When a young man named Feroz of just 23-years of age burned himself in public outside the presidential palace in Kabul recently, it is a reminder that even if Afghanistan became a peaceful country, she will not have a population with a peaceful mind. Majority of Afghanistan’s population is said to be below the age of 35 – some estimates say that up to 50% of our population is under 35. With this in mind, Afghanistan continues to be ranked amongst the highest in the poorest countries, most corrupt countries, worst countries to be a woman in, worst countries to be old in, and amongst countries with worst human rights records categories. If that’s not enough, other reports suggest that decades of war have taken a toll on Afghanistan’s mental health and one in five people suffer from depression. In this blog, I talk about how Afghanistan’s small – but growing – number of younger generations are taking up educational opportunities provided through international scholarships that, while beneficial at the individual level, may not necessarily be beneficial collectively for the larger Afghan community in obtaining what Afghanistan needs the most – i.e. peace of mind.
Reconstructing Afghanistan’s Shattered Potential
The international community has been of tremendous help when it comes to educating the Afghan youth post 9/11 attacks. There’s been an enormous boom in promotion of work in areas such as human/women’s rights, journalism, and public policy with the majority of job opportunities available in international NGOs. One of the issues in education in such areas is their limitation to the life of the projects within NGOs – in other words, as long as different projects are being funded by international donors for the NGOs, the prospects of job opportunities are there. Once the financial plug is pulled, out goes all the limited number of job opportunities for the increasingly educated job-seeking young Afghans. While these fields and the young Afghans who work in these fields have had tremendous positive contribution to Afghanistan, I still think we’re missing out on getting in to areas that will add value both at the individual and the communal level.
Today, Afghanistan is comparatively more prosperous than it has been at any given point in time over the last three decades, at least. With the Bilateral Security Agreement signed and with hopes of a better future for Afghans under the new administration at an all-time high, one would like to think that there should be no reason for young men like Feroz to be so disappointed with lack of justice in Afghanistan that their frustration would lead to self-immolation to bring attention to, what should be, everyone’s basic right. The bigger injustice in my opinion is done to the entire nation of Afghanistan and the value of an Afghan life because while our journalists, media, and activists do a great job in bringing attention to social issues, lives like that of Feroz and his significant other become nothing but another few numbers that get added to the larger figures. Each young life lost in Afghanistan is yet another future potential lost for the country and I think that we as a nation. No matter how difficult life can be in Afghanistan, we must remind the youth that their lives are not just numbers that are valued as part of a statistic but that each life is the country’s strength that can only grow stronger through hope for a better future. Realistically speaking, for most of us in our 30’s and 40’s – or even 20’s, it’s unlikely that Afghanistan will be where most of her neighbors are in our lifetime – but this is by no means a reason to give up. If anything, the speed at which Afghanistan has been catching up and is capable to surpassing many other countries that are in similar crisis is much higher.
Joining Hands, Lifting Spirits
The despair and frustration young Afghans like Feroz probably felt is no exception but a real crisis that needs urgent attention. With so much focus on education in Afghanistan, I wonder if we actually have our priorities right even within education – as in, are Afghans pursing fields in education that will help them empower themselves to become independent and work beyond international community’s financial assistance, lack of Afghan government’s attention, or short-lived NGO projects? We have many good journalists and activists who shine light on such cases but no lasting solutions seem to be on the plate for the country. If so much of our population truly is depressed to the extent reported, perhaps it’s time we consider taking an active approach in fields such as psychology. There is no doubt that every Afghan you speak to would have a heart-touching and inspiring story of their own to tell. We have many people who have so much to say but not enough people to listen to them.
If there is one thing I can say with confidence, it is this: the harsh political and economic conditions of Afghanistan have made our people very strong. From all the countries I have travelled to for work purposes, I know that Afghans, without a shadow of doubt, are amongst the strongest people in the world. But this strength should not come at the cost of compassion for each other. Tough living conditions can and do lead to a dog-eat-dog world where an ‘ends justify means’ approach becomes the norm. Afghans should understand that no matter what happens in the end, we only have each other to help and build our country, and the ultimate responsibility lies on us – the youth – to take charge of the direction we want our country to go to and build the Afghanistan we dream of for our children.