My colleague, Ashley Jackson, is leaving her post in Kabul, Afghanistan, where she has been based for the past two years—most recently as head of policy and advocacy for Oxfam. In the course of that time, she said one of the biggest changes she has seen in the country is the deterioration of security. Travel was quite easy in the beginning, but now there are areas in which Oxfam—and other aid groups—can no longer work.
That’s deeply troubling, especially considering the scale of need in Afghanistan, which UN figures show is the second poorest country in the world: Less than half the population has access to electricity and millions of people don’t have access to basics like health care, education, clean water, and sanitation. In the south, 53 percent of the health clinics are closed, said Ashley, and it’s getting worse as the insecurity spreads.
It’s easy to get discouraged by those statistics, and that’s why Ashley’s most enduring memory from her time in the country stands out—a beacon of possibility, a reason for hope. In her words, here’s that memory:
My first trip outside of Kabul was to a remote area in the north of the country, where I visited a women’s literacy class. I remember talking to one woman, who must have been in her 50s, about what it was like to learn how to read so late in life. She said it was like being blind and then learning how to see. She was able to go to the market and buy things, as she could finally read the money and knew she wouldn’t be cheated. She said that the greatest joy she had as a grandmother was helping her grandchildren learn how to read as that was something that no one will be able to take away from them, no matter what happens in the future.