Hope and commitment from Kabul

July 31st, 2007
by Vrinda Dar and Stefano De Santis

Dear friends of Kautilya Community,

As many of you know, Vrinda, our General Secretary, has been working in Afghanistan since 14 months as International programme Manager of an International NGO.

Since a month, Stefano is also there. He is teaching communication management in the training centre of the Aga Khan Foundation at Bamiyan, in the central highlands of Afghanistan.These are some reflections from Afghanistan that we would like to share with other fellow members of Kautilya Community. It is a way of feeling closer to Varanasi. Because that is what we feel sorry about: being away form the challenges we started in that city. On the other hand, what we are bringing here is what we learned while growing with Kautilya: the spirit of dialogue and respect amongst different religions and cultures, the steps for managing projects, the challenges of generating a team spirit, etc.

So … Afghanistan … challenging, fascinating, suffering, noble … Yes. Noble. What impresses us most is the noble psychology of the people here. Very difficult to explain. It is a kind of aristocratic behaviour that is maintained even in poverty and suffering. It is not an aristocracy of social status, not something that is coming from a sense of superiority over the others. On the contrary: it is a nobility of kindness to others, of faithfulness to oneself, of respect for the guest and the traveller, of acceptance of God’s will. It is an aura of nobility that is particularly present in the old people and in the women, but that you can see also in the young people and even in the children, with their bright and curious eyes. And it is something that the Afghan know, value and cultivate in themselves. Nobility that forged in the times of suffering adds to the natural beauty of their faces and makes the Afghan faces, probably the most beautiful in the world.

Compared with India there is much more poverty here; however there is more solidarity that makes poverty more bearable to individuals. Within one’s village, within one’s ethnic community, one always feels accepted, supported and dignified.

But how much hardship and violence have the different ethnic groups inflicted upon each other! Strangely enough the two factors seems to move hand in hand, may even be the cause of the other. Like the deep sense of Afghan hospitality for foreigners who arrive peacefully to their village and their fierce resistance to those arriving with arms and the will to command. The identity with one’s ethnic group that generates so much internal solidarity as much defensive (and hostile) attitudes to other groups. And the passion for their style of life that becomes resistance (and hostility) to any change, brought by modernity, or the Government, or the “democratic” Western alliance …

In this country of contrasts, working as an international development expert is tough and rewarding at the same time. Security is always “the problem”, and I do not mean only problems of being injured, kidnapped … but even more troubling the problem of abiding to security guidelines which forbid you to go out for shopping, walking alone in the streets, meeting friends late in the evening, driving your own vehicle … It makes you feel somehow constricted. And when to this is added the longing for your dear ones left in your country who cannot come and visit you, it gives a sort of feeling of being “confined”. It was good luck that Stefano also could find a temporary job and so could stay sometime with Vrinda. But both cannot stay for long together here (the family, Kautilya …). At the same time work here is rewarding. You feel you can make a difference. You feel motivated to work well. You can expect solidarity with the team. You can see the results of your work and the benefices to people who really need your assistance. It is more difficult to feel the same way in apparently more satisfying places.

However, there is a spiritual misery there that needs much more someone to care. Atleast here the problem is evident and the international organizations are active. But who works to give testimony to the new generations of the spiritual culture, without which civilizations are growing ever more violent, more cynic, more reciprocally competitive? Howver much we can help heal some suffering here in Afghanistan, these are consequences of spiritual misery and ignorance of other peoples and other countries. So, from here, we not only look back at Kautilya and Varanasi with a nostalgic feeling for our“clan”, we also feel more clearly that our intuition was right; that what the world now needs is dialogue, spiritual understanding, openness and solidarity between civilizations. Kautilya cannot make much, but can do a little of what is most needed. So we look forward to joining you guys physically soon and starting again to work together. In the meanwhile, please, go ahead with our project also in our name.