Need vs. Risk

Note: This very week Project faced with another very strategic decision. Our contacts in Afghanistan are urgently requesting us to return to their country with more ocean going cargo container loads of needed medical supplies and pieces of medical equipment. In the past, Project C.U.R.E. has been one of the very few humanitarian organizations that have been successful in delivering the life saving goods into the country.  

In 2014, the Obama administration announced a timetable calling for a complete U.S. withdrawal by the end of 2016. Many contend that the surge's rigid timetable undermined U.S. leverage at a moment when maximum military pressure was being brought to bear on the insurgency, and that the anticipated withdrawal has likewise diminished the Taliban's incentives to negotiate. It appears to have emboldened the Taliban’s aggressive activities.  

Afghanistan is a very dangerous venue right now. So, does the desperate need warrant the risk involved of Project C.U.R.E. delivering help and hope to the people of Afghanistan?  

I thought it would be interesting, and perhaps enlightening, to share with you some of Project C.U.R.E.’s actual involvement in Afghanistan. 

Afghanistan Journal: July, 2002: 

I had a lot of good memories of Central Asia. I had at one time or another visited most or all of the individual republics of the old Soviet Union. The history was rich and colorful and included such eccentrics as Genghis Kahn, Timor Tourmaline, and Alexander the Great. Ancient tales of adventures along the Old Silk Road are still retold around Uzbek and Afghanistan firesides. 

But new sailing routes replaced the long camel caravans that plodded through the shifting sands of Central Asia, and upstart eccentrics like Stalin, Khrushchev, and Brezhnev exerted their dirty games of civil manipulation on the more recent political chessboard. 

I vividly remembered sitting on the cold floor of a rural Kyrgyzstan farmhouse in the dead of winter eating a late evening dinner as the snow blew into the old house from between the ancient logs. The entire oblast had run out of natural gas, and I had been invited to sleep around the wood burning cooking hearth in the kitchen with the rest of the farm family. I graciously declined, protesting that I did not want to inconvenience them or intrude into their privacy. 

Honoring my request to stay in the room where we were eating, they brought me blankets made from horsehides and a thin mat for the floor. Before the night was over I realized that I should have opted for the kitchen floor. As the snow continued to blow into the room where I was sleeping, I rummaged through the contents of my suitcase in the darkness of the old room. 

I was so cold that I had tried to pull my head under the blankets. But that had not worked at all. The old horsehide blankets still smelled terribly like the barnyard and I could count the time duration of my head under the covers in nanoseconds. 

But, finally, I pulled from my suitcase a couple of pre-worn undershirts and promptly wrapped my head with them turban style in order to stay warm and made it through the wintry Kyrgyzstan night. Great memories! 

I also recalled the hundreds of hospital and clinic facilities that I had visited throughout Central Asia. Project C.U.R.E. had made a great impact on the health care delivery systems within Central Asia and I felt proud to have been even a small part of that memory building. 

Over the years we had built some great partnerships in Central Asia with organizations like Vision International, Caleb Project, and Boulder Valley Hospitals; we had also done extensive work with various Korean missions groups. The longer we were involved in Central Asia the broader our reputation and influence had grown and the more groups there were that had come knocking at our doors. 

Project C.U.R.E. had previously worked in partnership in Tirana, Albania, with a Korean missionary group called Messengers of Mercy. One of their members, Mr. John Kim, who worked for United Airlines in Chicago, traveled with me to Albania for our needs assessment study. Project C.U.R.E.’s partnership with the Korean group has proven to be very successful in many places. 

Toward the end of 2001, Dr. Choi, from the headquarters of Messengers of Mercy in Chicago, asked if I would travel to Tashkent, Uzbekistan, and check out several projects there in which they were involved. I had agreed to go contingent on Mr. Kim’s traveling with me. They agreed and we began to work on a mutually agreeable date in 2002 for the assessments. 

At the same time I had been contacted by Central Asia Free Exchange (CAFE), one of our previous partners in Uzbekistan regarding some urgent medical requests made to them by the highest-ranking cabinet minister on the president’s council of Uzbekistan. If Project C.U.R.E. could participate in providing for the cabinet member’s request it was felt that many doors of opportunity would be opened in Uzbekistan. 

The high-ranking cabinet member, Dr. Alisher Sharipou, was so interested in working with Project C.U.R.E. that he traveled to Denver to promote our involvement and also to check us out. It had become quite clear that I needed to make a trip to Uzbekistan. We finally agreed to travel on the dates of July 26 through August 7. I was quickly running out of any available travel dates for 2002.

Almost equally as pressing was a request for me to return to Harare, Zimbabwe, Africa, to perform an urgent needs assessment study there. After a lot of consideration we decided that the only way I could possibly make another trip to southern Africa was to combine the African trip with the Uzbekistan trip. 

I would travel to Frankfurt, then to Tashkent, Uzbekistan, and then back to Frankfurt, and south to Johannesburg, South Africa, and north to Harare, Zimbabwe, then back to Frankfurt and back to Denver via Washington, D.C. 

Following the terrorist attacks on the US on September 11, 2001, Tashkent, Uzbekistan, had become an important hub for the war on terrorism. It also had become a very dangerous place. 

As the time drew closer for my travel into Uzbekistan, a strange thing occurred. One of the Korean groups, with whom we would be shipping partners in Uzbekistan, suggested that I go with them into Mazar-e-Sharif in northern Afghanistan. They felt that the United Nations would approve our travel into the war area to assess the situation. 

There were thousands of refugees in the area without adequate food, water, or medical attention, and perhaps Project C.U.R.E. could offer some relief in those areas. 

Next Week: Embassy Travel Warnings

© Dr. James W. Jackson   

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