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Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Afghanistan and 100 Mile House: Good Neighbours

In our work with the poor, one of the most gratifying things we are ever a part of is helping communities across the planet to strike up friendships. There’s no better example of this phenomenon than the relationship enjoyed between the families of Jeloucha, Afghanistan, and our friends in 100 Mile House, in the Cariboo region of BC.

Esmat Nazaryar, our Director of HOPE Afghanistan, was visiting Canada a few years ago and had occasion to meet the folks at 100 Mile House’s United Church. They promptly fell in love with Esmat, an individual who, despite successfully immigrating to Canada, was driven to return to his hometown and help the people there to make a break with poverty.

When Esmat approached us for help back in the 90s, he was working at Ikea and had nothing but a huge vision. Over the years, the people of 100 Mile House have banded together to fund major developments in Jeloucha and Esmat has proven himself to be a rock-solid, shrewd, and effective leader.

The email below was written by Jack Witty, one of the individuals responsible for spearheading much of 100 Mile House’s mobilization for the poor of Afghanistan. Reading his account of a recent visit by Esmat and his family to 100 Mile House, you get the sense of the history between these far-flung communities, and the inspiring changes that their friendship has fostered.

“Esmat Nazaryar, his wife Nadera, four children, sister Atiffa and husband Yusuf and their child, along with Esmat’s brother Hyack, visited 100 Mile House in September to convey the thanks of the community of Jeloucha to all the people of the South Cariboo who have supported the rebuilding of Jeloucha over the past 8 years.

New work in area will consist of developing storage facilities and grain banks in four communities; developing a forest nursery in Jeloucha to begin the reforestation of the area, and the extension of the road we helped build three years ago for better access to some of the more remote fields.

In the meantime, the school has progressed to the point where only the painting and finishing touches are left to do. The Afghan government will be supporting the school as of the new school year in March 2012. The community has set aside space for farmers from the district to meet and assist each other in how and what they do to expand their crops and earning possibilities.

Esmat is now trying to convince the leadership to set aside space for women of the community to have their meeting place.

Esmat explained that the area is dealing with some of the more extremes of climate change. In the time of his Grandfather, this area of Afghanistan was covered by lush forest with abundant wildlife, including tigers and other Asian animals. Now that climate zone has moved northward, Jeloucha is a semi-arid, almost treeless part of the foothills of the Hindu-Kush Mountains.

Reforestation with local tree species, particularly pistachio trees for a cash crop and fruit trees for both food and sale will, they hope, bring back some of the lost moisture and moderate the overall climate. This past summer, people finishing the roof of the school were working in 42 degree heat! As I am one of those contributors to excess carbon, I will be a lot more thoughtful and careful with my own emissions from now on. […]

Esmat returns to Afghanistan September 15. When I next hear from him I will get out another up-date.”

Thank you, 100 Mile House people for all of your compassion, activism, and neighborliness - it’s amazing to find a community whose concept of ‘neighbour’ can extend so far geographically and culturally!