Young Afghans have lived the majority of their lives faced with war – many of them spending formative years in refugee camps at the Pakistan border – and they are determined to be a post-war generation. These young Afghans already have learned enough to yearn for more than survival; they want an education, English language training, a skills set, and a satisfying job.
It is the younger generation's desire for a better future among other needs that prompted Morning Star Development to establish their Community Center programs in rural areas around Kabul. Working without government aid, Morning Star built and maintains the facilities – including a health clinic, classrooms, meeting rooms used by the local shura council, and a media center – but the center is staffed entirely by Afghans. An on-site "suitcase" lab with a solar-powered microscope gives quick, accurate diagnoses without sending tests off to Kabul, and an emergency vehicle is ready when visits to a city hospital are a must.
A good place to see what's possible in a so-called "new Afghanistan" is at a second center farther to the east. The health clinic sees more than 2,200 patients per month – some of them women who previously would have died with childbirth complications and children who've never before been properly vaccinated or treated for diseases like cholera and hepatitis.
A walk through the village reveals the difference outside help is making. Resident Nurasan told me a family used to have to pay $50 for a trip to the nearest town to pick up $5 worth of medicine. "We had nothing before, and we are poor people in rural Afghanistan. We don't have vehicles and our roads have been destroyed. Now our mothers give more live births, our sons learn English, and we have more hope."
One of many untold stories in Afghanistan is the growth of higher education. In 2001 Afghanistan had four open universities with an all-male student population of about 4,000. Today there are 20 public and 30 private universities with a total student population of 100,000 – and nearly a third of those students are female. These young people represent a powerful stream of knowledge and leadership potential heading into Afghanistan's uncertain future.
In a basement classroom just off Kabul University's campus, about 15 students gather for an evening session on leadership. During two hours of class time, the group will discuss the bestseller Habitudes by Tim Elmore, work on personal vision statements, and gather in small groups to discuss their answers to a worksheet questionnaire. It's a leadership ethos that resonates, with an emphasis on integrity, courage, and personal values – transformational assets that focus on character.
"These are very new things for us," said Mohammad, 23, one of the students. "Previously we did not think about core values. I did not think about my vision or my strengths or what is my goal. Now I am thinking of that. I'm learning here that I have a difficulty with envy and jealously – I knew it before but now I'm trying to take corrective action."
This class, now in its second semester, is called the Institute for Leadership Development (ILD). The program began in Herat in 2005 with an inaugural class of seven students. Now classes are held in three cities with each averaging 25 students. The classes meet four or five nights a week for six months, and nearly every student has a full-time job and some are also attending the university. In Herat, classes are taught by Afghans; the lead instructor until this year, when he traveled to San Diego for further education, was a graduate of the program.
From the Community Centers to any one of the three Institutes for Leadership Development, the young generation of Afghanistan has been given an opportunity to better themselves in order to turn things around in their nation.
Their future is now.
(Adapted and used by permission from WORLD Magazine.)
“The young people of Afghanistan are in the majority today, with 60% of the population age 20 or under. This country is at a defining moment in their history, and you can make an impact right now. After working here for 18 years I am more hopeful now than ever before. Please join us today and help us reach this generation!” – Daniel Batchelder, President Emeritus