We Can Change the World
“In a gentle way, you can shake the world.” — Mahatma Gandhi
It is true that out of small things come that which is great. We, too often, consider our small acts of kindness and encouragement to be insignificant — too small to make a difference. In a world where needs are so great, we may be overwhelmed by the sheer magnitude of wars, violence, poverty, and disease. What difference will a small stone make if thrown into a lake of need? What might happen if ten people threw stones into the lake? What if hundreds threw stones into the lake? Eventually, the sheer number of small acts becomes a force to be reckoned with. Together, we can have the force of a storm in changing lives.
With the help of kind, compassionate, and generous friends, we continue to cast stones in the lake in an effort to make the world a better place for Afghans and Iraqis. In the past few days we completed a “small project” with immeasurable impact. Shorab is a village in western Afghanistan. Our friend, Dr. Safi Haidary, came to us with a problem. The Shorab School in rural Afghanistan, with over a thousand students in first through twelfth grade, did not have a bathroom facility. Consider, for a moment, high school girls without the privacy of a restroom. One United Nations study found that when a school had a bathroom, the attendance of girls increased by eleven percent.
The rights and equality of girls and women are not only a moral obligation but a huge opportunity. Every safe, educated, healthy, and empowered girl or woman has the potential to transform her family, community, economy, and society. -UN Foundation
Karadah Project partnered with Dr. Safi and Shindand Women Social Foundation to build a private toilet facility for the school.
Dr. Safi said of the project, “You solved the biggest problem for these girls and boys in Shorab High School.”
A small stone cast into a sea of need. The ripple effect will have generational impact.
Ramadan is a special religious celebration for Muslims. It is filled with family and food in the evening after the day’s fast. For the poor, particularly those in the displacement camps we work in, food may not be available in large quantities. At the prompting of Fatima Qatalli, our friend and director of our Women Education for Better Tomorrow partner organization in Herat, Afghanistan, we decided to give some of these families an evening meal during Ramadan. For one night, over a thousand people feasted on dates and other cultural delights. I’m reminded of Mother Theresa’s advice, “If you cannot feed a hundred people, then feed one.” Our hearts break over the suffering of so many, but we are grateful for what we can do to relieve the suffering of even the one.
Our ongoing Marketable Skills Training (MST) courses are helping displaced women pull themselves out of poverty. Our current enrollment means we are approaching one thousand women trained in our MST courses. In addition, they are receiving literacy instruction, business mentoring, and “earn as they learn” opportunities. Through a partnership with the UN World Food Program, the women receive food rations for their families during their six-month training. Their own words reveal the life-changing effect a practical education has for them:
I began participating because my husband is addicted to drugs and I must care for my four little boys. I learned many things from the carpet weaving classes. I now know how to weave the carpet and it helps me to not have to leave my children to go clean homes. I am coming to these classes to learn skills so that I can help my family.
We now have an income to buy rice and oils. We learn these skills and get food vouchers. These skills enable us to stay and work at home where we can care for our children. Before the program, we worked in the houses as cleaners and earned very little money. After joining these classes, we can now help our children and save. Thank you for bringing a change in my life!
If their husbands are jobless, these women can support their families. Step by step the society can improve. I am an example of an Afghan woman who works. I am a widow and I have seven children. If I don’t work, who will support my family? My children go to school now because of my income.
After attending these classes and spending time with the other women and teachers, I noticed psychological improvement. I can share my problems with the other women and get some help from them…These classes help me to feel strong by being able to work. These classes have empowered me.
But what of the displaced children? As important as it is to empower displaced moms to pull themselves out of poverty, we felt an equal obligation to the next generation. Education is the path out of the camps. Last May, we launched our first kindergarten classes with 130 displaced children. These children who had no school are now becoming literate in their native Dari and English. Through a partnership with Sesame Street, the children are learning valuable lessons through the Sesame Street cast of characters and an Afghan girl named Zari and her little brother Zareek. They are learning and playing and increasing in confidence. Research points to the critical importance of pre-primary education in getting children to the next levels of education. Our Women Education for Better Tomorrow partner has a plan for ensuring our kindergarten students make it to the first grade. Their future is brighter now.
Khatera, a nine-year old Afghan girl, is in need of cochlear surgery. Her window for success is closing as she gets older. Her mother, a victim of child marriage at fourteen and poverty, describes her daughter as an isolated and socially disengaged girl who has been deprived of educational opportunities. She is worried about her daughter’s future without an opportunity to get an education. If she remains deaf, she will be hidden in the shadows of society. Karadah Project is partnering with the Herat (Afghanistan) Rotary Club to raise the funds necessary to send her to another country for the surgery; Afghanistan does not have the capability to perform the surgery.
I spent almost a decade deploying to Iraq and Afghanistan as a US Army officer. I carry with me memories of great need and devastation, but also of friendships with people of courage and commitment to making their countries better. I founded Karadah Project to honor those brave Iraqi and Afghan friends, some of whom have been killed and many who continue to risk their lives in the pursuit of peace and stability.
Through trusted friends, Karadah Project is making a tremendous impact in the lives of some of the the most vulnerable. Things we take for granted — a toilet, a meal, an education — are remarkable resources. If a friend of yours had a broken toilet, you’d run to the home improvement store and drop $300 for a new one right now. Solutions in Iraq and Afghanistan aren’t quite that simple, but the financial impact of that $300 is even greater.
Please consider making a contribution to Karadah Project right now to keep our work going. Help us change the world.
LTC (retired) Rick Burns is founder and president of Karadah Project International, an Iowa nonprofit corporation focused on Afghanistan and Iraq.