May I Go With Your Blessing?

May I Go With Your Blessing? My Upcoming Trip to Afghanistan

Last week I received an invitation from my friend Kathy Kelly to join her and other international peacemakers in a trip to Afghanistan to stand in solidarity with the Afghan Youth Peace Volunteers in actions of hope and resistance around the first day of Spring which also coincides with the Persian New Year (March 21).

The plan is to fly to Kabul in order to arrive by March 18th and return after being in Afghanistan for about 6 days. While there are obvious risks involved in traveling to a war zone, the risks we take for peace and reconciliation are very small compared to that of the Afghan youth that we will support. Voices For Creative Nonviolence (VCNV) members have made 3 previous visits (the last being in December 2010) to meet with these youth and their leaders.

Kathy writes: “We're working hard, over the next several days, to determine whether we could muster the skills and wherewithal to bring 100 peace activists to Afghanistan in March to undertake a tree-planting project, seeking nonviolent options for Afghanistan's future.

Would you by chance have any time and inclination to consider being part of such a delegation? It would be risky. We're thinking of a short delegation, perhaps only six or seven days in Afghanistan. Dr. Ramazon Bashardost is willing to lead the tree-planting and would welcome international accompaniment.

Gandhi's quote comes to mind regarding the inviolable connection between nonviolent means and ends, akin to the relationship between a seed and a tree. I'm especially appreciative of the willingness shown by several of the youngsters to eschew retaliatory violence, even though they lost their uncles and cousins and, in Abdulai's case, a beloved father. …

We also grew to know, through three visits, Dr. Ramazon Bashardost, whom a majority of Afghans hold in high regard as a populist leader with Gandhian values. He meets people in a vacant lot where his office is a "pup tent;" he travels around in an old "Mr. Bean" car. And he has no armed guards and bunks in with relatives, a far cry from many elected and appointed Afghan officials who flaunt convoys of armed guards, live in "poppy palaces," and often seem impervious to charges of corruption. Dr. Bahsardost came in third in the last presidential elections. He is a former Minister of Planning who resigned because of corruption. He also resigned from a Parliamentary seat, after a previous election, again because of corruption. Now he is again a Member of Parliament who advocates tirelessly on behalf of sharing Afghanistan's resources fairly, bringing criminal warlords to justice, and practicing basic principles of nonviolence.

The AYPVs are coordinated by a Hakim, a Singaporean M.D. who has lived in Afghanistan for the last eight years and who has been welcomed to make his home in the mountain village where several of the AYPV live. We have come to trust him deeply. Hakim, several of the AYPVs, and Dr. Bashardost will be visiting various provinces in Afghanistan during the month of February to learn more from people in various villages about their views of non-violent future options.

Hakim regards such options as the answer to every Afghan mother’s prayer. He has met many ordinary family members in his work as a teacher, organizer and healer. Trained in Singapore as a medical doctor, he moved to the border between Afghanistan and Pakistan after completing his residency. For two years, he lived among Afghan refugees, learning their language and living under the same circumstances of poverty and violence that they endured. For the past six years, he has lived in the Bamiyan province, having decided to accompany the Afghan refugees back to their homes. Hakim speaks fluent Dari, English, Mandarin, Urdu and various dialects. He is both highly skilled and deeply humble. It's exciting to think of how he and Dr. Ramazon Bashardost might work, together with the youngsters, to help promote nonviolent options for Afghanistan's future.

Action in Afghanistan
The AYPVs seek our support as they launch a tree-planting event to communicate their rooted commitment to nonviolent, life-giving options. Voices for Creative Nonviolence has agreed to help “get the ball rolling” in formation of an international peace team to briefly visit Kabul. Upon return, participants would promote nonviolent options, globally, and help end the war in Afghanistan.

Why tree-planting? As members of a global movement, and as U.S. people with a grave responsibility for destroying Afghanistan, we are hoping to provide support for ordinary Afghans who are proposing nonviolent options for their future. Alfred McCoy states, in a March 2010 article, that it would take $33 billion to replace the rural infrastructure of Afghanistan – a sum that equals roughly one round of U.S. supplemental spending for the war. …

The Afghan Youth Peace Volunteers have assured us of “an ample welcome for internationals” to take part in their week of peacemaking including the March 19th tree planting and a March 21st candlelight vigil. They will also hold an inter-ethnic walk on March 19, but they ask that participation in the walk be limited to Afghans who will have had an opportunity to prepare well in advance of the event.

All activities will be part of one (ongoing) campaign pursuing nonviolent options for Afghanistan. The tree-planting will allow us to share in a very small way the courageous and patient toil with which Afghans begin, every spring, to restore a land of beauty and peace in a country where so many lives have been cruelly cut down. The candlelight vigil will commemorate lives lost in Afghanistan and other war zones.”

So, with Christine’s blessing, I am submitting my application for a visa to the Afghani Embassy and hope to fly to Kabul (via Dubai) arriving March 17th and returning on March 24th so I’ll be home to help celebrate Christine’s 65th birthday a few days later on the 28th.

How you can support me:

I’d appreciate your thoughts and prayers as I travel and while in Afghanistan. (And prayers for Christine as I travel into a war zone.)

I am asking for support especially from 4 groups that I would intend to represent : The Community of St. Martin, Pax Christi Twin Cities Area, The Iraqi & American Reconciliation Project, and AlliantACTION.

I have enough financial resources to cover my expenses but would encourage each of you to consider making a donation of $10 to Voices For Creative Nonviolence (1249 W Argyle Street #2, Chicago, IL 60640 ) to cover some of their organizing/coordinating work and/or give me a donation of $10 to take and share with the Afghan Youth Peace Volunteers organization.

After I return, I’d like to show my photos and talk about the trip to a variety of local groups. Contact me about possible speaking venues like adult ed sessions at your local congregation, a civic group, or a classroom.

In peace and solidarity,
Steve Clemens

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