[HCCN] fw: What an Afghan Boy Knows

Judith Robbins Judy at RobbinsandRobbins.com
Mon Nov 1 18:42:41 EDT 2010

Published on Sunday, October 31, 2010 by CommonDreams.org
'Without Peace, Life is Impossible': What an Afghan Boy Knows that US  
Forces Don't

by David Smith-Ferri
In a small storage shed at the edge of town, we watched as fourteen- 
year-old Sayed Qarim signed a simple contract agreeing to borrow and  
repay a no-interest, 25,000 afghani loan (roughly $555). Daniel from  
the Zenda Company, the loan originator, counted out the crisp bills  
and handed them to Qarim, who smiled broadly and shook hands. Qarim,  
whose family farms potatoes and wheat, plans to use the funds to  
purchase a cow and her calf. “There are great benefits of owning a  
cow,” Qarim explains. “Our family gets to use the milk, and we can  
sell the calf for a good profit.”

No one walking by outside on the narrow dirt road would have known an  
important business transaction had just occurred, one that could in  
fact help a young man and his family gain economic traction and  
greater security. The transaction didn’t take place in a bank. No  
village leaders were present. Only a fourteen-year-old boy, the  
representative of a private business company, and a witness. And  
while the signed agreement constitutes a business relationship, the  
Zenda Company sees it as primarily personal.

Qarim was recommended for a loan by Faiz and Mohammad Jan, two other  
young men who live in his village and who have themselves recently  
received and repaid loans. Following this recommendation, Zenda spent  
much time getting to know Qarim, meeting with him, assessing his  
knowledge, his resources (such as access to grazing land), and his  
character, answering his questions, and describing to him his  
responsibilities as a borrower.

Now that the transaction is complete, Qarim is required to send a  
picture of the cow and her calf as “proof” that the money was used as  
agreed. In addition, Hakim, another Zenda Company representative  
living in Bamiyan, who is fluent in Dari, the local language, will  
visit Qarim periodically. Along with Faiz and Mohammad Jan, he will  
try to provide whatever support Qarim needs to succeed.

Eighteen months ago, Mohammad Jan borrowed funds to purchase a cow  
and her calf. Three times in the intervening months, he has fattened  
the cow, raised the calf, sold them and used the money from their  
sale to purchase another cow and calf. He has repaid the loan in full  
and netted a profit thus far of nearly 7,000 afghanis. Faiz has been  
equally successful, using borrowed funds to purchase lambs; he repaid  
his loan, took out another, and now owns ten sheep and two goats,  
prized locally both for their meat and for their fleeces.

Zenda Company’s small business loan program has evolved gradually  
through trial and error in Bamiyan, and Hakim, a Singaporean medical  
doctor and ex-pat living now in an outlying village, is central to  
its success. Hakim (a name given to him by local people which means  
“learned one”) originally came from Singapore to Quetta, Pakistan, on  
the Afghanistan border, where he worked for two years with Afghan  
refugees. “I essentially lived within a refugee settlement, and I was  
treated as a local.”

While there, however, Hakim wanted to do more than treat the symptoms  
of war. Six years ago, he came to Bamiyan as a development worker  
with an international Non-Governmental Organization (NGO). Today in  
Afghanistan, NGOs involved in development work are as thick as wheat  
stalks in a field, and their presence and operation has a significant  
impact in the country. But Hakim found that “the NGOs, too, have  
problems. They hold all the aid power, because they have all the  
money.” Because of this, says Hakim, despite their intentions,  
despite their mission, despite even their best efforts, international  
NGOs in Afghanistan often have a colonial relationship with Afghan  
communities, encouraging dependence rather than local initiative and  

And then there is the intractable question of results. As one Afghan  
person totold us, “The world says it is helping us. Where is this  
help? None of it reaches the people who need it. Here in Afghanistan  
it has been going on so long that we have to joke and laugh in order  
to manage our anger and disappointment.”

Seven months ago, Hakim left his position with the NGO. When he first  
arrived in Bamiyan, he was invited to visit and later to move into a  
small village. “The villages are very conservative. The only way to  
enter the community, even for a visit, is to be invited.”

Hakim has been in the community now for six years, living as people  
in the village do, eating only what people in the village have to  
eat. Like a member of the family, he participates in work. “I help in  
the fields, too,” he says with a self-effacing laugh, “but I’m not  
very good at it. I cannot work nearly as long or as fast as others.

“With time,” he says, “I’m realizing what it takes to practice what a  
young Afghan boy once told me, that without peace, life is  
impossible.” As he sees it, “morality, democracy, and intellectual  
honesty are dying. Here we have forty-three countries (in the ISAF)  
trying to solve the problem of violence in Afghanistan. How can we  
allow these countries to say that more violence will solve the  
problems of violence, without asking them for evidence, for results?  
Where is intellectual inquiry? Moral skepticism? Why is war always  
the next solution? Why not reconciliatory talks; who dictates that  
talks are impossible for human beings? Why are we so willing to  
accept that violence and terror are the norm? If ordinary people  
don’t question this, academics at least should, but they don’t. A  
local shepherd boy knows this is not normal.”

In a country where villagers typically do not farm enough land to  
actually subsist, where malnutrition and stunted growth are in fact  
the norm, and where the situation is worsening as land is divided and  
passed on to children, Hakim began to realize that peace cannot be  
pursued separately from economic security and food security. With  
this in mind, Hakim took his current position with Zenda Company.

Through Zenda’s revolving loan fund, dozens of Afghan individuals  
have borrowed money for business start-up. These businesses include  
not only loans to villagers for livestock purchase, but also loans to  
shop owners, and a number of loans to existing street vendors, who  
might, for example, benefit from having the funds to purchase a cart  
as well as additional inventory. The repayment terms on these loans  
are simple: one half due at the end of one year, and the full amount  
due at two years. People interested in applying for a loan do so by  
supplying a simple handwritten proposal. At present, Zenda has  
received requests for loans totaling far more than it has funds to lend.

According to the United Nations, during the period 2005-2010 in  
Afghanistan, life expectancy at birth was less than forty-four years.  
Child mortality (before the age of five) is the highest in the world,  
and mortality for women in childbirth is among the highest. 850  
children die daily in Afghanistan. According to UNICEF, in the  
2003-2008 period, an astounding 59% of Afghan children under the age  
of five are considered “stunted,” and for 9% of Afghan children under  
five, malnutrition is so severe it is considered wasting. “Is this  
normal?” Hakim asks.

Kathy Kelly, Jerica Arents, and David Smith-Ferri are Co-Coordinators  
of Voices for Creative Nonviolence (www.vcnv.org). They are currently  
traveling in Afghanistan.

Article printed from www.CommonDreams.org

URL to article: http://www.commondreams.org/view/2010/10/31-4

"How is the War Economy working for You?" -- Veterans for Peace

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