Finding hope in Afghanistan

In a country torn by thirty years of war, where the promise of peace continues to be broken, despair and resignation seem to be the norm for Afghan society. War – and its corollaries of social decay, poverty, corruption, and trauma – does not discriminate. Not a family in Afghanistan has been left unaffected by the death or disappearance of a loved one and the daily, traumatizing stress of living in an occupied war zone. Billions of aid intended for reconstruction has been siphoned off leaving little left over for meaningful, local development. Afghanistan is an unstable society wracked by corruption at nearly every level of government and a pervasive distrust of strangers and neighbors alike is the expectant result of such disintegration of social ties.

But as the late Studs Terkel reminds us, “hope dies last.” And this is certainly true for the Afghan Youth Peace Volunteers, a small but growing group of young Afghans committed to a life of peace in the midst of so much violence. While cynicism and disbelief run deep across generations, the AYPVs have an alternative vision for their country embedded deep in their hearts – and they believe this hope for peace is already in the heart of every Afghan.

Organized by the AYPVs, twenty-five international partners joined together with over fifty ordinary Afghans on Saturday to declare a commitment to an Afghanistan without war with fifty-five young saplings to mark the beginning of a new year in Afghanistan. The various apple, apricot, and almond trees were planted in a Kabul elementary and high school as a sign of hope and promise of peace.

The previous day, the AYPVS along with members of the Open Society organized and participated in an inter-ethnic walk for an end to the war. As far as anyone can tell, this is the first public gathering calling for peace in Afghanistan that is not politically aligned or sponsored. The bright blue scarves of the AYPVs, their smiles and words of gratitude to the accompanying riot police, and banners denouncing warmongering is a considerable different message that most Kabulis are not used to seeing or hearing.

The steadfast commitment to nonviolence of the AYPVs and their deep desire for peace offers a kind of hope that is unheard of in Afghanistan but it also offers a breath of fresh air. Slowly but surely the AYPVs and their partners – both Afghan and international – are growing into a sizable community with a peace-filled vision for Afghanistan. The planting of trees is a small gesture indeed and the challenges for ending the foreign occupation of Afghanistan, confronting corruption and human rights abuses (particularly of women), and promoting a culture of peace are many. But the planting of trees is a beginning and it may very well be the birth of a movement that transforms Afghanistan.

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