Kate Bowen

Profile

I have been in this position as the sole expat in the Kandahar region for 18 months and have been in Afghanistan a total of almost three years, previously working with a Tearfund Development partner. I completed the CENDEP MSc in 2003.

Kate Bowen in Afghanistan

There are very few INGOs still working in Kandahar city and the southern region of Afghanistan due to the extremely volatile operating environment. This is by no means a humanitarian emergency situation, it is a slow burning deterioration. Since democracy arrived with the newly elected President Karzai the insurgency has increased in an attempt to destabilise the government and the Taliban, whoever they really are, have also stepped up their campaign of terrorism that now includes the previously unseen suicide bombers.

The greatest risk to those of us working in the city and province is of being in the wrong place at the wrong time. The priority targets are always international military, in the form of the NATO mandated International Security and Assistance Force (ISAF), some remnant Coalition forces and newly formed Afghan security forces (Army and Police). These are often targeted by Vehicle Borne Improvised Explosive Devices, or suicide car bombers, which ram into their convoys. As the targets widen to Afghan government officials the NGO personnel risk also increases as these live in the city among the population with whom we work.

When I first arrived the violence was in the far outlying districts but it has continually crept towards us, the sound of bombs and air assaults have become normal and we hardly flinch at gunfire at night. This is the environment in which we try to provide basic services in health and hygiene education, wells, latrines and hand washing in schools in the city and natural disaster risk reduction with community radio in surrounding districts. The radio will prove to be a great asset to development I believe, because it can educate a largely illiterate rural population, it can reach women who are not permitted to leave their households and it is listened to in many areas which NGOs, International and Afghan alike cannot reach, for fear of the insurgency.

Kandahar, Afghanistan

The basic level of understanding of health and hygiene is very low. Access to women has diminished constantly and it is rare to be able to work with women outside the city districts and even within the city few NGOs are able to work directly with women. Tearfund uses many child focused approaches in which the messages are taught to the children who are encouraged to take them home to the women of the household and behavioural changes have been seen. Methods such as poetry and song, which are strong in the Afghan traditions are a good way to embed lessons in the heads of the children who sing them at home. Some such songs, extolling the virtues of clean hands to prevent catching worms have even been known to be sung at wedding parties in provinces we have not worked in.

Work is still possible but at high pressure, with many frustrations and restrictions and at a certain level of risk which many find unacceptable. There is hope for Afghanistan, but it will come from inspired and courageous individuals who are willing to stand up against the status quo and choose something different. Even Afghans are subject to peer pressure. There is an Afghan Persian proverb which says: 'There is always more than one way up a mountain.' It may be that a western influenced democracy is not the way up the Afghan mountain, time will tell.

Kate Bowen

Kate studied MSc Development and Emergency Pratice with the Centre for Development and Emergency Practice (CENDEP) in the School of Architecture

The radio will prove to be a great asset to development I believe, because it can educate a largely illiterate rural population, it can reach women who are not permitted to leave their households and it is listened to in many areas which NGOs, International and Afghan alike cannot reach, for fear of the insurgency.