Notes from recent visit to Afghanistan

Just had a PIL/PA Directors meeting and I spoke about recent trip to Afghanistan, suggestion came that I offer something on this on the PA site, so here goes...

.... it seemed an incredible mess (in development terms) and so dry, I'm amazed they're not leaving by the millions.  Mafia, drugs, rich political family dynasties, the war with the Taliban is a only a piece of the bigger picture of factions above the law grasping for power.  was very depressing and I've not felt so happy to get back home for a long time. The experience on the street is everyone trying to get on and make a living, trying to work.  Huge number of girls going to school, every morning girls streaming down the roads in uniforms to school. It had some feel of the Arab Spring - the the population was moving into a information rich world - huge takeup of mobile phones- 75% or so,   maybe the time for the Taliban has passed.  but many had their recent memories of the last period of Taliban running the country- was only 10 years back, there's lots of people carrying psychological scars from then.

Many widows in the urban fringe shanty towns around kabul.  Kabul has grown from one million to five million in a few short years.  At one million it was probably way outside it's optimum size.  The agency (Mahboba's Promise) was providing welfare support to a few hundred of the widows in these new fringe communities  but there must be many 1000s out there. Women rarely work, sometimes they remarry, i have no idea how they survive.  I understand some don't.  These urban fringe communities have no service—no gas, electricity water, no schools or health services to offer something on this Afghanistan experience. They were trying to start a project there as an action-research project to support communities in taking small steps to improve their life.

When in Kabul I was working from an orphanage, every day 2 or 3 women and men (usually women) would come in and ask to leave their children, it happened in the room I was working in. I couldn't understand what was being said, but the tension and desperate times was apparent. Often the meeting would conclude and the children and parents would separate.
In the rural north we worked in two communities.  One of approx 6000, we did a brief wat/san survey.  Households very water poor, carried in buckets from a nearby river, average household consumption was 23 litres per person per day.  This was for drinking cooking and washing. The local Medical clinic reported 10% U5 infant mortality for the district, diarrhorea and dehydration their main problem. The project design there was about training up a local committee to manage the water supply and installing a spring fed supply with water point taps in the township.

Nearby in a farming community, approximately 1000 households running along a valley we discussed water supply, both domestic and ag supply and the options of a diversion channel and string of small farm dams. They seemed keen and this may become a submission for another project. To me it seemed there was a huge need for earth-wall small dams and river diversion systems.

The agency was mahboba's promise, the same that Rowe Morrow was with some years ago and featured in the film—'Garden at the End of the World'   It's a small NGO supported largely by the Afghan community in Sydney,  they're taking on a huge challenge, was a big privilege to be with them from 2 weeks.

Trailer—The Garden at the End of the World

If anyone's interested in discussing this further I'd be happy to,  If anyone has experience in Afghanistan or similar I'd be interested to compare notes.

all the best
...john mckenzie



  1. Michele

    Thanks John,

    I would like to know more about this, it’s terribly sad.


  2. John Mckenzie

    Hi Michele, thankyou for making that comment. Yes a terrible situation there if person is homeless, or disabled or single mother. It’s a huge country, approx 30 mill people.
    One of the projects I’m trying to draft this week is for a women’s refugee and training center. Somewhere to live safely and learn farm and food skills – care for poultry, milking cow, making cheese, veg garden, fruit tree grafting, ect. Another is about dam building – farm dams made by hand, to hold some of the early pulse of snow melt to use it later in the season. Another is for producing training resources. It’s a competitive process so no guarantee any will get funded.

  3. Michele

    Good on you John; the weekend at Bondi must have felt like a picnic in comparison, it woke me up to read your post, now I don’t care about my plumbing problems, so what??!! Having a roof over my head and all three children alive and grown up and warm blankets and good food. I think you and Rosemary Morrow and others must be very strong to go to places like that. I get upset seeing the old guy down the road on his walking frame with mis-matching shoes take an hour to get to the local corner shop to buy a bread roll with his flea-ridden little dog Gypsy! I know he hasn’t too long to go but always cheerful and making sure to do a lot of walking…he has stopped mowing his front lawn and can’t shave himself any more – that’s enough sadness for me! But he always likes to look at the front garden here and loves our strelizias and always asks me what they are and tells me I have a green thumb and how much he loves the flowers! He forgot that he used to say nothing would grow in my garden and it was rubbish!! I do hope you get the funding you need, it’s such a huge task and so many more like it…have you seen Turtles Can Fly? It’s about the saddest movie I have ever seen about Iraq but even in that there are some funny parts that can give some hope. All the best to you John…Michele

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