For over a dozen years, Applied Ethics, Inc. (AE) has been active in Afghanistan through our Pax Populi people-to-people peacebuilding program. Never have we seen anything so dire as what has unfolded since the Taliban takeover in August. Fearing that our work in Afghanistan could put our partners, friends, and students in jeopardy, we were compelled to suspend our educational programs known as Pax Populi Academy (PPA) and immediately shifted our focus to advocating for the evacuation of many Afghans who sought our help.
In September, the US began a process of relocating some 80,000 Afghans first to several resettlement camps on military bases and then to towns and cities across our country. While those who escaped were fortunate, they remain victims of war, forced to abandon everything — homes, families, work, and country. Most are arriving in the United States with little knowledge of the culture or language. The critical question is will the nightmare of the war in Afghanistan be replaced with a life of isolation and poverty in America.
We needed bilingual facilitators to launch our program supporting new Afghan arrivals to the US. That is when a minor miracle happened.
For over a decade, we build a peace-through-education program in which volunteers from several American universities and around the world provided one-on-one English tutoring to Afghan students in several major cities across Afghanistan. Our goal was never simply language learning, but to advance cross-cultural understanding, friendship, and economic development. Although we paused our operations, we never gave up on Afghanistan or its people. To respond to the current crisis, we are now determined to redeploy our program to assist Afghans settling into communities around the country. We faced a major hurdle, which is we no longer had the network of Afghan educational institutions on which we relied. For “Pax Populi Academy 2.0” to succeed, we needed bilingual facilitators who could communicate with our new Afghan students in their language.
That is when a minor miracle happened. Two of our close colleagues who worked for PPA for about six years in different regions of Afghanistan — Prof. M. Qasem Jami and Ms. Shabnam — both arrived at the resettlement camp at Fort Dix in New Jersey. Prof. Jami is a Fulbright Scholar who received his master’s degree in the United States in Teaching English for Speakers of Other Languages (TESOL). He coordinated our Pax Populi Academy program in Herat in western Afghanistan. Ms. Shabnam is a graduate of Kandahar University who also studied in Europe. She helped us with program management in Kandahar, in southern Afghanistan. They met each other face-to-face for the first time at Fort Dix and then got right to work to help in redeploying our program with new Afghan immigrants to the United States, many of whom know almost no English at all.
Let me introduce you to a couple of participants who recently joined our program.
Out of concern for her relatives in Afghanistan, “NS” asked that we not give her name. She is a bright 19-years-old living with her parents at the resettlement camp at Fort Dix. Due to her father’s position in the government of Afghanistan and their status as a persecuted ethnic and religious minority, they were forced to flee the country. NS told us how excited she is to study with her Pax Populi tutor, Jake Gehrung from New Hampshire. “I hope to someday attend an American university and develop skills to help bring peace to Afghanistan,” she said. “I am thankful to Pax Populi for helping me take a step forward for reaching my hopes.”
Another participant is Abdul. He just moved with his wife and three children, to a town north of Boston. Abdul worked with the US army in Nangahar province. Due to his limited English language skills, Prof. Jami is helping him to advance to a point when he can begin studying with an American tutor. Abdul understands that securing stable well-paying employment will require that he improve his ability to read, write, and speak English. Pax Populi is helping him to achieve this goal.
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