Meeting the people who are benefiting: 10 days in Afghanistan
By John Norgrove
19 March 2015
I write this blog sitting in comfort on the verandah of our hut at the back of Agonda beach in Goa. Lorna and I have come here following a trip to Afghanistan where it was cold, sometimes sleeting and mostly overcast, so the contrast is very welcome, especially after a particularly foul Hebridean winter.
There were four of us representing the Foundation in Afghanistan – Lorna and I, Carola, who is a Trustee, and David, her partner. Any donors concerned that their money might be eaten up in overheads and ‘jollies’ overseas will be reassured to know that we paid the trip expenses ourselves.
During the 10 days we were there we met both Doulat and Amy, who are The Linda Norgrove Foundation in Kabul. We were able to visit lots of our existing projects and checked out several medical colleges in preparation for a new programme to provide scholarships enabling poorer girls to study to become doctors. Finally, we were able to renew our friendships with Linda’s Afghan friends who we met during our last visit in 2012.
Most of the time we were in Kabul. It was cold, overcast and muddy. The streets are dangerous for westerners so one boards a vehicle in the guest house compound and moves quickly from the car to the door of the building/compound at the destination. Offices and hotels for westerners are behind blast walls topped by razor wire. Entries are secured by heavily armed guards who search everyone.
In spite of all this, we didn’t feel at risk at any time and, if anything, the atmosphere was more relaxed that that three years ago. Mostly, the risk appeared to be down to being in the wrong place at the wrong time; very unlikely but with severe consequences if it happened.
To put the risks in context, more people are killed by respiratory ill health caused by the very poor air quality in Kabul than there are civilian casualties arising from the conflict across the whole of the country. But this isn’t as dramatic as a suicide bomber and doesn’t make the news.
Was the trip worth it? Absolutely and without question. Running a small charity can be somewhat of a slog. Mostly it involves sitting in front of a screen tapping away like everyone else when, as an OAP, you could be reading or in the garden.
OK, you feel like a ‘good egg’, but then this evaporates when self-doubt gets a hold and you think maybe you’re doing all this so people will admire you rather than from higher motives.
There are other concerns: I worry whether we promote ‘dependency culture’ by our projects. With such an unsustainable birth rate, I wonder whether projects to reduce infant and maternal mortality will lead to more suffering in the future rather than less. Will our education projects swell the numbers of unemployed graduates at the expense of self-sufficient farmers?
But the importance of this trip was meeting the people who are benefiting. Time and again we met people grateful because their lives are being transformed by our efforts and your donations. At the end of the day it’s worthwhile because all of the drudgery is about helping individuals, the good side of being human.
All of us will probably be grateful for compassion at some point. Forget that at your peril.