My post yesterday triggered a note from a reader today. Here's the text:
I am reading you blog and came across your work with your tem in Afghanistan.
Although I thought you doing a good job there that make people happy and save but when I came today reading you latest post I cannot hold myself from laughing loudly and I reach to point falling from my chair.
Are you serious that you really smart guy by teaching Afghani how to raise chickens?
I lost my words what to say more that mother nature have giving and doing all things to humans from the day of creation you don’t need to bother for teaching what human learned for centuries how to each or drink and get their food.
Just get sick and tired of this Whiteman stupidity over others.
I was about to send a note back, but then thought that this raises some issues that others might be interested in.
Yes, we arranged for an NGO to teach 20 local women how to raise chickens. Some may think that all Afghans know how to do this, particularly way out here, far away from the big city of Kandahar. Unfortunately, they don't. There are too many women around here who do not have a man to take care of them. Maybe they're widows, or abandoned, or whatever. In this society, men are responsible for women. If a woman is not lucky enough to have a man to care for her, then her economic options are severely limited.
Here in Maiwand, such women have not been able to benefit from the US-sponsored seed distributions for some very dumb (in my mind) reasons. They are generally shuffled off to the outside of society. I've seen them begging at the District Center. Many have children, and these kids suffer when the mother suffers.
So we arranged to have an NGO come in to do this class. Raising chickens, you may think, is a no-brainer. Not so. It's not rocket science, but there are things that need to be done to ensure that the chickens remain healthy and produce eggs. This class taught them how to make chicken coops that were reasonably cool in the summer (important here), had adequate ventilation, were easy to clean out, and provided security. They were taught how to care for their adult chickens as well as the chicks, including feeding, water, what sort of health conditions to watch for, and more. After the women built adequate coops and showed that they knew how to properly care for their chickens, they each received about 40 of the birds. So now these women have a source of food for themselves and their families that they can sustain over the long term.
This course did more than just teach them how to raise chickens. It provided them with a shared experience and a sense of both community and empowerment. (I can't speak from first-hand experience here, I'm relying on what our female soldiers reported). Most of these women had virtually nothing, but now they have something that will help them survive.
I have seen many programs in Afghanistan that I thought were really stupid, that wasted time, money, and effort. Afghan men figured out how to game the system long ago so they could make maximum benefit from these programs. I see lots of focus by district leaders on these large, expensive programs, that too often result in little benefit to the district, but in which they make large sums of cash. This chicken program was a low-cost effort that directly benefited a small number of people who needed help very much. So, while it may seem ridiculous to teach an Afghan how to raise chickens, I make no apologies for it.