Educators tell students about their work in Afghanistan

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WILLIAMSTOWN — Google the country “Afghanistan,” and some of the first entries are news headlines like “Kandahar hit by two car bombs,” and “U.N. Workers Missing in Afghanistan.”

Incidents like these are frequently publicized by the media. What is less well-known is the positive work being done in four Afghanistan provinces by Catholic Relief Services.

On the morning of Friday, April 16, a Catholic Relief Service staff member and her Afghan colleagues visited St. Mary School in Williamstown to speak of their work in the country.

As the official international relief and development agency of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, working in 100-plus countries, CRS began work in Afghanistan in 1998, and in 2002, set up a permanent presence, with almost 400 staff members working in the provinces of Heart, Ghor, Bamiyan and Kabul City.

For the past two decades, the country has been plagued by war, drought, oppression, and crop failures that have led to low life-expectancy, illiteracy, and limited access to resources such as clean water, electricity, and sanitation.

With the overthrow of the Taliban, and the 2001 democratic election of a president, the sixth-poorest country in the world is rebuilding, and Catholic Relief Services has joined in the effort. The organization has been working in rural and urban areas of the country, providing such services as agricultural, educational, emergency response, water and livelihood security, and women’s programs.

Community-led education programs have contributed to more than 600 educational classes, with some 13,500 students, and some 700 teachers. As well, girls are moving back into the classrooms, women are active in the workplace and schools, and those illiterate are learning to read and write.

“We’re giving (people) an opportunity to learn, and better themselves,” said Rob Kearney, a regional representative for CRS.

The Afghanistan residents “want education, peace,” mentioned Michaela Egger, education program manager for CRS in Afghanistan, who spoke with the students. “There’s hope for the future.”

She recalled what an Afghan teacher, who had taught himself and his daughter to read, had said to her about CRS’ efforts: “Knowledge. It’s the most useful thing someone can share with you, because it never goes away.”

Egger emphasized the importance of the multi-city U.S. trip, to different schools, to discuss Afghanistan and its hope for the future.

“When people think of Afghanistan, they think only of what they hear, see on the news … the war, a dire picture. But there’s so much hope, so many opportunities.”

“As Catholics, we are called to action, to support our brothers and sisters in Afghanistan, to be more aware, pray for them, and do what we can.”

At the end of the presentation, the St. Mary’s students promised the CRS representative that they would pray for their counterparts in Afghanistan, and spread the word about the work that is being done in the country, as well as give them encouragement.

“We would tell them not to stop believing, and don’t give up hope,” said one St. Mary’s student.

For more information on CRS’ work in Afghanistan, go to http://crs.org/Afghanistan/