For almost 15 years, Applied Ethics, Inc. (AE), a Marblehead-based nonprofit has been working with Afghanistan through its people-to-people peacebuilding program called Pax Populi, which is Latin for “the People’s Peace.” In 2010, we began collaborating with universities to offer one-on-one English tutoring programs via Skype or Zoom. Working with individual volunteers and institutional partners in the US and overseas, we developed a network of educational partners in several major cities in Afghanistan never doubting that student by student, we had a role in supporting those people who would help turn Afghanistan into a peaceful, prosperous country. Everything changed in August 2021 when the US withdrew its forces from the country and the Taliban took control of the government. Three words come to mind when assessing the impact of these events: Devastation, Resilience and Return.
The re-establishment of Taliban rule was devastating for Afghanistan and our work. In August, we suspended our work in Afghanistan and turned our focus to supporting those seeking to leave the country and some of the thousands of refugees who came to settle here in the United States. Despite the trauma of having fled their homes with little more than the clothes on their backs, the resiliency of the Afghans inspired Pax Populi volunteers from California to Massachusetts to demonstrate a similar resiliency. However, as the months passed, the news from Afghanistan grew increasingly dire. We at AE/Pax Populi also received an increasing number of requests from former contacts still in Afghanistan not to forget them. Although we could no longer operate openly in Afghanistan as before, in August, Pax Populi returned to Afghanistan. This time, however, we are limiting our online educational services to the young women denied education under Taliban rule.
Here are a few other highlights from the year.
Hamid’s Journey to Cornell: During the spring 2021 semester, Lara, a Purdue University senior and Pax Populi teacher began tutoring Hamid, an Afghan student from Mazar-e Sharif who hoped to study at an American university. Their focus was to prepare Hamid for the SAT exam. That goal was dashed when the SAT was no longer offered in Afghanistan following the Taliban takeover. Rather than giving up, Lara and Hamid worked on college applications. Then, last spring, as Hamid and his family joined the exodus of Afghans crossing the mountains into Pakistan, Hamid learned that he had been accepted to Cornell University. He is now completing his first semester as a Cornell freshman focusing on computer science and entrepreneurship. He just celebrated his first Thanksgiving in the United States with Lara and her family in Indiana.
Helping Afghan Women Find Their Voice through Poetry: Charlotte Yeung is the Indiana Youth Poet Laureate who served as a Pax Populi tutor last spring. This inspired her to work with Pax Populi to offer a workshop in poetry for a group of women in Afghanistan who have been denied access to formal education due to Taliban social strictures. Charlotte is planning to create online and print collections of their poems that will be displayed in the Kurt Vonnegut Museum in 2023. One student described her experience with these words: “This workshop has been like a candle in the darkness. It has helped me deepen my understanding of poetry and become a better poet. Through it, I have also been introduced to some kind people. I am grateful for this opportunity.”
Returning to Afghanistan: During the summer we began getting requests to resume our tutoring services from young women living in Afghanistan. Pax Populi heard the call, and in August, we began offering a group class led by our long-time ESL teacher, Maria Chatziangelidou. The course has been meeting twice weekly and has demonstrated that while operating under the radar, Pax Populi can offer valuable online educational services to young women in Afghanistan. Maria described this work in this way: “By helping these young women to learn English, we are giving them the most powerful weapon—the ability to communicate with the rest of the world. Although Afghanistan is no longer the center of global attention, we must not forget the women living there who need our help.”
As we look ahead to 2023, we plan to continue working with Afghans both in the United States and in Afghanistan. We hope to expand the number of people we serve, and we are looking into offering other classes for Afghan women that might provide them with skills that could be used to generate income from home beyond Taliban restrictions on female employment.
If you believe there is a role for ordinary people to be a force for peace, please support Pax Populi by working as a volunteer or by providing a tax-deductible donation to Applied Ethics, Inc., the 501(c)3 nonprofit parent organization of Pax Populi. For more information please visit our websites http://www.appliedtethics.org/donate or http://www.paxpopuli.org/donate/.
We have been devastated by the events in Afghanistan, but we still believe in the people of Afghanistan, their hope for a peaceful, prosperous country, and that every person can contribute to making the world a little more peaceful and loving.
One of the young women in the photo above held a paper on which she wrote, “Please give us our right to get education. We will never give up.” If she won’t give up, nor should we.
Robert E. McNulty, PhD is the founder and director of Applied Ethics, Inc. and its Pax Populi program.