MEMPHIS, Tenn. (BP)–Americans who watched their military devastate Afghanistan could not help but feel sorry for the people of Afghanistan, whose country was being destroyed because of the Taliban regime’s support for terrorism.
Now, a year later, one American city has taken an important first step toward helping the people of Afghanistan rebuild their country.
For five days in mid-October, community, church and civic leaders in Memphis, Tenn., hosted seven officials of Afghanistan’s interim government for summit meetings focused on the country’s health, education and leadership development needs.
“We felt Americans could have a tangible impact on the future of a nation by bringing these Afghan government officials to Memphis and drawing a straight line between them and the people and resources of our city,” said Mark Morris, chairman of International Friendship Summits, the nonprofit organization that arranged the Oct. 9-14 Memphis-Afghan Friendship Summit.
Morris, missions and ministries pastor at Germantown Baptist Church, was part of a team that visited Afghanistan in July to explore needs that citizens of Memphis might be able to meet. They found government officials enthusiastic about their interest.
That enthusiasm was driven in part by the utter devastation war and drought have caused in Afghanistan — and in part by the international community’s failure to keep its almost-year-old promise to help rebuild the nation.
More than two decades of war have left Afghanistan in ruins, Morris said.
Schools, hospitals, commercial and industrial buildings and roads have been destroyed. More than 80 percent of the country’s cattle, sheep and goat herds are gone. Food production has been almost completely disrupted. Rebuilding the country will cost at least $10 billion and perhaps as much as $20 billion over the next five years.
The international community has pledged $4.5 billion, and more than half of the pledges for this year have not been fulfilled.
“People in several churches in Memphis were deeply moved by the plight of people in Afghanistan,” summit coordinator Rusty Griffin said. “They were disturbed by the failure of the international community to help Afghanistan begin rebuilding. They felt God was leading them to see if they could make a difference.”
Members of the Afghan delegation, led by Zabiullah Asmatey, deputy minister of health, and Haron Amin, deputy chief of mission of the Afghan Embassy in Washington, D.C., spent two days in consultations with leaders of Memphis’ health, education and business communities.
“We highly appreciate the strong support the people of Memphis have shown for helping us rebuild our country,” Ferouzudeen Ferouz, deputy minister of Afghanistan’s Department of Health, told a group at Baptist Memorial Medical Center Oct. 10. “We believe we will learn a lot from you to help us with the reconstruction of our health care system.”
Ferouz and two other health ministry delegates toured the Baptist hospital, St. Jude’s Children’s Research Hospital, the Regional Medical Center at Memphis, St. Francis Hospital, the Memphis-Shelby County Health Department’s Hollywood Clinic, Christ Community Medical Center and other health facilities in the area. Their discussions with community leaders focused on ways Memphis can help meet some of Afghanistan’s urgent needs.
Ferouz shared some frightening statistics with health summit participants: Afghanistan has the highest infant mortality rate in the world, 92 percent of its pregnant women are chronically malnourished, only 10 percent of the country’s 25 million people have safe drinking water, 80 percent of its health care facilities have been destroyed.
“We need a strategy for rebuilding our healthcare infrastructure, reducing childhood, infant and maternal mortality rates and immunizing our people for infectious diseases related to sanitation and drinking water issues,” he said. “We want to look at ways organizations in the United States can assist us in our rebuilding effort.”
Members of the Afghan education delegation held similar discussions with officials of Memphis public schools, the University of Memphis, Crighton College and other institutions about the country’s need to rebuild every level of its educational system, almost from the ground up.
Members of the Afghan leadership delegation participated in two days of leadership development workshops at Federal Express corporate headquarters.
The summit meetings resulted in a list of specific ways groups will help the people of Afghanistan start rebuilding their lives. Projects include initiatives such as training midwives to safely deliver babies, providing basic equipment and supplies for medical clinics, developing curriculum for classrooms, helping replace forests destroyed by war and drought, exchanging students and faculty with Afghan universities and training teachers and health workers.
ANYONE CAN HELP
Afghanistan’s needs are so many and diverse that almost anyone who wants to can be plugged in to help, Morris said.
“They need everything. You can’t imagine the extent of the devastation,” he said. “When a student asked the minister of education, Zabiullah Asmatey, if they needed computers for their classrooms, his answer was, ‘Yes, but first we need a roof for the classroom.'”
Americans should set their sights on rebuilding Afghanistan, Griffin said, noting, “Afghanistan has been a battleground for centuries, but the last 23 years have devastated all their infrastructure. The country is totally impoverished.
“If Americans see the Good Samaritan as someone who helps a neighbor who is hurting, then the Afghan family is a neighbor who has been beaten, robbed, humiliated and left in the ditch. We in America have the power to make their lives better.
“Doing everything we can to help them rebuild their country is just the right thing to do.”
People interested in assisting with projects to rebuild Afghanistan can contact the Memphis-Afghan Friendship Summit: e-mail [email protected]; telephone (901) 921-6118; website www.mafsummit.org; postal mail 356 New Byhalia Rd. Suite 1B, Collierville, TN 38017. (BP) photo posted in the BP Photo Library at http://www.bpnews.net. Photo title: BUILDING BRIDGES.