What is possible?

The world seems complex, chaotic, and dangerous in this moment. And yet, over the past few decades we have made greater progress in alleviating poverty and suffering than during any other time in the history of the world.

The paradox —

Over the last 25 years, more than a billion people have lifted themselves out of extreme poverty, and the global poverty rate is now lower than it has ever been in recorded history. This is one of the greatest human achievements of our time. -World Bank Group President Jim Yong Kim

Globally, the forcibly displaced population increased in 2017 by 2.9 million. By the end of the year, 68.5 million individuals were forcibly displaced worldwide as a result of persecution, conflict, or generalized violence. As a result, the world’s forcibly displaced population remained yet again at a record high.” -UNHCR Global Trends

We should be inspired and encouraged by how a world-wide focus on poverty alleviation could have such an astounding effect on the lives of people. There has never been, in all of history, greater progress toward a more equitable world. That progress, however, comes at the same time we are seeing the record-setting forced displacement of many of those same people whose lives showed such great promise. Of the 68.5 million forcibly displaced people in the world, 40 million are languishing in the shadows of displacement camps within the borders of their own countries — far from the eyes of the world. We have proven, however, that our capacity to solve big problems is only limited by our resolve to unify and focus our efforts.

Political polarization and non-stop media coverage can numb us to the suffering of the rest of the world. We can easily be overwhelmed with a sense of helplessness in the face of such large numbers. We may have a tendency to recoil, to pull back — a luxury afforded many of us through the accident of birth. We can divorce ourselves from the realities of the world as easily as changing a television channel. This can certainly save us from the mental anguish required of engaged and compassionate people in a world rife with inequity, suffering, and palpable misery. The world’s vast social and humanitarian problems, even if we choose to ignore them, still have a way of washing up on our shores — bigger and more complicated with time.

Today, we have a better understanding of best practices for improving the lives of people. Solutions are readily available, if we have the curiosity and concern to seek them out. One of the incontrovertible conclusions is that the fastest way to peace and stability is both the education of girls and women and their equitable inclusion in the economy. A Georgetown University Institute for Women, Peace and Security report found that “women face the most severe economic exclusion in fragile and conflict-affected countries — precisely the nations that critically need their participation.” According to Save the Children’s Caroline Miles, “For every school year a girl completes, her actual income will go up between 10–20%.” Two data points illustrate the challenge in Afghanistan: 1) an estimated 3.7 million children are out-of-school — 60% of them are girls; and 2) 17 percent of Afghan women are in what is considered paid work, contrasted with 80 percent of men.

Common sense and an urgency to put effort and finite resources where they can make the greatest impact in Afghanistan point to providing women with marketable skills and education for their children — especially, but not exclusively, daughters. Decades of violence, war, and insecurity in Afghanistan have created a large number of internally displaced persons — most of whom are women and children. Displacement camps, where Afghans end up after fleeing violence and other untenable situations in their home villages, are places with few opportunities and very little hope of escaping the constraints of their new lives far from all that is familiar. This vulnerable population of women and children is a place where the greatest impact can be made in bringing peace and stability to Afghanistan.

Karadah Project and Women Education for Better Tomorrow Organization are focusing their efforts on the women in five displacement camps outside Herat, Afghanistan. In a world of inequities, these displaced and poor moms survive. This capacity to persist in some of the most austere of environments is a super power. Day after day they rise with the sun, do what is necessary to support and raise their children, and retire with the setting of the sun. Those are super powers worth nurturing. What might happen if these moms were given a chance to learn a new skill? What promise might be fulfilled if they received mentoring and opportunities to start small businesses? What would be the result of someone investing time in teaching them to read? How might things be different if their children, already academically disadvantaged, received early education intervention through a kindergarten? What would be the generational impact of helping one mother?

Mother Teresa once said, “If you can’t feed a hundred people, feed just one.” This may be small consolation when the needs seem so overwhelming, except for the one person whose needs are met.

Consider the impact of our vocational skills program in the lives of the one:

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.

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.

Perhaps our small efforts, combined with the cumulative efforts of others, will change the world.

LTC (retired) Rick Burns is founder and president of Karadah Project International, an Iowa nonprofit corporation focused on Afghanistan and Iraq.



Veteran-founded nonprofit building sustainable and long-term solutions in partnership with the people of Iraq and Afghanistan from the heart of the Midwest

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Karadah Project International

Veteran-founded nonprofit building sustainable and long-term solutions in partnership with the people of Iraq and Afghanistan from the heart of the Midwest