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I Told the US Government to Start Trusting Us

13 November 2009 One Comment

Suraya Pakzad

Suraya Pakzad


Editor’s Note: Suraya was in Washington on November 11 to receive the Peace X Peace Voice of Peace Award.

In 1996 when the Taliban took over in Afghanistan, we waited for the international community to rescue us. Surely they would not let this tyranny stand. I waited, but soon I decided that no help was coming. Believing that half the population could not be ignored, I set to work and founded my organization, the Voice of Women.

We started by educating girls. Soon I realized that the mothers needed help too. Today we have a wide range of programs. Our work with women in jail and children in conflict with the law aims to establish the rights of the abused. It also focuses on the paralegal and psychosocial aspects of rights for those most marginalized. Voice of Women is the only organization in Afghanistan that has trained women entrepreneurs to run a restaurant, and later a latrine production center in Herat. If we do not educate women today, and work to advance their rights, we cannot expect a peaceful future.

In addition to our other programs, Voice of Women runs a shelter for girls and women who have no place to go: girls who have run away from forced marriages, women who have been trafficked or escaped from traffickers, widows, wives who have been abused. We provide them with literacy and income-generating activities. We also have a shelter for addicted women and their children. Across Afghanistan, 100,000 women are addicted to opium or other drugs. My hope is to have one women’s shelter and one addiction clinic in each of our 34 provinces. Some communities are spending education money on drug treatment, and that’s not a good trade-off.

When I was in Washington, DC with Peace X Peace in 2006, I visited some Congressional offices. When the Members of Congress asked me about the drug problem I told them they could do several things to give farmers alternatives to growing poppies. We have abundant crops of apples and grapes and other fruits in some regions of Afghanistan, but the US government was importing fruit from Chile and New Zealand for its personnel instead of buying them from Afghan farmers, because they did not trust the farmers. I told them they had to start trusting us.

The international community was also giving out wheat for free and putting the local wheat growers out of business. When small farmers have no alternative, they rent their land to bigger landholders who grow opium poppies.

Fortunately, poppy production was down last year. The international community is listening to us, and in some places, alternatives are taking hold. Saffron is one excellent example. It grows in poor soil, just as the poppies do. In five years, I hope to see zero poppy cultivation – maybe just a small amount for medicine. I hope to see Afghanistan become a helping hand in the world community, not just a receiving hand.

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One Comments to “I Told the US Government to Start Trusting Us”
  1. To Speak Softly or Roar Loudly? That is the question….

    Katherine Steeter – New York Times Women, do you want a paycheck during the recession? You better use a gentle tone; your job is on the line. Want your rights? Speak softly (and give the big stick to the man sitting next to you). Between last weekend’s…

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