Too often, information about Americans in Afghanistan, and Afghans in America, is defined by extremists. Each is getting a false impression of the other from news reports. Trust in Education has embraced the role of serving as a messenger between two countries, with two different cultures and predominant religions.
In Afghanistan, by providing education, health care, and economic development, Trust in Education has earned a place at the table, or more accurately, a place on the carpet. While seated among village leaders, we have advocated the most basic freedoms and values. We have earned their trust and respect, so our views are welcome, even when we disagree. It is clear from our encounters that we share more values than not, except in the area of women’s rights. Therein lies the greatest challenge, that will only be conquered through education and patience.
We also recognize that educating Americans is as important as educating Afghans. In the U.S., our founder Budd MacKenzie makes dozens of speaking engagements to many different types of organizations each year. Reporting to children is the best part. He has been invited to numerous Bay Area schools to report on Afghanistan and the villages and schools we work in. Many of these schools now have an annual progress report from Budd, so the children can see how multiple years of support are making a difference. There are now thousands of American children who are informed, aware, and feel a direct connection with Afghan children. For example, on seeing a photo of a newly opened Afghan school, one young student exclaimed, “Is that OUR school?” The answer is, yes it is “our school” and “theirs.” “We” made it possible.
As part of being TIE’s messenger service, Budd has delivered hundreds of cards and photos created by American children to their Afghan counterparts. They in turn have written back and shared works of art. These exchanges have a significant impact on children in both worlds.
When we visit the projects we are supporting, many Afghans stop long enough to look up at us, place their right hand over their heart and bow their head slightly. This gesture should be adopted around the world. The hand placed over the heart conveys a much more powerful message than a handshake. Moreover, Trust in Education has been asked by hundreds of Afghans to tell our American supporters how much they appreciate what they have done and to let them know that “they are in our prayers.” The rewards from being the messenger far outweigh security concerns. That is, at least for now.