We’re an Afghan/WSU contingent marching up Western Avenue in Seattle. Four Afghan men, all good friends, are dressed in suits and carrying big bouquets of flowers. They are in a boisterous mood. Not only is it a glorious day, they have WSU-embossed certificates in their non-flower hands and they are going home the next day after a long and productive summer in Pullman.
Azim Emad, Homayun Fazil, Rafi Khalil Nasar, and Sami Wardak, with ten others, have just completed the study abroad portion of their master’s degrees in public administration and public policy from Kabul University, a program that Washington State University helped establish through a USAID contract. Now, following a couple of days in Olympia visiting various government offices, they have gathered in Seattle the day before their flight home for a ceremony at WSU West and a final dinner at the Edgewater.
The purpose of the USAID project was to make college education more accessible and attainable for the citizens of Afghanistan, says Colleen Taugher, who coordinated their stay. Developing such a degree in public policy and administration was a top priority for the Afghan government.
The Afghan scholars are all mid-career managers from various Aghanistan ministries who were slated for promotion. The culmination of their degrees was their theses, largely involving the development of policies and programs. The proposals were ambitious and sweeping, says Taugher. If half of them are developed, she says, it would be a remarkable feat for the country.
The scholars worked with graduate students over the summer to focus and revise their projects. John Branstetter, a doctoral student in political science who also accompanied them to Olympia, worked with four of the scholars. His main emphasis, he says, was to help them narrow their focus and produce a research methods section.
Of the four with the flowers, Azim Emad, a finance manager for USAID in Afghanistan, is developing a project on the empowerment of women entrepreneurs through microfinance. Homayun Fazil, a general procurement manager for the Ministry of Public Health, is examining the pros and cons of private clinics in Kabul. Rafi Khalil Nasar, until recently a government relations representative for a telecommunications company, is now a lawyer with his own private firm. He is assessing the role of customary law in Afghanistan. Sami Wardak is a deputy human relations director with the president’s office and is evaluating the impact of foreign aid in Afghanistan.
Among the others, two were women, indicative both of the progress women have made within contemporary Afghan society and the remaining obstacles. Nabilah Musleh, a consultant with the Ministry of Agriculture, is exploring violence against women. Najia Tareq, with the Ministry of Public Health, is director of the women’s hospital in Kabul. Her project assessed technical knowledge and skills in caesarian section procedures in outlying hospitals.
Besides working on their projects, the scholars took intensive classes in public policy and administration from faculty members from Political Science and the Division of Governmental Studies and Services on the Pullman campus, including Steve Stehr, Amy Mazur, Mike Gaffney, Nicholas Lovrich, and William Budd.
Political scientist Andrew Appleton coordinated three courses from his department and accompanied the scholars on their trip to Olympia. He found the experience of working with them “extraordinary.”
“I think all of us came away having learned a lot more about the world and about Afghanistan,” he says. “All of us came out of it with a deeper appreciation facing Afghanistan and Islam—realizing we don’t know that much about it.”
On the other hand, he continues, “We came out of it feeling that we might just influence real world outcomes just a little more than we normally do.”
WSU involvement in Afghanistan reaches back a decade with agricultural projects involving seed relief, says Chris Pannkuk, director of International Research and Development. WSU contracted with the Danish Committee for Aid to Afghan Refugees on rural development programs and then, through USAID, helped develop the Afghan eQuality Alliances, which involved three universities in Kabul: Kabul University, Kabul Polytechnic, and the Medical University. A direct result of these programs is a service called the Angel Centers, which include learning centers and digital libraries.
Visit www.afghanequalityalliances.net for more on WSU and USAID programs in Afghanistan.