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Caroline Firestone: our 2010 Peace Philanthropy Honoree

23 November 2010 One Comment

Caroline Firestone

For her creative, passionate, and very personal support of the people of Afghanistan, especially the women, we honor Caroline Firestone as the recipient of our 2010 Peace Philanthropy Award.

Since the fall of the Taliban, Caroline has gone to Afghanistan so often that she can’t remember the number of times.  She has published two books on the Afghan people focused on their courage over decades and their progress during the past several years. She works with the Afghan Red Crescent Society and non-governmental agencies to support educational, medical, hospital, and agricultural programs with the Afghans; and she has provided for the care of members of the U.S. military.

Learn more about this dedicated, generous, and life-giving woman in our Peace X Peace interview:

Caroline, how did you come to focus your philanthropy on Afghanistan?

I gave a luncheon and a young Afghan woman who worked at the radio and tv station told us how the second day the Taliban took over Kabul, they came to her station, took out their Kalashnikovs, and killed everyone but her. They told her to go to Pakistan and never return. Well, she went with her family to Pakistan but the ensuing spring, she put on a burqa and came back over the mountains to set up “sewing circles” in her friends’ homes.  If anyone knocked on the door, the women would put the books of reading and writing they had been working on under their burqas and pull out their sewing.

I was so impressed that I decided to learn more about these people with this tremendous love for their sisters and countrymen. I realized that I, and the people I know, knew so little about Afghanistan, and what little was in the papers was extremely negative.

Is this lack of knowledge why you write books about Afghanistan?

Yes.  When I wrote my first book, the Afghan ladies were so pleased that there was positive emphasis on the Afghans, their lives and their courage through the terrible years under the Russians, the wars of the warlords, and then the Taliban. And the more I learned, the more I realized that American knowledge about Afghanistan is minute, so I wrote a second book that is more comprehensive about their strength and character.

Caroline Firestone (left), the granddaughter of the Afghan king (center), and Fatima Gailani (right) taken in Kabul

What are your projects in Afghanistan?  What do you?

The projects began in partnership with Fatima Gailani, who heads the Red Crescent Society.  Like the Red Cross, the Red Crescent leads relief efforts in manpower, food, and health for the poorest of the poor. I built homes for the four leaders who, under Fatima’s direction, were responsible for the programs, and because if they had homes, they would stay with the Red Crescent instead of going to international organizations or private companies that offered higher salaries.

Fatima Gailani was a founding member of Peace X Peace and received our 2009 Patricia Smith Melton Peacebuilder Award.

She’s so courageous and has such knowledge and understanding of the needs of the people. When she first became president, she established a grid of Afghanistan so that when the floods came—which they do every spring when the snow melts and cascades down the mountains, covering villages and dislocating the tribes that had hunkered down for the winter—the people had a pre-arranged place to go for shelter and aid.

Where else have you helped, Caroline?

I am a devout Christian. To me, outreach is part of living and breathing, and it’s natural for women to help each other. Being a Christian is to do the best you can possibly do to help others with whatever support or ingenuity one is capable of.

But I’m practical, too. I have learned over my life that good intentions only bear fruit when everyone is involved. Projects to create a flourishing country and a stable middle class include the work and contributions of every single person. If the Afghans aren’t productive, it isn’t only themselves as individuals they’re holding back, it’s their whole country.

In 2003 the buildings were shattered with bullet holes and mortar, collapsing, or close to it. The Russians and the Taliban had cut down the poplar, mulberry, almond, and walnut trees, along with all the other fruit and nut trees that had made Afghanistan the breadbasket of the Middle East.

To help rebuild the ecology, I work with the Global Partnership for Afghanistan, which teaches men and women to farm trees. They have planted over six million trees and helped capture and redirect the necessary water by creating canals and basins.

Water is corollary with the amount of produce that can be grown. The agricultural economy is harmed not by armed conflict but by insufficient access to water. One-third of the land fit for cultivation lacks rainfall and is barren because of water shortages and inefficiency. Global Partnership for Afghanistan’s engineers are fine-tuning drip irrigation systems for smaller farmers, and they train young Afghans to design, install, and manage these systems.

Global Partnership for Afghanistan

The Afghan nation is composed of resilient, entrepreneurial people whose tribes have supported them through merciless wars with the Russians and the suffocating laws of the Taliban. With opportunity, Afghanistan will grow in tandem with the education of the people on how to produce food that sustains them through the stern winter months.

What is your sense of the military struggle in Afghanistan?

I have a great relationship with Colonel Gary Davis, who came to Afghanistan in 2002 as the surgeon general for the army.  When he retired, he stayed on under the auspices of the Afghan government to help build hospitals and he has taught the women surgeons to be experts in operating on obstetric fistulas, that horrible condition where over half the women, especially girls, are torn inside because they needed medical help giving birth, and didn’t receive it.

I have a great relationship with the military generally. The very first thing I did in 2003 was to send razors to the entire 10th mountain division when they were going to be held many more months than they had planned in their deployment. I sent projectors and about five dozen films to each of the bases.

When I went to a panel that Tina Brown, editor of The Daily Beast, had for some of the women in the Goldman Sachs Project of helping ten thousand women, all of the women were asked about the military, and each said that only the military could hold the Taliban at bay so there would not be a return to the harsh Sharia law that is so repressive of women.

What’s in front of you now?

My friend Doris Buffett, who is a great philanthropist in her own right, and I just committed to two young Afghanistan women to help them build two schools for grades 1-12, as well as Internet cafes. One of these girls, who at 22 already has her law degree, has already purchased land to start her school and has 125 students.

Is there anything you’d like to tell western readers about Afghanistan?

We have already won the hearts and minds of hundreds of thousands of Afghans, even though you would never know it by today’s press.

The corruption that people speak of in Afghanistan is endemic, but we haven’t even rid ourselves of it in our own country so I hope Americans could bring themselves to be more patient and understanding of the Afghans.

I’m very patient. I work with women and children because I see a country where, when the men run everything, it has not worked to the benefit of the women. And women have made tremendous progress in education in Afghanistan even as they still battle in politics and financial areas.

Thank you Caroline for your commitment to and investment in the people of Afghanistan!

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Copies of Caroline Firestone’s books on the Afghan people can be obtained on Amazon.com or through her foundation, the New Hudson Foundation.

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To read about the other Women, Power and Peace Award winners click here.

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One Comments to “Caroline Firestone: our 2010 Peace Philanthropy Honoree”
  1. [...] Pete introduced me to dozens if not hundreds of people Some day I will write the story about how Caroline Firestone and I almost started working in Afghanistan together, or about how Midge Richardson introduced me [...]

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