Aiken in Afghanistan:
"There is so much more that needs to be done"
UNICEF Ambassador Clay Aiken wrote this blog post
for Fieldnotes, reflecting on his visit to UNICEF field sites
It's not that
fun being wrong.
for me, I don't have to do it very often! HA HA!
kidding. I spend plenty of my time on the side of inaccuracy.
But, few of my misdirections or misconceptions could possibly
compare to how far off of the mark I was in my assumptions about
my trip to Afghanistan.
I doubt it
would come as a surprise that my mother was none too thrilled
when I told her I would be traveling with UNICEF to a country
that many consider to be one of the most dangerous in the world
for Americans. My brother had just returned from his second tour
as a U.S. Marine in Iraq when I let my mother know, so her blood
pressure probably stayed high even after my return. I wasn't so
at ease about it myself. Hostage takings, suicide bombings, and
insurgent attacks are all seemingly daily occurrences in many
parts of the country. At least that's what we see on TV and read
in papers and magazines.
have been more wrong about Afghanistan. And I couldn't have been
farther off target about the Afghan people. With the exception
of maybe my grandparent's house, I have never felt more welcomed.
The Afghan people are some of the most gracious and inviting people
of having their land filled with travelers and explorers, I guess
they have hospitality down to an instinctive science. Everywhere
we traveled we were greeted with warmth and welcome. Even on the
streets of Kabul and the rugged hills of Bamyan. But nowhere as
gracious as the schools and UNICEF programs that we visited. Despite
the most meager accommodations, we were always invited in and
shown every simple resource with the utmost of pride.
And, why shouldn't
they be proud. Until a few years ago, most of these students were
forbidden by the Taliban regime from going to school. And now?....
Now over 6 million children are piling into broken down buildings
and UNICEF tents everyday to catch up on the lessons that they
have missed out on for years. That's if they are lucky. Many,
if not most, haven't even the luxury of a tent. Just a dusty ground
outside in one of the world's most beautifully scenic landscapes.
And still, they come to class. Many walk for miles; for hours.
I'll tell you, there is little to show off at these schools. The
schools I visited had such limited resources that most made the
average American 3 year-old's bedroom look like a learning lab.
I can remember my own collection of books as a 2nd grader, and
it looked liked the Library of Congress compared to the school
library I saw at a school for over 2000 students. (And, I doubt
I ever read half of them.)
Yet, the hunger
and desire to read and to learn is so strong that, despite no
enforced laws making schools compulsory in Afghanistan, children
are clamoring to go to schools.
As I saw on
my trip, UNICEF is there. UNICEF is providing tents so children
can study away from the elements. UNICEF is struggling to provide
school supplies to every young boy and girl in Afghanistan who
wants to learn. UNICEF is providing literacy courses for women
who have been forbidden far too long from a right of education
that so many of us take for granted. But there is so much more
that needs to be done.
is so far from the "lost cause" that I had expected
to find in the rugged hills of south Asia. It is, I believe, one
of the world's countries with the most potential. The people are
perhaps it's most valuable natural resource. They are determined
to break through the years of oppression they have endured. They
are sponges for knowledge, and poised for success.
over in Afghanistan. It's time to get ready for amazing growth
in Afghanistan's spring.
The people... make that the COUNTRY of Afghanistan showed me and
my fellow travelers such AMAZING hospitality despite meager means.
As a people
of substantially more means... we can help UNICEF return the favor.
HERE for UNICEF Fieldnotes