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Surviving Afghanistan

Irfhan Rawji (OD) spent his summer working as a social enterprise fellow in Kabul, Afghanistan. During his time there he advised the Da Afghanistan Bank (Afghanistan’s Central Bank) on reconstruction and reformation efforts. Rawji recently shared with the Harbus his thoughts on the country and his experience, as well as some of the images he captured this summer.

A small boy shuffled towards me on the sidewalk as I awaited the preparation of my lunch at the kebab stand. He was short and skinny and couldn’t have been more than five years old. In fact, I would not have noticed him had he not prodded me with the sole finger he had remaining on his left hand, begging for money, food, anything. All his limbs were disfigured, most fingers missing; he was clearly distressed. I said a small prayer for him as I coldly turned my attention away, but will never forget the look of resolve in his eye. Despite what life had thrown him, he was determined to survive.

He is a microcosm of his environment, for unfortunately his country does not fare much better than he. Ravaged by decades of war and internal strife, Afghanistan is clearly a country disabled. Average life expectancy of 43 years. Extreme child mortality rates. Opium driving 20% of GDP and 50% of exports. Warlords and weapons. Infrastructure destroyed by decades of war. Landmines. Over 12 million displaced.

Never has there been a post-conflict country able to fully turnaround from this sordid state of affairs. Every indication suggests Afghanistan will never become a stable self sufficient economy – landlocked, lack of resources, poor infrastructure, a drug economy and perpetual instability.

However, following 23 years of war, Afghanistan fortunately retains the mightiest weapon of all – a strong will to survive and thrive.

Against the mighty USSR, extremist governments, gorilla warfare and more – the people and country remain. Despite everything that their environment has subjected them to – Afghans have survived. As they were determined to resist previous invasion, they are determined to witness a prosperous future – one can see it in their eyes.

Looking into an Afghan’s eyes leads to a powerful journey. One almost witnesses shelling, firefights and strife being reflected back towards you; a fast-forward sequence of 23 years of pain and despair, but also resolve for a better tomorrow. After two months on the ground in Kabul, it was the willpower I perceived in the eyes of every Afghan I met that encouraged me to believe that their country will undergo a successful reconstruction.

I was fortunate to have the opportunity to assist, to help push their dream forward. It will undoubtedly be a long journey and hopefully a successful one. Afghans will not allow it to be any other way.

Editor’s Note: After a powerful experience this summer in Afghanistan, Irfhan plans to continue volunteer work in less developed nations. Next July he hopes to volunteer in Nicaragua, contributing to development projects in the region. Irfhan has also made arrangements to lead a group of up to 20 people interested in volunteering in a less development nation and learning about the economic development process first hand.

Those wishing to join him are welcome to e-mail Irfhan at irawji@mba2004.hbs.edu.

November 3, 2003
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