The Roots of Change: Lyla Speaks with Barakat Alumni about Problems and Solutions for Afghanistan

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Check out this great post from the field – Lyla sat with former Barakat students and got their points of view on issues in Afghanistan, and what change in the future will look like:

How many of us can say we stay in touch with our elementary schools? One of my tasks in Pakistan is to meet with some of Barakat’s former students.  In my first blog I wrote about the way many of these students use Facebook to stay in touch with their alma mater.  On Sunday I got to meet a few of them.

 

Education will give this generation of Afghan children in Pakistan the chance to strengthen their communities and solve social problems.

 

Naveed is a well-spoken young man of 18.  He is in high school and wants to become a pediatrician.  Next to him sat Abdul Mujid, recently married and with hopes of becoming an engineer.  Finally there was Saeed Ullah, who is also finishing high school and wants to become a wrestler.  He names Arnold Schwarzenagger as his biggest role model.

In introducing themselves to me, each of them talked about their hopes for the future of their country.  Naveed and Abdul Mujid both hope to promote education.  Saeed Ullah hopes to follow in Arnold’s footsteps and enter politics after a successful career as a pro wrestler.

When I asked them about their country’s past, they listed illiteracy and poverty as some of its greatest challenges.  The Taliban used to scare people away from school, they told me, especially girls.  “Our parents’ generation tells us many stories about what Afghanistan was like in the past, but all the stories are sad.”

“And what about the future?” I asked. “What stories do you and your friends share about Afghanistan’s future?”  I was met with three blank stares.

Naveed looked at his friends and smiled, realizing I didn’t understand.  We don’t talk about the future of Afghanistan together, he said.  “I’ve only been there once.  How can I say what should or shouldn’t happen?”  Abdul Mujid and Saeed Ullah nodded in agreement.  “We’ve hardly seen Afghanistan.  When we bring it up in conversation, people tell us to stop talking because we don’t know [the situation].”

If I got that response every time I talked about the future of my country, I’d probably stop talking, too.

Later on I posed the same question to another former Barakat student.  He tried patiently to paint the picture for me.

“Let’s say you are an American but lived your whole life in Pakistan.  You were born and raised here.  Should you be the one planning America’s future?” he asked.

While I see his point, I believe the situation for Afghanistan is different. 3.6 million Afghans currently live outside of Afghanistan –  many fled as a result of the Soviet Invasion in the  of Afghans have fled their country over the last four decades, and many more have been born on foreign soil.  But just as this does not make them less Afghan – it does not rob them of the right, no, the responsibility, of dreaming about their homeland’s future.  Together.

Back to the three young men who sat in front of me: all of them have individual hopes for their future.  They see what kind of opportunities education has afforded them, and they want this for all Afghans.  But they’re not yet dreaming together.

“If you aren’t dreaming about Afghanistan’s future with each other, who is?”  Again I was met with silence.

“If you aren’t, you can be sure that someone else is,” I went on.  “And you may not like what they plan.”

“That’s true,” said Naveed eventually.  “It’s just not something we talk about together.”

Each of these young men has a dream about what their future will look like.  All of them want to return home eventually, to a country they’ve barely seen but which is still theirs.  Their dreams are individual, as are all of ours to some extent.  We start dreaming about what we know, what we can control.  Most eighteen-year-olds don’t feel like they can control a country ravaged by generations of war and “help” from its neighbors far and wide, these three included. But eventually, I suspect their desire to provide the next generation with a better life than they have–which is how each of them ended up in a Barakat school, incidentally–will draw them from their individual dreams to a communal dream.

I’m looking forward to what a doctor, an engineer and a pro-wrestler cum politician can do together.

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