On Wednesday, May 31st, at Peak to Peak School in Lafayette, CO, some 40+ students had their worlds enlarged through an amazing opportunity! On that date, I visited an AP Human Geography class – virtually, from Afghanistan. Through this technology-laden visit, students had the opportunity to learn firsthand about the various projects currently ongoing through CIPE in Afghanistan, and the response was tremendous. As you will read, eyes were opened, paradigms shifted, and possibly most important, career ideas for change were planted in these high school sophomores’ minds.
Instructor, Carla Flanhofer, sought out ways to make this visit happen through arranging the classroom for a “Skype” (voice-over-internet protocol or VOIP) session — my face was projected onto the classroom screen, and the voice came through the computer into “surround sound speakers.”
The sessions began with introductions, and I provided a brief explanation of what CIPE is and what we do in Afghanistan. I then invited the students to fire away with their questions. The students came to the front of the room and introduced themselves and proceeded to offer their questions. While my expectations were too narrow, you will see below the students were: informed, interested, and investigating.
Below are the questions I did my best to answer:
Period 2 Questions:
1. What have you found to be the biggest cultural aspect that hinders democracy? How does religion and culture affect the development of democracy and the shape it takes?
2. Who has been the biggest vocal opposition to the development of democracy in Afghanistan?
3. What actions do you take in order to start building democracy?
4. Do you or your co-workers ever feel that your safety is threatened?
5. What is the biggest difference you see between Afghan culture and American culture?
6. How do you structure a democracy around the cultural social structure (especially in regards to women) without disrupting and dislodging religion and culture?
7. Is there any opposition to your presence in Afghanistan? What kind?
8. Are the native Afghan people glad to have you (Americans) there, or do they prefer to structure their own government/programs without Western help?
9. What were some of your expectations when you arrived? Were they met?
10. What are the medical facilities like and how strong is the military presence there?
11. How much forward progress has been made thus far?
12. Right now, what obstacles are the CIPE employees facing?
13. What are some of the roles of men/women? How does this dynamic affect your job?
14. Are there women’s activists in the country, and if so, how are they treated? What progress have they made? Do Afghan women generally believe their situation is unequal?
15. What has surprised you the most about the people you have been working with?
16. What was the most intense experience you have had in Afghanistan?
Period 4 questions (additional questions, many are repetitive)
1. What is daily life like there in comparison to American?
2. How do potential entrepreneurs get the capital to innovate new business?
3. What potential markets exist in that area? (entertainment, communications, transportation, etc.?)
4. How does CIPE promote independent/private business in war torn countries (what are the steps?)?
5. Does Afghanistan (in your opinion) have a chance at establishing a strong democracy? How would it differ from what we are familiar with?
6. Without the US doing this, how long would it take for Afghanistan to rebuild itself? Would it ever?
7. How many projects like this are the US involved in (both in this region and others)?
8. What do you think is the biggest misconception that Americans have about the situation in Afghanistan?
9. Is there any sort of deadline when you hope to have your goals accomplished?
With rapt attention, the students eagerly awaited their turn, while taking in everything that was being shared. There wasn’t a “bored” eye in the place! With questions ranging from the implementation of the democratic process, through sustainability and the time it will take to see the fruit from these projects, they were not simply interested in “how the food tastes there”! They did inquire as to how Americans are received there, as the news coverage currently is highly discouraging. And though the threats remain very real, as we witnessed in the rioting just a day before this classroom visit, they were most inspired by the care and passion of those involved in seeing this change become a reality. May we all be so inspired by these agents of change, and may we seek to become those ourselves, wherever we may be!
The VOIP and technology set up worked very well, even when the power in my Kabul office went out, (that is a fairly regular occurrence). We were just wrapping up the first session when the power went out and I was sitting in the dark as we signed off…I think the class got a big kick out of that.
I enjoyed the classes very much, they asked intelligent and well articulated questions, and from their comments I feel they were relieved to know that beyond the media coverage there are “good” things happening in Afghanistan. I look forward to connecting with more classes in the future.
“I really liked getting a more positive perspective on what is happening over there. I think what CIPE is doing is really incredible, and it’s really nice to see the results of their work and how it is helping and will continue to help Afghanistan’s people in the future. I’m so glad we had this opportunity.” –Krista Beckman
“I loved learning that there are people out there who are willing to help despite the risk. It was extremely heartening to hear firsthand that many of the people of Afghanistan support the program as well. CIPE shows the hope in the world and what I learned opened my eyes to both sides of an ancient and complex conflict. Give three cheers for CIPE and may they continue what they have started.” – Kaatje Jones
“By having someone explain the situation in Afghanistan, from his perspective, not from a text book, is real knowledge. It was great to have this experience and to learn from it. Also I think CIPE is showing us the progress we make unlike the media which only shows the number of deaths a day which everyone else sees everyday.” – Alyssa Carlson
“I hear bits and pieces of what is happening in the Middle East, but this was a really fascinating way to see another side. Everything that is reported on the news is usually something that has gone wrong, and while I understand that there are many problems, I really liked seeing some of the things that are being done to improve the situation.”
- Kate Hopkins
“When I first heard about these kinds of programs I was skeptical about it being something that would Americanize the Afghan people and help destroy their culture. But after I heard the CIPE presentations, I realized that their main goal was to preserve the culture but improve their lifestyle at the same time.”- Erin Dickson
“This was truly a remarkable educational experience! It is so amazing to utilize the technological resources available to us in enhancing the learning experience of our students. Their enthusiasm in participating in this project was more than evident in the weeks prior to, and the days following the presentation. What you and other CIPE representatives are doing in Afghanistan and around the world deserves the utmost respect and appreciation, as you are changing lives and the shape of the next generation’s future. For students to have this exposure to ideas that are not at the forefront of our international news coverage is truly invaluable. This glimpse into another culture through your eyes will surely shape their perceptions of the events occurring in this region. I anxiously await the development of this type of technological correspondence as a pivotal part of lesson plans to come. Thanks so much for all you do.”
All comments are available here.
*My wife Jeri was in the classroom during the sessions and she contributed to this report.