You’re not the only one talking!

A great friend of mine and amazing woman, Jayne Cravens has just added a new resource to her website with information and tips on how to build staff capacities to communicate and present. The information she has posted was developed while she was in Kabul, Afghanistan, working with the Ministry of Rural Rehabilitation and Development. While she was there, she not only did outreach work, she developed materials to teach the local staff how to do the outreach themselves. (Yeah for capacity building!!)

A young man is presenting the objectives, acheivments and outcomes of this workshop for other Afghans residents in Sang Takht District.
A young man is presenting the objectives, acheivments and outcomes of this workshop for other Afghans residents in Sang Takht District.

As she points out,

Marketing and public relations is never just one person’s responsibility at an organization, regardless of everyone’s job titles; everyone at an organization will interact with other staff, partner organizations, potential supporters and the general public at some point, and therefore, everyone needs to be able to talk or to write clearly about his or her own work and that of the organization overall.

What’s really cool, is that she has made these materials available online – and you can customize them to fit your own needs. (Double yeah for more capacity building!)

Included on the site are

  • a workshop for women in strict religious cultures to cultivate their presentation and public speaking skills
  • a workshop and tip sheet to help staff write better reports
  • a slide presentation to help staff take photos in the field that will serve a variety of communications and reporting purposes

Check it out, pass it along. Its a great resource!

The Punishment of Virtue

punishment of virtue

I have (finally!) finished reading “The Punishment of Virtue; Inside Afghanistan After the Taliban,” by Sarah Chayes. It took as lot longer than I thought it would to finish it. I am both sorry and glad it is over.

This is an intriguing and complex look at warlordism in Afghanistan. It is at times thrilling, a true page turner, made even more exciting by the fact that it is a true insider’s account of post 9-11 Afghanistan. Sarah Chayes certainly knows Afghanistan like no one else – she has lived and worked there, researched elusive primary sources and intimately mingled with leaders throughout the country. She does an amazing job of explaining warlordism, its roots and current implications, though sometimes the purely historical chapter can be a bit of a laborious read.

That being said, I have a few complaints.

Ms. Chayes’s background is in radio- it was as a reporter for NPR that she first went to Afghanistan. There are times in this book that it seems written for radio, rather than print. Not a lot, but enough to make you reread a sentence here and there to make sure you understand. There were many times, too, when the descriptions got overly multisyllabic – lots of million dollar words – enough to detract from the setting she was trying so hard to describe. Its been a long time since I needed a dictionary so often while reading a book in English. Her command of vocabulary is impressive- just sometimes a little disruptive.

Beyond writing style, Ms. Chayes sets herself apart from other foreigners in country. She more than once looks down on aid workers, chastising them for their Thursday night parties and their lack of continuity (in this case not staying in country long enough). She also criticized aid organizations for “being played” by the Afghans, Pakistanis and Americans. That aid becomes political is to some degree inevitable in any country. She condemns them with an attitude of knowing better, when in fact in the end, she doesn’t.

Its absolutely beguiling how she places herself right in the middle of reconstruction politics. She is certainly well connected, working personally with local governors, police chiefs, and the president’s brother. She also holds company with US ambassadorial and military higher ups, Afghan cabinet members and President Karzai himself. Its difficult to tell sometimes, however, whether she is a trusted consult or an opinionated pest. She certainly has strong and well founded opinions of what needed to happen, but it felt like she shared them in such patronizing ways. For example, a memo she drafted for President Karzai was entitled, “How to Fire a Warlord in 8 Easy Steps.” Having never met President Karzai, I guess I can’t judge, but it seems like offering him something akin to “Running Afghanistan for Dummies” is a bit pompous.

All in all, it is a very good book. Ms. Chayes has left no stone unturned in this book. It makes me wish I had paid more attention to names and titles during the Afghan elections, and it certainly makes me more aware of the politics going on today. It is a must read for anyone interested in Afghan politics, development or history. You will learn a lot from this book. You will look at Afghanistan a little differently after reading it. It might take you a little longer than you might think (to get through the history chapters) but you’ll be glad you did.

World Refugee Day (ii)

Afghan Refugee

June 20 is World Refugee Day. What do you know about the world’s refugee problem? Did you know there are more than 40 MILLION refugees in the world today? And that rather than shrinking, that number is growing? Between 2005 and 2006, the number of refugees increased 14% to a total of 9.9 million!
The largest group were the 2.1 million Afghans still living outside their homeland. The Iraqis were second, followed by 686,000 Sudanese; Somalis, 460,000 and people from Congo and Burundi, about 400,000 each. (The 9.9 million total does not include the 4.3 million Palestinian refugees nor 24.5 million internally displased persons, who are basically refugees who have fled to other parts of their own country)

In Quetta, Pakistan, the government and UNHCR are agressively working on repatriating Afghan refugees by closing two camps, Pir Alizai by July 31 and Girdi Jungle, by August 31. These are in addition to the camp closings along the North Waziristan tribal area near the border by the end of this month.

The fastest growing population of refuess is Iraqi. Nearly 4 million people have been displaced by violence- 1.9 million within Iraq, and 2 million to neighboring countries. And those countries, Jordan, Lebenona, and Syria are beginning to feel the strain of hosting these new populations. According to Refugees International, “Syria and Jordan are rapidly becoming overwhelmed by the numbers of Iraqis seeking refuge in their urban centers. Jordan, Lebanon and Syria consider Iraqis as ‘guests’ rather than refugees fleeing violence. None of these countries allows Iraqis to work. Although Syria is maintaining its “open door policy” in the name of pan-Arabism, it has begun imposing restrictions on Iraqi refugees, such as charges for healthcare that used to be free. In Jordan, Iraqis have to pay for the most basic services, and live in constant fear of deportation. It is also becoming increasingly difficult for Iraqis to enter Jordan or to renew their visas to remain in country.”

And of course, there is Darfur. Years of fighting and violence has displaced more than 2 million people in the region, killed more than 400,00 and the violence continues.

In addition to protecting and capacity building, advocacy is one of the UNHCR’s major tasks. And how does one advocate in the 21st century? Video, the internet and email are a major part of today’s refugee advocacy.

Darfur Is Dying is the result of competition bringing together technology and activism to help stop the genocide in Darfur. It is a “narrative based simulation where the user, from the perspective of a displaced Darfurian, negotiates forces that threaten the survival of his/her refugee camp.”

Eyes on Darfur is an amazing project by Amnesty International using high resolution satellite imagery to let you literally watch over 12 highly vulnerable villages in the conflict region. It is definatley worth a visit. Also available on the site is a way to send a letter to the Sudanese president and Ambassador in support of protecting these villages.

The Education for Peace in Iraq Center (EPIC) has a page that allows you to email your congressional representatives to encourage them to pass legislation to:
-Sufficient funding for the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees and UN agencies
-Support for host governments and non-governmental organizations to provide shelter, health, nutrition, education, and other needs
– To protect the most vulnerable Iraqis such as women-headed households, unaccompanied children, or those in danger because they worked for the U.S. or a related Western organization.

Many humanitarian organizations have email campaigns. Make sure you check with your favorite to see if they have a special campaign for World Refugee Day.

Film & Video
Film is a very powerful media and it can be used for both education and advocacy.
FilmAid International‘s mission is to use the power of film to promote health, strengthen communities and enrich the lives of the world’s vulnerable and uprooted. In East Africa, Afghanistan, Macedonia and the US gulf Coast, FilmAid Int’l has several programs, including evening feature screenings, daytime educational screenings, a participatory video project called “My Reel Life,” and a youth video exchange project for displaced hurricane Katrina victims.

To learn more about refugees, and their lives and struggles, whether in camps, repatriated to their home country or relocated to a new one, PBS’s Point of View Documentary series has two new films airing this season.

Sierra Leone’s Refugee All Stars
If the refugee is today’s tragic icon of a war-torn world, then Sierra Leone’s Refugee All Stars, a reggae-inflected band born in the camps of West Africa, represents a real-life story of survival and hope. The six-member Refugee All Stars came together in Guinea after civil war forced them from their native Sierra Leone. Traumatized by physical injuries and the brutal loss of family and community, they fight back with the only means they have — music. The result, as shown in “Sierra Leone’s Refugee All Stars,” is a tableau of tragedy transformed by the band’s inspiring determination to sing and be heard. A Diverse Voices Project co-production.

Rain in a Dry Land
How do you measure the distance from an African village to an American city? What does it mean to be a refugee in today’s “global village”? “Rain in a Dry Land” provides eye-opening answers as it chronicles the fortunes of two Somali Bantu families transported by relief agencies from years of civil war and refugee life to Atlanta, Georgia, and Springfield, Massachusetts.

Just Who are the Bombers?

A few days ago I read a very disturbing article about the Taliban’s recruitment of people with disabilities. After yesterday’s suicide bombing in Kabul, I thought I would share it. The image that haunts me is of a man with obvious mental disabilities who had been recruited by the Taliban to be a suicide bomber. He showed the reporter where he would collect his payment after the bombing. He did not understand that he would die, too.

I cannot find that exact article, but here is one that explains the Taliban’s recruitment of people with disabilities.

Development Radio Goes to Afghanistan

(A special thanks to Jayne in Kabul for bringing this to my attention)

A new radio program has hit the airwaves in Afghanistan. “Let’s Build Our Village” is a soap opera that helps Afghans from Kabul to the rural regions learn about such development issues as democracy and women’s issues. The full article is from US News and World Report.

While development centered soaps may be new in Afghanistan, they have been used for years in other parts of the world. One particularly successful TV soap is called “Sexto Sentido.” describes it best this way: “If the characters of ‘Friends’ were teenagers, lived in Nicaragua, and had a social conscience to deal with personal and social problems and the importance of solidarity, the result would likely be “Sexto Sentido,” Nicaragua’s only homegrown novela. In just one season this ‘social soap’ has captured 70% of the TV audience in its time slot.”

In one episode the teens are in class and there is a lecture about HIV/AIDS. The director told the extras in the scene that the actors playing the lecturers actually were HIV positive. This way the extras would have genuine reactions, and some were afraid to shake hands. After the shoot the director told them the truth and discussed with them their feelings and opinions. This “after the show” discussion was also shot and aired in the series.

There is a documentary about the development and creation of Sexto Sentido, called Novela, Novela. The official site is in Spanish, but a great Enlish description can be found on the Media that Matters Film Festival Website.