Jerri's Journal: Coming home

May 22, 2015

One last message as I sit in the Dubai airport waiting for the plane home.  And I confess, going from Kabul’s airport to Dubai’s airport is a fast immersion form of culture shock. Kabul’s airport is concrete, cold, grey, and dirty. And Dubai’s airport is glitter and gloss.

Midwives—a secret weapon in the battle for women’s rights:  We started today by meeting with the leaders of the Afghanistan Midwives Association.  An incredible organization. They first started up under the Taliban, getting permission to pilot some very limited health care services in a few cities and villages.  The number of midwives was gradually increasing, but in 2005 (with U.S. help), the Association became the official midwives organization for Afghanistan. They now have 3,000 members and are in every province and almost all villages now. Education is highly prized universally in Afghanistan, so the Association has established a 2-year college program with a bridge of another 2 years that results in a bachelor's of science degree, and a 4-year college program. We met the woman who will be the first graduate. And they provide family planning in almost all villages!

The province (or village) must provide a letter stating that they will support an applicant for the college program, for five years. In many villages, providing support includes providing security.

Getting out of the house, really… Midwives now hold a place of honor in most villages, including in their families. An unexpected but wonderful consequence of the midwives is the loosening of restrictions. In many villages, often a woman must get her husband’s permission to leave the house and he will accompany her (wherever she is going).  Getting permission to go to the clinic seems to be an easier request, especially since the clinics offer child care. Over time, as more women started going to the clinics, more men started giving their wives permission, and then more women started going without a male escort. And then it became easier for them to simply get out of the house for other things as well. 

Finally, chicken street:  alias for shopping. The only shopping opportunities had been at the shelters (where we bought jewelry made by the clients—gorgeous lapis, etc.) and one historic site.  So – just two hours to hit chicken street, and the Women for Afghan Women (WAW) Director of Operations and a student intern bargaining like mad to get a good price. Think little tiny shops about 10 by 12 packed to the ceiling with rugs, shawls, jewelry, whatever. Very little English among shopkeepers. Us moving in small groups but lots of quick calls with alerts to “good” shops.  

Saying goodbye: The six key people in WAW and our whole team sat down together for a cup of tea, and to share. All of us were touched in ways we never expected.  For me, it was the children so full of laughter and hope, and all that the staff was doing to help them heal. For all of us, it was the women in the program who have been injured in ways we can’t really imagine but who are determined to make it through. And it was the women and men who make WAW such a living, thriving, high touch, big heart endeavor. They often work at great risk and that does not matter to them – the women and children matter.  Courage never had a stronger face. 

We acknowledged that they must be ready to see us go – managing volunteers (as we were) is like herding chickens (a phrase we never could quite translate). They laughed and agreed.  When you think about the range of folks we met, interviewed, spent time with (usually in 12 hour days) – the WAW staff outdid themselves.

As we leave, we are remembering the now bubbly 13-year-old who was traumatized at 5 and whose father risked his life to save her and bring her to WAW, the young sisters whose father died and then were married to uncles but are now in WAW’s care and beginning to thrive, the women imprisoned for adultery who are now with their children at WAW and learning to read and write and a vocation, the couples who ran away because they were in love and are now in mediations with their families, the girls in WAW’s halfway house who are going to high school and the university. 

In the midst of so much misery, WAW has created hope and success. 

An amazing adventure!


May 13: Jerri Shaw Explores Women's Rights in Afghanistan

May 14: Adventure Begins in Kabul

May 15: International Women's Day in Afghanistan

May 18: Meetings with the First Lady of Afghanistan and Other Diplomats

May 19: Afghan Men on Women's Rights 

May 20: Medical Needs of Women in Afghanistan

May 21: Afghanistan's Female Leaders

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