Thursday, July 19 , 2018, 4:41 pm | Fair 77º


Commentary: Making a Difference in Afghanistan

Santa Barbara-based American Support for Afghanistan is helping to restore a troubled nation's human capital and resources.

As attention in the United States shifts to the conflict in Afghanistan from the war in Iraq, the question begins to arise: What can be done for a country torn not only by the current instability but also by years of Taliban rule, historic violent uprisings, and a legacy of illiteracy and crushing poverty?

Many Afghan citizens fled during the upheavals that began when the occupying Russians were forced out of Afghanistan and the country became, through a series of violent upheavals, an Islamic state under Taliban rule. One such former Afghan is Homaira Zahir, who fled with her family in 1989. Now a Santa Barbara resident, she decided to give back to the country she left behind. In 2001, Zahir founded a nonprofit organization called American Support for Afghanistan, a nonsectarian and apolitical organization devoted to protecting children and rebuilding human resources in Afghanistan. The organization, with volunteers in the Santa Barbara area and partnerships throughout the United States and in Afghanistan, raises funds and awareness for society-building projects in Kabul.

To date, ASA has provided wheelchairs, medicines and school supplies to the needy people of Kabul, along with an annual collection of warm clothing and blankets. One of the most successful ongoing initiatives is the Orphan Sponsorship Program. Children in Afghanistan have a particularly hard life. There are an estimated 1.6 million orphans in the country and many children are forced to work to help their families make ends meet. For these kids, school is not a possibility and the cycle of poverty continues. In partnership with the Khorasan Orphanage in Kabul, ASA has provided several children with food, medical care and school supplies. The Orphan Sponsorship Program is an ongoing initiative and the group aims to maintain its current level of support and extend funding to a greater number of children in the future.

Recently, ASA launched its most ambitious project yet — raising more than $64,000 to benefit an Afghan association of physicians called STEP Health and Development. The Afghan organization has a project in the works that will provide psychosocial care to women traumatized by physical and sexual violence in the hard-hit Mirbacha Kot district near Kabul. The care center will also provide vocational training for these women, whose illiteracy and lack of skills make them ill-equipped to care for themselves or their families. Zahir points out the clear value of programs such as this: “The women become able to contribute to their society. In turn, their increased quality of life is passed on to their children.”

It has been suggested that to find victory in Afghanistan the United States will have to win over the hearts and minds of the Afghan people. The problems of poverty, illiteracy and violence in Afghanistan have deep roots. But bit by bit, committed organizations like ASA are helping Afghans help themselves. Click here for more information or to donate to one of the projects described in this article.

Melissa Wright works with American Support for Afghanistan.

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