Safely Home

Dear Friends,

It has been difficult for me to continue to make entires to my blog.  While I was traveling in Afghanistan I didn’t feel safe to continue to blog and after I got home I was working to recover and find a bit of normalcy.  That I found in working in my garden that was completely over grown.  My husband, frank and I worked to reclaim it and harvest the many juicy ripe tomatoes. We have been processing and “putting by” the produce.

The most grounding and healing piece so far was a short overnight in the Adirondacks where Frank had been when he heard the news about Tom’s untimely death. To ease his own grief he and another friend made a pew in a cathedral in the woods of old growth pines.  We made our pilgrimage to visit the bench and hang out with the loons.

The Tom Little Memorial Pew located in the Adirondacks which he loved.

Across the next few days I will be posting concerning several upcoming programs I will be giving concerning my experiences in Afghanistan this trip.  Please mark your calendars Friday September 17th talk back and fundraiser to pay for this last trip including a donation to the Mir Taqi Shah school for uniforms for the girls.  Life Goes ON — August in Afghanistan, a photography exhibit dedicated to Tom Little and the Nuristan Medical Eye camp team will have an opening reception first Friday October 1.  Watch for the particulars!

I wish to thank you all from the bottom of my heart for all the encouragement and support that you have given me as I dealt with the shock of Tom and his friends deaths and my own vulnerability as I traveled inAfghanistan.  It was very good to get home appreciating the safety and love on my own home, family and friends.

In graditude.

Connie

Loss of a Dear Friend and Mentor

The Mourner.

By now many of you will have heard of the killing of the NOOR eye team led by my dear friend Tom Little. Tom was/is one of those special souls whose very life is dedicated to service – in Tom’s case service to the medical needs of the Afghan people.  It was a vital part of him just like his skin was a vital part of his being able to live. This was evident as I would follow him as he worked in Afghanistan.  Mr. Tom was deeply loved and respected by those who he worked with, helped medically or just talked with.  To watch him drop what he was doing to help examine someone’s eyes and give them a pair of corrective lens or deal with a medical issue with no questions asked was a treat. Then he would pick up where he had left off or move to the next task at hand.  That could have included fixing a piece of equipment, dealing with a government minister or organizing the next project, soothing a difficult relationship and, yes, always chasing the needed funding to keep the program running and expanding to cover as many of the needs as the program could.

It didn’t matter who you where or which side of the political conflict you were on. It was about the people and making their lives better and politic often got in the way. The conflicts were always considered and by no means dictated action. Tom knew that there was risk involved but this did not stop him from working to make a difference for the people he served in Afghanistan. This work was what he loved.

My last recollection of Tom was in July when he was in the US for a short time.  We were sitting under the wysteria on my back porch around a table filled with good food surrounded by family and friends. As would always seem to happen, I was filled with questions, the jest being how did he see things were currently in Afghanistan? I was looking for the wisdom and incite he always had as Tom and Libby openly shared their knowledge and observations from years of experience. Tom responded with a certain amount of frustration about what he and his wife were yet again experiencing.  And then, there was that ray of hope as they both spoke of something in their work that inspired them to continue to see a future of promise in this complicated country. To Tom and Libby it was simple – service for the greater good.  Tom spoke of the work he was doing and his forth coming trip into Nuristan a place he saw with great need.  Yes, he always saw that ray of light.  Sometimes he had to mumble and grumble at the time things would take or something that had happened.  In the end often with a sense of humor the ray would be discovered and he would move to the next  project. These acts of caring and kindness were received with great gratitude from those he served.

I have been through every emotion you can think of and then some, while still carrying out why I am here. Each day we move a bit forward. You will see photos and more information about NOOR on this site from previous journeys I have made to be with Tom and Libby and to document the NOOR project. Many of you know I have continued to support IAM and NOOR as they work in Afghanistan by speaking of their work and encouraging others to because of the difference I see it has made in the lives of the Afghans they train and serve. A big thank you to all who have contributed and let us continue.

I was surprised to find how quickly my site was discovered by the press….I guess a better way of saying it is that I wasn’t prepared to comment much less negotiate over costs for using photographs so I graciously declined.

Thank you to all of you who continue to hold us in your thoughts. I have been touched and supported by each of you.

In gratitude,

Connie

Arival to Kabul and first days

Travel is always an adventure and one needs to be prepared to be flexible and traveling to Afghanistan is no exception. A direct flight from JFK brought us to Dubai to a hotel for a few hours of rest before the last leg to Kabul, coming through the Los Vegas of the Arab world. The lobby alone would dazzle even a blind person. The sense of space and the abundance of it is evident in their architecture.

Renaissance Dubai Hotel

We caught our 3:30 flight to Kabul on one of the better quality planes I have taken on this leg. I had a window seat so I could watch the sun rise and see the bed of clouds form the window.

Bed of clouds over….

We flew though a pure white-out to emerge to a misty and rainy Kabul something one doesn’t see or experience very often. There even was water in the river you fly over on the landing pattern. As the Afghan said who helped us with the luggage, “Why have an umbrella when you can feel the rain.”

The Kabul River.

Traffic in Afghanistan leaves a lot to be desired but creates a feast for the eyes!

Traffic jam.

Those who share the road.

Deliveries being made.

One of the first places that we visited was the Center for Contemporary Arts Afghanistan, a girls art school run by Rahraw Omerzad. the young women have produced some very powerful work which can be seen by visiting their web site. ww.ccaa.org.af   They have shown their work internationally and a show will be traveling in the US beginning in New Orleans soon.

Rahraw Omerzad director of Center for Contemporary Arts Afghanistan

The young women learn traditional Afghan art such as miniature painting as well as working to create a new form of Contemporary Afghan art.

Marzia and two of her miniatures.

Young women’s paintings from CCAA

Rahraw states. “Women have lots of things to say.” We were greatly moved by the power of these young women’s visual voices. They do not have their own gallery and have shown in a number of places in Kabul including a newly build caravanserai in Barbur’s Gardens that was built following the plan of a much earlier building.. They also held an exhibition of heir work in the destroyed shell of one of the popular cinema’s. I have often driven and walked by this building intrigued by the circular stair and the elegance of what this represented in the lives of the residents of Kabul who loved the cinema. CCAA would love to turn this into a gallery. Once again I wish I had unlimited resources so I could wave a wand and say, “It is so.” Art can be an amazing opening for expression of things that are often unsaid that need a voice particularly for these young women.

Cinema now covered with ads and political posters.

They even had an exhibit of instillation made from found objects such as all the plastic water bottles, old shoes, shovels, medicine, etc.

Trash art

Medical robot made from pills and pill bottles.

The Markets as always a as diverse as anywhere.

Kitchen implements.

A new purchase of a frying pan or a hat.

Man begging.

And children are every where many with no true homes.

Not the happiest child I have seen here.

And the last photo for this entry was so cute I couldn’t resist taking  grab shot out of the window.

The latest fashion - code pink would be proud.

So far we are both well and staying safe and thank  you all for you good wishes ad continued interest.

Returning to Afghanistan

© Chimney pots sunset Limoges, France May 2010

I thought I would include this shot taken in France  while I was traveling with a colleague for work to let you all know that Afghanistan is not the only place I travel.  That said I will be returning Monday to Afghanistan for a month.

I have been writing lately of our efforts to build a well in Mir Taqi Shah, a village south of Kabul.  Now that it is up and operational [see previous blog entry] I will be in the village with Fahima Vorgetts (Afghan Women’s Fund) in late August to see first hand the effects of this project.  I will have the privilege and honor of visiting some of Fahima’s other projects around Kabul.

Traveling half way around the world I wanted to have a bit more time in Afghanistan so I contacted my long time friends Tom and Libby Little who have been working in Afghanistan for the past 30 years (National Organization of Ophthalmic Rehabilitation – see previous entries and photo galleries). Before I heard back from Tom and the day before my birthday I received an amazing offer from  Diana Tacey, executive director of ChildLight Foundation for Afghan Children   www.childlightfoundation.org.  I have never met Diana however we have corresponded and talked on the phone.  We discovered we are kindred spirits  who care deeply for the Afghan people wanting to lend a hand assisting them as they work to recover from years of continuing war which has thrust them in to  and keep them in poverty in many places across the country.  She invited me to travel with her in the beginning of August visiting women’s prisons around the country.

I will be adding to this blog from on the road when it is possible to do so.  If you would like to follow our travels please click the “About Connie” in the tool bar at the top of this page, scroll to the bottom and check the  box “subscribe by email to this post”.  I do hope that many of you will join me on this journey.

In gratitude for your love and supporrt,

Connie

The Well Has Been Built!

Dear friends,

The exciting news is that the well was built in Mir Taqi Shah in June in time for the planting season.  Fahima Vorgetts, from Women for Afghan Women and the Afghan Women’s Fund wrote in her most recent Newsletter of her  experiences in June.

Hooking up the generator to the well head.

“In Mir Taqi Shah we dug a well for irrigation and clean water with the help and sponsorship of Women against War in Albany, New York.  The AWF and villagers are most grateful to this organization. A donated generator will pump the well water.”

The dome for school rooms being assembled.

Fahima continues, “We also built three fiberglass dome buildings to use as a school. the domes measure 19 feet by 19 feet and will accommodate 30 students.  We provided school supplies for 150 girls and over 50 women. The domes will be the first girls’ school of this village. The women are eager to form their own shora but for now they are coming to literacy classes.  The domes will also accommodate the new shora.”

Woman against the War continues to raise funds for Mir Taqi Shah and will be hosting several events in October.  The funds will be used to continue the women’s literacy program as well as begin a women’s shora or coop to help them develop economically meeting their request.   Watch for information concerning these events in future entries.

In gratitude for all your support,

Connie

Well is being built!

Two days ago I received a short email from Fahima Vorgetts our “on the ground” project coordinator. I wish to share what she has to say:

I am in Afghanistan. Went to Mir Taqi Shah [“our” village] twice so far.  The well has started to be built.  I am starting literacy classes for women. Yesterday, went and took school supplies for 300 women and girls.  There is no girls school yet but we are starting it.  The preliminary work is being done just waiting yo find a better place to rent for now. As of today, their classes will operate in a doctor’s home who rented us three rooms. I am using the $ that I raised for the school in Laghman. The Laghman school is being built by the government and another funder which makes me very happy.

 

 

 

Fahima Vorgetts smiling while speaking to students at Union College.

 

I am left with some extra $ that I’ll use for many women shoras [cooperative] and schools.


I [Connie] am humbled that we have made such a strong start!  I will be traveling with Fahima to visit the village in August and will document the progress.

We have another fundraiser for the Afghan Well Project coming up May 16th.  So please consider coming and supporting this project!

WOMEN AGAINST WAR
invites you to a special benefit performance of
Albany Civic Theater’s production of the American Classic

OUR TOWN by Thornton Wilder

Sunday evening, May 16th at 8:00 pm

 

“In this moment when the world is fractured by hate, fear and violence, it is critical that we tell stories that reveal our connectedness, not our isolation and our. . . responsibility to one another . . .” Critic Anna D. Shapiro on Wilder’s Our Town.

Ticket donation:  $12 – 20

Afghan delicacies and silent auction starts @7:00 pm in lobby of ACT

Help us support the lives of the 120 families who live in the Afghan village of Mir Taqi Shah whose hopes and dreams are as precious as ours. Let’s help them rebuild the infrastructure of their lives which has been destroyed by decades of war.  Proceeds from this life-affirming play will go to the Women Against War Afghan Well Project. http://www.womenagainstwar.org/women_against_war_afghanistan_pr.htm or info@womenagainstwar.org

Albany Civic Theatre, 235 Second Avenue , Albany, NY

Directions are available at: http://www.albanycivictheater.org/info.html

For tickets:

Call Box Office reservations:  518-462-1297

Ask for special benefit performance, May 16 @ 8:00 pm

Or

WAW ticket sales coordinator: Barbara Spring, 518-772-2290, barbarakspring4@msn.com

On another note I leave with a colleague for France in a couple of hours.  We are lucky to have a day in Paris before we head to the village of Oradour to inspect, pack and crate the NYS Museum’s collection of World Trade Center objects that have been on exhibit there for the past two years.

Fahima Vorgetts Returns to the Capital District

Women Against War is bringing back Fahima Vorgetts to speak at more Capital District locations. Please come hear Fahima talk about the impact of the US military occupation and her development work in Afghanistan – including the Afghan Well Project to bring clean drinking water & irrigation to the village of Mir Taqi Shah, for which Women Against War is raising the needed $10,000.

Fahima in Afghanistan.

All events free and open to the public.

Opportunities to donate to the Afghan Well Project, postcards for Congress & literature will be available.

Women Against War sponsors:
Fahima Vorgetts of Women for Afghan Women Speaking with Slides

Sunday, March 7, 2010
12:30-1:15 PM Afghanistan’s Heartbreak,
Afghanistan’s Hope. Islamic Center of the
Capital District, 21 Lansing Rd, Schenectady.

Tuesday, March 9, 2010
12:50-1:45 PM Afghanistan’s Heartbreak,
Afghanistan’s Hope. Pizza & Politics series.
Union College, Social Science104.

7:00 PM Mercy Center, 310 So. Manning Blvd.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010 7:30 PM.
The Plight of Women in the Afghan War.
University at Albany, Humanities, Rm. 137.
Co-sponsored by Women’s Studies/IRO, UUP & Women Against War.

Fahima Vorgetts, an Afghan-American from Maryland, fled Afghanistan during the Soviet invasion. Fahima has dedicated her life’s work to improving the conditions of women in her native country. She spent May 2009 in Afghanistan, where she travels several times each year.

Fahima has been involved in other well projects, opening new schools for girls and literacy classes for women, creating income-generating projects for widows, and arranging for the shipment of medical and school supplies and clothing to refugees.

Fahima has addressed the United Nations and traveled widely speaking at university conferences and religious organizations, appeared on many television and radio programs, including the BBC and NPR and been featured in articles in the Baltimore Sun and the Washington Post.

Fahima is the winner of several awards from peace and human rights organizations. She is an inspiring, charismatic speaker who possesses wisdom on the realities in Afghanistan and recommendations on how the US should and should not be involved.

For information: Info@WomenAgainstWar.org 518-426-0710