These are days of cautious optimism in Afghanistan. After more than two decades of war, oppression and crop failures, people are beginning to return home and rebuild their lives in hopes of lasting peace.
For much of the last 23 years Afghanistan was plagued by natural and manmade disasters ranging from war and drought, to earthquakes and terrorism. The Soviet invasion and occupation exacted a heavy toll on the people of this Texas-sized nation. Millions fled to Iran, Pakistan and other countries. Many still remain as refugees.
The 1990's saw the withdrawal of Russian forces and the start of a brutal civil war among the former resistance factions. This was ended by the iron-fisted tactics of the Taliban, who restored peace through a social order based on a questionable interpretation of Islam.
With the overthrow of the Taliban and the democratic election of a president, Afghanistan is taking the first steps to recovery. Girls are re-entering classrooms closed to them for the last five years. Women are resuming their places in the workplace and academia. Music, once banned, is again heard in the bazaars.
Afghanistan is a conservative country that has suffered throughout history from Alexander the Great, to the British and the Russians. A banner strung up at Massoud Circle in Kabul in late 2001 was as much a boast as a plea for help. It proclaimed, "Colonialism, Communism and Terrorism died on the ash heap of Afghan History."
CRS is now in the rehabilitation phase of activities in Afghanistan helping people rebuild their homes and resettle into their communities.
Our Work at a Glance
Catholic Relief Services' program in Afghanistan immediately following September 11 concentrated on providing essential relief items such as clothing, food and bedding to returning refugees, internally displaced persons and others affected by drought, oppression and war.
During the earliest days of this emergency response CRS distributed back-to-school packets consisting of book bags, notebooks and pencils to primary school children. In addition, the agency collaborated with the University of Massachusetts to develop gender sensitive accelerated learning and teacher training programs in rural areas.
CRS is currently in the second phase of its programming in Afghanistan, rehabilitation. Rehabilitation consists of helping people to rebuild their homes, farms and basic livelihoods. This is accomplished through cash-for-work programs that allow participants to earn money by rebuilding long neglected and war damaged infrastructure such as irrigation canals and roads. CRS is also helping people to resettle in their communities and rebuild their houses. Through the rehabilitation phase CRS is building the communities in which the third phase of our work - the develop phase - will flourish.
The development phase demonstrates CRS' long-term commitment to peace and the people of Afghanistan. CRS is developing methodologies that will allow us to use our Education programs as a platform to promote peace and reconciliation.
The program in Afghanistan has benefited greatly from CRS' membership in Caritas Internationalis. We share office space and collaborate on programming with fellow Caritas members Trociare (Ireland), Caritas Internationalis (Rome), Caritas Germany and Cordaid (Netherlands). This international partnership provides the means through which CRS is able to connect with local partners who have effective and intimate working knowledge of communities in need.
One such example is the Afghan Youth and Children Development Program, a local non-governmental organization helping CRS implement its accelerated gender-based education and teacher training in the valleys north of Kabul. Other local partners implementing rehabilitation projects include the Committee for Humanitarian Assistance in Kandihar and Coordination of Afghan Relief.
CRS has been working with Afghan refugees in Pakistan for 20 years and has been active in Afghanistan for the last five years. The agency's rehabilitation and development programs are carried out by CRS staff in the main office in the capital, Kabul and in field offices in Kandihar (south) and Hirat (west). To date CRS has programmed $6.5 million in funds, but the needs of the Afghan people continue to be great.