map,” such as latitude, longitude, scale, or legends, Sher Baz, a CAI-supported teacher, said following a map-reading workshop. “The session was very fruitful. I gained knowledge about reading maps and now I am able to teach geography confidently.”
The subject of geography gets short shrift in many countries. Yet as both a physical and social science, it is at the core of social studies, history, and environmental studies. Maps can help students understand everything from population pressures, to natural resources, or political conflict.
Geography is “not about memorizing maps, mountains, and capitals,” Audrey Mohan, research director at the National Council for Geographic Education, wrote on the Speak Up For Geography website. “It’s about understanding the vast and diverse landscapes of the world and interactions between cultures and societies, analyzing the relationship between humans and the environment, and understanding complex social and physical systems in order to develop solutions and innovations to address global problems.”
But before any of that can happen, teachers need to know how to read maps.
Teacher-trainer Sharif Ullah Baig began by explaining the basic elements of a map: title, cartography, date of production, compass points, and legends. Using maps, an atlas and a globe, he explained that different types of maps are used to present different types of information, such as climate, economic resources, topography, and history, among other things. He explained longitude and latitude and worked with the teachers to locate various countries on a world map.
The final exercise involved teachers working together to draw maps of their valleys, with roads, rivers, bridges, hospitals, and villages.
“Map reading was my favorite part [of the training] because it was very interesting doing practical work with the maps,” said Maryam, who teaches science at CAI’s Khyrabad/Reminji Middle School in the Chapurson Valley. “Before I didn’t know about map titles, map legends, map scale, etc. Sir Sharif Ullah taught us everything practically.”
The geography workshop was scheduled midway through the intense two-week training program in Gilgit. Beginning on Jan. 1, the 72 teachers gathered each day (including Saturdays and Sundays) from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., for workshops and instruction. A supplemental computer class was available after hours for those who wanted it.
“The training continues without any break,” Saidullah Baig, CAI-Gilgit’s CEO, said. “I am trying to use every minute of time we have with them.”
Topics covered included how to write lesson plans and why it matters, student learning styles, teaching methods, managing a classroom, tips for teaching specific subjects, how to make low-cost teaching tools, and much, much more.
“Before I was facing difficulties to handle the classes,” said Juma Begum, who teaches numerous subjects at CAI’s Garamchasma Primary School, in northern Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province. “Now I am able to make different activities for different classes. I improved my English and Urdu speaking in the session as well.”
The CAI-Gilgit team recruited seven trainers, about half of whom are graduates of Aga Khan University’s Institute for Educational development in Karachi. Two of the trainers focused specifically on teaching preschool students and one ran the computer classes.
“The aim of CAI is not to just build the schools, increase the number of students in the class and pay the teachers,” Dilshad Baig, CAI-Gilgit’s director of women’s development, told the teachers on opening day of the training. “Our main aim is to increase the quality of education.
“The overall objectives of the training program are to develop and enhance the capacity of the teachers so that the overall quality of education provided to the children in the remotest villages of Gilgit and Chitral could tangibly improve,” she said.
QUOTE: A map does not just chart, it unlocks and formulates meaning; it forms bridges between here and there, between disparate ideas that we did not know were previously connected. – Reif Larson
- Karin Ronnow, worldwide director of communications
Happy New Year! This is a time of love, goodwill, and prayers for peace on Earth. We also count our blessings and in that spirit we thank you for joining Central Asia Institute (CAI) in our ongoing efforts to promote education, especially for girls, in remote, neglected, and impoverished mountain communities.
Former UN Secretary General Kofi Anan said, “Literacy is a bridge from misery to hope.” CAI builds and nurtures those bridges, engendering hope for a better future in children, their parents, and their communities.
Hope is a hard thing to define, in part because it looks different for every person. But we know it when we see it, that unwavering courage and confidence in the face of adversity, that optimistic determination amid despair, against all odds. And their hope gives us hope, too, that we all can make a difference in the world.
With your support, we will promote education, especially for girls, in 2014 and beyond! Each student, parent, and community we serve thanks you.
We all wish you a blessed 2014 of gratitude and joy.
QUOTE: Peace cannot be kept by force; it can only be achieved by understanding. – Albert Einstein
- The Central Asia Institute Team.