"Nothing beats the feeling of meeting the people we help"

It was a deeply touched Vice Managing Director who returned from a visit to Mission East’s projects in Afghanistan in July. Here Peter Samuelsen tells us more about his visit, and his encounter with a thirsty little boy.

By Peter Blum Samuelsen, Vice Managing Director in Mission East

As I arrived at Kabul airport, there were medical helicopters with wounded soldiers sitting outside, waiting to be flown out for proper medical treatment. I felt the city was tense with weapons and security personnel.

In Kabul I saw the Afghanistan that the worldwide media portrays; a country of war and conflict. But as soon as I followed the convoy of traffic up into the mountains, heading  north towards where Mission East works far away from the war in the south, a different picture of the country was waiting for me.

Even though burnt out tanks from the Soviet era were lying upside down on the side of the mountains all around, I experienced a side to Afghanistan that seldom reaches our newspapers and TV screens. Here, in a more peaceful part of the country, development is blossoming. A development that partly is because of support from Denmark.

Without losing face
We had been standing by the water pump in the village of Ishan Khalifa for a while when a younger woman approached us. Some of the local men had been telling us how the pump that Mission East had built with the support from EU's Humanitarian Aid Department ECHO and the resulting clean drinking water had changed life dramatically in the village.

It was day four of my visit and the temperature at noon was so high and the air so dry that my face was covered in sweat. The woman had come to the pump with her donkey to collect water in small metal buckets. She was a bit shy and probably also felt uneasy about interrupting a gathering of men. In Afghanistan, women are not supposed to interrupt men or have contact with strangers.

The woman hesitated. But despite the cultural gap between men and women, right away one of the men came to help her pump water up from under the ground.

That is when it hit me that the water pump with clean drinking water is not only preventing the deaths of children from waterborne diseases like diarrhoea in the village year after year. It is not only sparing the women long, and often dangerous, journeys across narrow mountain paths to collect water from the nearest lake. The pump has also become a point of common interest for both men and women. A place where a man can help a woman with her chores without losing face.

Together with Mission East, the village men have built the pump themselves. They feel responsible for it. And even though collecting water is a job for a woman, the pump is connected to a great deal of pride and ownership by the men.

Child deaths in every family
I asked the group if the pump had made a difference in their life.

"Yes," they answered.

"Before, we were constantly struck by disease. We saw how our children died one after the other because of contaminated water. Each family in the village has lost one or more children. But now nobody dies."

In one of the other villages I met one of the children who may have been saved by the clean drinking water. We were gathered around the water tank that Mission East helped build when a small boy made his way through the crowd. In his hand he was holding a metal cup which he held under the tap while the clean, clear water filled it up.

When drinking, he looked up at me and gave me a shy smile. And I felt honoured. Imagine that we are touching this life.

I was filled with joy over the fact that the water the little boy and other children are drinking is clean. They no longer need to be afraid of getting sick whenever they feel thirsty.

Still a great need for help
M first visit to Afghanistan cnfirmed that in unity we are ale to reach the heart of the Afghan population. There is nothing that beats the feeling of meeting these human beings to whom the help is real and often makes the difference between life and death.

But there are still a lot of poor people in Afghanistan to whom war, disease, and fear is every day life. They too deserve our help. Together we are able to do more good in Afghanistan.

From the Mission East magazine, Fall 2007 - download it here