Thursday, December 07, 2006
Mazar Sharif, Parwan, Herat, Bamyan . . .
As Athena was landing safely at Kabul International, Bpeace expanded its presence further in the provinces! Today was kick-off day at Train the Trainer Sessions with the Afghan Women's Business Federation. In July there were 12 student teachers, today 22 . . .many from the provinces. Topic: How to Understand Fashion Trends, led by Pam with an assist by Kate. (Leadership for development of this module at home was Pam and fellow Bpeacer Debbie Farah, both experienced retailers.)
Great AHA moments in discussion over integrating Afghan soul and modernism in ways that are culturally appropriate yet reflect today's trends and tastes. A western cinched waist on a mini-dress to become a big Afghan embroidered belt over a long sweater tunic in Kabul and in Kandahar, simple embroidery around the waistline.
So great to finally meet Cristina Grecu from CIPE! Months of email conversation culminating in this week's training. Great day.
Now while Pam and Kate were comfortable (and being served tea) at the AWBF training center, Steve and Najib were back on work detail for RKA. Painter hired ($10 a day) and new paint color chosen.
Notes from Steve's Blonde Ambition Tour . . .
Najib and I returned to the paint store first thing, hoping to exchange 4 gallons of "blush white" paint for "flat white" paint. This was the 4th trip back to the store to either purchase or exchange paint, as we were having great difficulty matching the pantone shade 11-0907 that had been selected. I believe that we had been to just about every paint store in west Kabul.
The shop owner laughed when he saw us enter, paint cans in hand. Najib began to explain the need for the exchange. I told Najib to merely explain that the women had again changed their minds. This sent the shop owner into gales of laughter, speaking in rapid fire Dari that Najib quickly translated as "Yes, they are powerful". We all agreed, shaking our heads and laughing in our shared experience!
Athena landed and went to work. Well not right to work as immediately upon her arrival, Steve and Najib treated Athena to a yummy kebob lunch at a locals restaurant where the tall blonde was the lone goddess in a sea of 65 men. No one wanted to sit next to her so Najib and Steve came to the rescue.
After picking up Laila they were off to a meeting at Hanifa's school: The Oxford Scientific and Cultural Association. Steve and Athena had been tasked by Toni, Marla and Carol Fallon (Hanifa's mentor) to assess the school from top to bottom -- the teachers, equipment, facilities, curriculum, teaching methodologies, materials, text books, and students - with a focus on English and computer classes.
They were greeted by Hanifa and an enthusiastic group of teachers. After a long conversation and a tour of the school, Steve and Athena came away with a clear picture of the strengths, challenges, and opportunities that Hanifa faces. The good news is that the teachers are passionate and believe in what they are doing. Hanifa has clearly identified a viable business opportunity. She has 245 students paying to study English and computers -- 150 boys and 95 girls. The students are willing to travel long distances on foot to come to her school.
But the challenges are substantial. The English teachers do not speak English well. They had a hard time understanding Steve and Athena and the experience was mutual. Hanifa could not have assessed their skills since she does not speak English herself. The school has one laptop computer and no electricity. The nine-room facility is unheated, many windows are broken and there is almost no furniture. The students and teachers are clearly a committed bunch to study and teach in these conditions.
The business and educational opportunity here is huge and there is a lot to do to leverage that opportunity. The first and most critical step is for the teachers to significantly improve their English.
The Bpeace team is considering all the options. We believe in Hanifa and are impressed with the big steps she has already taken to make her dream a reality. Our part will be to help her strengthen the foundations of her vision so she can be truly successful in this important venture.
Tonite we had our first team dinner. Dumplings on the buffet. Hoorah to be together at last. Here with a contingent of military type folks (some still in, most consultants). Lots of side arms at the dinner table. Pakistan Foreign Minister is also visiting with a delegation, a bunch of narcotics units and a group of women who look like they are headed to a mid-western shopping mall. We can't figure THEM out. Interesting scene with all the various "work costumes". The military guys are apparently training the Afghani police. Work out with some of them each morning in the gym at the Serena (Kate discovered that if you run early, before people start firing up their heaters all over town, you can breathe, kinda). Met one of them at breakfast and again at dinner. Turns out he retired colonel working for Dyncorp. Been living at Serena for a year. Hotel warden. Nice way about him as he sort of checked us out. Toni and Marla you will be happy to know that he was very satisfied when he inquired whether we had registered at the US Embassy and we were able to say YES.
Thinking of you all.
Sure you'll leave behind the electric drill and measuring tapes that you brought to fix up the store. But more importantly you're leaving behind knoweldge and hope for hundreds of Afghans.
Thank you Steve, Pam, Athena and Kate carrying the Bpeace flag forward with passion, style and excellence.
Pam, Kate, Athena and Steve - you make it all sound easy, but we are all well aware of the tremendous challenges you are facing and continue to be in awe of your feats.
Much love and thank you,
Reading the blog makes me wistful. It sounds as though you're reveling in the moments together and with our associates and friends. I'm thrilled to know you're safe and happy and exhilarated by the work.
Sending you love,