Afghanistan: From a program to a movement

News and Press Release
Originally published
Word on the street was that Char Taq bazaar had never seen so many people in it. Looking down the one and only road running through the village, one's attention was held captive by a colony of turbans, mostly snow white, bobbing and weaving as the elder statesmen of Jawand prepared themselves to make history for the next two days. In early 2002, the term "loya jirga" had become a global buzzword as delegates from every corner of Afghanistan prepared to convene in Kabul to elect a transitional administration. This gathering in Jawand was far from a loya jirga, but for the 109,000 people of this district, it was perhaps an even more tangible example of change.
The way World Vision works in Afghanistan is through bodies known as Village Organisations (VO). Similar in principle to the traditional Afghan "shura" or village council, a VO is a group of families across one or more villages that have voluntarily decided to work together to rebuild their communities. Initiated by World Vision, the main difference between a VO and a shura is that the leader of the VO is elected by the community, and not headed by the arbab, the village power-broker and land-owner. In a VO, everyone is free to join and have a voice. Every IDP family, every female-headed household, every landless labourer has the right ? and with it the responsibility ? of participation.

Three months of community sensitisation and education had preceded this two-day meeting, the inaugural assembly of all 235 Village Organisations in Jawand. Ten local Jawand people employed by World Vision - Community Motivators - had spent much of this time walking many hundreds of kilometres, across mountain ranges draped in snow and through canyons whose rivers are rarely warmed by the sun, telling their people the news of World Vision's wish to work with them. In those three months, not one family had decided they did not wish to participate. In fact, 18,174 families now claim membership in a World Vision VO in Jawand district. And the 235 men representing those 18,174 families were now in Char Taq, the district capital. It was the first time in history that such a bold statement of solidarity had been made, in a place where conflict has divided villages for generations. So these elected, voluntary community leaders slowly made their way to the mosque that Monday morning, no doubt more than a little curious to hear exactly what this "World Vision" had to say.

What World Vision had to say was simple a question more than a statement: Will you work with us? As the men in the long, darkened room listened to the message, were introduced to the World Vision philosophy of honesty, transparency and equity, and were invited to participate in projects designed to rebuild livelihoods ravaged by drought and war, the answer was a quiet, considered, resounding "yes."

And so, in the space of just three months, World Vision Afghanistan has mobilised a community of over 100,000 Afghan people in a place considered by many observers to be one of the most isolated, conflicted and anachronistic in the country. A traditional community mechanism that can perhaps be described as quasi-democratic at best has been adapted into one understood, accepted and embraced by even the most powerful and established local authorities; in fact, two of the most attentive men in that most holy of Afghan buildings, sitting cross-legged in the front row, were the district governor and commander. So excited was the commander that he bounded into the World Vision compound after the meeting concluded and announced loudly that he would provide donkeys to carry food to any of the poorest families in his region, free of charge. Wynn Flaten, Food Security Director for World Vision Asia Region, smiled and remarked, "World Vision Afghanistan has moved beyond implementing a program. This is a movement."