A Different Time - A Different Place

Afghanistan - Friday, March 7, 2003 by: Richard Phillips

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“You go!” were blunt words.


The Russian border guard was in no mood to be friendly after reviewing our passports at a desolate, wind swept border crossing in Tajikistan. After traveling a dusty trail for hours since leaving a real road, Richard Phillips was ready to cross the wide, swift flowing Amu River - a 100 yard border separating a former Soviet state with all the trappings of modern society, from a part of the world where electricity and telephones are still only dreams - into Northern Afghanistan.

  Canadian Foodgrains Bank recently sent Phillips to Afghanistan to follow and document a major food aid shipment from Canada. The food was sent in response to a severe food shortfall due to 20 years of war and three years of severe drought.
  The logistics were daunting.
  1,000 tonnes of wheat, lentils and canola oil were shipped by container to Hamburg, Germany and taken by Russian rail to Dushanbe, the capital of Tajikistan. From there, the food was loaded into old army trucks and brought to the Tajik - Afghan border. The trucks were then taken across the Amu River, one at a time, on a ferry that looked ready to sink. On the Afghanistan side of the border, the trucks were marshaled into convoys for the day long drive to the distribution warehouses where they could be unloaded and food safely stored.
  Phillips not only followed the food aid trail, he was also present to meet with local aid workers and observe a distribution.
“What really struck us was the pride and self esteem of the Afghan people,” said Phillips. “The local aid workers told us of how, when they started the program, not one person would come and ask for help. So, the aid was restructured into a food for work program.”
  Under that particular program people would receive one 50 kg bag of wheat, 17 kg of lentils and 5 litres of cooking oil for 10 days of work on a local community project.
“Word of the new program went out one day and by the next morning there were hundreds of people lined up and ready to work. Some had walked 12 hours through the night to be there.”
  Local communities themselves were surveyed and asked to identify their greatest needs. Roads for market access and schools for education were deemed as the highest priority, so that is what was built with the labour.
“The people we talked to were both industrious and entrepreneurial. Without exception, they are making new lives for themselves and their families,” said Phillips.
  A typical dry-land farmer would produce melons, wheat, oilseeds and lentils on his farm which might range from five to one hundred acres, much of which is on gently, or not so gently rolling land. Down in the river valleys, rice and vegetables are also grown.
  Before the wars and drought, Afghanistan was once known as the bread basket of Central Asia. When asked which was worse, the war or the drought, one Afghan gentleman said
"The war took some things from us, but the drought has taken everything."
  Phillips says the people are looking to the future. He says the Afghani people pray for rain for their crops and for peace in their land - not just for themselves but for their children.
  With rain and peace there is significant hope for the future of Afghanistan and its people.
  Canadian Foodgrains Bank is owned by 13 Canadian church agencies and has provided over 850,000 tonnes of food since 1983 in a Christian response to hunger.

Richard Phillips




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