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Ambassador Program

Mosaic
01/01/2005

Prior to September 11, 2001, few Americans would havebeen able to locate Afghanistan on a world map, much less speak with any knowledge about this ancient country. And after the U.S. military action, the majority of images the news media has presented are of a country ravaged by war, brutalized by the Taliban, where warlords compete to control poppy crops. But there is much more to Afghanistan, and with the futures of our two countries now closely aligned, it is in the best interests of both that we Americans become better acquainted with the challenges and opportunities they face.

Today, Afghanistan is on a road to social and economic recovery. From its longstanding tradition of woven carpets, to its Dari poetry that has produced such great poets as Jami and Alisher Navoi, Afghanistan’s culture is a vast combination of history and religion influenced by over 5,000 years of armies, empires and trade routes. Afghanistan is working hard to rebuild its economy by embracing a free market system and modernized infrastructure. Major banks are providing financial security and personal and small business loans that will create a level of economic stability not achieved in decades. And while numerous industries are being developed to integrate the country into the global economy, Afghanistan is focusing on energy and mining, agriculture, and transportation. But support from the international community is necessary to ensure the successful development of the still fragile nation. International
House Philadelphia’s Ambassador Program was created, in part, to facilitate this kind of assistance.

On November 15th, H.E. Said Tayeb Jawad, Ambassador of Afghanistan to the United States, and his wife, Shamim Jawad, began a two-day visit with a public symposium on the healthcare situation in Afghanistan. Co-produced by Carelift International, with sponsorship by Independence Blue Cross, Med Assets, and Cozen O’Connor, the event drew an audience of students, young professionals, concerned citizens and Afghan immigrants. Ambassador Jawad opened the program by speaking on the recent elections, the economic and social climate, and the effects of the war on the Afghan people. Shamim Jawad, a financial consultant and long-time advocate for the rights of women and children, had been in Afghanistan in June and used photos from that trip to illustrate the seriousness of the current healthcare crisis. Though international aid, channeled through UN agencies and NGOs, has helped provide basic healthcare services in a few cities such as Kabul, rural populations have only makeshift clinics and few or no medical personnel. And it is in the countryside that most of the Afghan population lives. Hospitals and clinics, safe running water and electricity are at the top of the long list of immediate needs. In some hospitals up to three patients occupy the same bed and must share needles, tubing, gloves and bed sheets, or provide their own. The few hospitals that have been rebuilt lack staff, causing a desperate need for trained medical personnel country-wide. The plight of children is perhaps the most devastating for the future of the country. “Afghanistan is one of the six remaining countries in the world where polio, like landmines, still kills and maims many children every day, and where other diseases, such as malaria, tuberculosis, measles and malnutrition continue to kill thousands of children and adults each year,” Mrs. Jawad told the audience. According to the Ministry of Health, the leading causes of death for women are the lack of “access to trained healthcare providers, hospitals and clinics, and female doctors.” Mrs. Jawad called on the audience to help provide assistance, and offered Carelift International as a means to do so. Carelift has been tapped by the Afghan Embassy to target specific areas of need such as hospital equipment, and organize the delivery of donations into the country.

The following day, Commercial Attaché Mariam Nawabi and Government & Media Relations Officer Ashraf Haidari joined Ambassador Jawad for presentations on trade and investment opportunities in Afghanistan. Working in conjunction with the Philadelphia Department of Commerce, International House brought communications, marketing, banking and financial services executives to meet with Ms. Nawabi in the morning. Over lunch, sponsored by Superior Group, Inc., representatives of seven leading firms in agriculture, real estate, urban development, energy and business services had the opportunity to speak openly with Ambassador Jawad. While the discussion centered on direct foreign investment, Ambassador Jawad expressed the hope that the executives would help spread the word to business friends and colleagues about the opportunities in Afghanistan.

Before Ambassador and Mrs. Jawad returned to Washington they took time to have an informal discussion with International House residents. The group of undergrad and graduate students had the occasion to hear first hand about the Ambassador’s previous role as chief of staff to President Hamid Karzai and learned about the commitment to his country that brought Ambassador Jawad back to Afghanistan from exile. Exile had broadened his outlook on the world in much the same way that living at International House is doing now for the residents.

The Ambassador Program was established to create cultural and economic links between Philadelphia and the Ambassador’s country. Interviewed only a month after the visit, Ms. Nawabi spoke about foreign direct investment discussions that have already progressed, including a possible hotel development deal in the historic city of Herat, and the increase in donations to Carelift for Afghanistan. She has also posed the idea of creating a Sister City linkage to the Philadelphia Commerce Department to further the Philadelphia-Afghan relationship. International House Philadelphia could not facilitate these opportunities without the active engagement and support of organizations throughout the region. In addition to those already mentioned we gratefully acknowledge innovation Philadelphia, J.M Sorkin, and Womens Way for in-kind assistance.

 

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