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Rebuilding Afghanistan with hope

  • Published
  • By Senior Airman Stacia Zachary
  • Combined Security Transition Command public affairs
It's important to not only rebuild the country but also rebuild the spirit of the people. In 2001 when America retaliated against the Taliban and their unthinkable acts of terrorism, little thought was given to the people who called the place home. Under the tight grip of the Taliban, Afghans suffered indescribable humiliations and deprecations. As bombs dropped from the sky and the enemy ran for cover, the Afghans were liberated. They were told to start putting the pieces of their lives back together while standing in a pile of rubble. This was the obvious problem for America and other sympathetic nations to fix. Clear away the debris, fix bombed-out buildings, build new ones. But what of the human suffering? Reconstruction teams can only fix structural damage.

Many Afghans had lost more than just their worldly possessions. An entire generation has grown up during a time of constant upheaval. The newer generation has learned to shrink back from angered voices rather than stand up and state their opinion. Still more find safety trapped within the confines of the burka.

Why should they give this new lifestyle a chance? In a world of constant change, why should an Afghan throw caution to the wind and completely adopt her new found freedom? What makes this time different?

Because we care. Saying the words aren't enough. Actions speak louder than words and make the most difference with the Afghans. Promises carry little weight. We need to not just say the words but mean them and prove it everyday. We need to teach them that their pain and suffering is real and we aren't going to walk away until they are able to stand on their own.

During a recent trip to a refugee camp outside Kabul, coalition forces handed out food and supplies in front of the bombed out building. Behind the building, children were playing soccer and lawn bowling, getting piggy back rides and huddling around listening to Dr. Seuss stories. Witnessing the blind trust of these children disarmed me. It wasn't about how many stickers they could get from me, rather how much attention I gave to each one. They only wanted to laugh and play and be noticed. It's amazing to me that no matter where you go, children are the same. They want laughter and happiness.

I have an 11-month-old daughter at home and she's the same: she wants all eyes on her. She falls, and she knows I am right there to say she is OK, and then she gets up with the same reckless abandon and tries it again. Her spirit is inextinguishable.
I see the same spirit in many of these children. In too many of their faces you see the echo of an older, wiser person. But when they smile, I see their eyes sparkle with hope. I want to protect that and help it grow. I know that the strength and future of Afghanistan rests in their hands. I want them to learn the "can do" approach to life, not "will you help me."

Grateful for the attention, older generations remain doubtful and cling to some traditions both out of fear and comfort. The children, though, regard this time with curiosity and excitement. Their country's hope lies with them if we don't miss the opportunity to foster it.

Reconstruction can build new offices and homes, but it is the job of every American serving here to help foster hope among the Afghans. Soon, those buildings will be bursting at the seams with people who have rebuilt hope. The least I can do is offer my help and support, neither of which cost me more than time and compassion.