Volunteer: Ian Pounds
Sunday, 17 October 2010 07:01
Why volunteer, why Afghanistan, and why with AFCECO?
You might say it was a midlife crisis, but it involved the state of the world as much as my own desire to feel useful. I poked my head up and looked around: things in the world looked bleak in 2006, not the least of which was a seemingly endless war with countries that I and apparently most people in America knew nothing about. Iraq was the big news at the time. I guess that’s why I gravitated to the somewhat secretive war in south-central Asia. I’m an educator and counselor; I love kids, so this is what I had to offer the people of Afghanistan. I spent a year rearranging my life. Then I found what I was looking for, Afghans helping Afghans. I wanted to serve their cause, not mine.
What was the single most amazing thing you experienced in the girl’s orphanage where you lived?
Dancing. Teaching the girls how to spit watermelon seeds, or the time they wouldn’t leave class early. “We want our five minutes!” they said. Where do I begin to choose one moment? Perhaps my final night there. The girls had begun to follow me around. It was getting late, and though I tried to pack I couldn’t muster the strength. In groups of two and three they all entered my room. They wanted me to sing the song I’d taught them. I pulled out my ten-string cittern and started, and when I got to the chorus they joined in. The answer my friend, is blowin’ in the wind, the answer is blowin’ in the wind. Their faces were so brave. It was inconceivable to them, to me that I was actually leaving. They had never sung the song as well as on that night.
You “served” AFCECO for five months; you in a sense did your time. So when you got home, why did you turn around and go right back?
From the moment, through my tears, I said goodbye to the children I knew somehow I would come back. I had a mortgaged house, credit card debt, no career, no savings, no income; this in the middle of the Wall Street housing meltdown. Instead of panicking I continued working for AFCECO. I started arranging speaking engagements, raising money for an orphanage education fund. I spoke to hundreds of Americans at colleges, high schools, churches, libraries, even living rooms, about the children, about the way in which Andeisha is changing the world. It was how I kept the children in my life. It was also wonderful to discover my countrymen and women anew, and they were fantastic, giving over $16,000 to the fund. I put the house I had built in Vermont on the market. I proceeded, even though nothing was selling. I bought my return flight to Kabul with the last credit on my card. Suddenly there was a bidding war on my house. The sale closed two days before I got on a plane. I threw the credit cards away for good. Why return? I was going home, to the best job I ever had, and it doesn’t pay in dollars, it pays in love, it pays in being a part of something positive and effective. I’d gone and made myself useful, and with that comes responsibility.