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Other alums share their Afghan experiences

When faculty member Leigh Perkins ’81 headed off to Kabul, Afghanistan, she drew upon a network of resources, including many Brooks alums who are already connected to the country, through a variety of jobs and interests.

Peter Cross ’63, whose work helps strengthens health care systems in underserved populations, spoke earlier this year at his 50th Brooks reunion on the history of Afghanistan. Cross lived in the country while it was at war with the Russians and the Americans, as well as with itself during civil unrest. He had previously worked at Management Sciences for Health, but left in 2007 to form Innovative Development Expertise and Advisory Services, Inc. (IDEAS). During his career, he’s assisted national health systems in more than 25 developing countries.

This fall he took a trip to Afghanistan for nearly six weeks, working on a project that help the Ministry of Public Health, primarily in its relationship to the private health sector there.

As he explains it, there are about 15,000 private health entities in Afghanistan, but no large oversight group like an association of hospitals, or association of pharmaceutical companies, so he is working to set those up so that the health ministry has an organized group to communicate with, rather than the individual businesses.

Cross lived in Kabul from 1975 to mid-1979 — a tumultuous time. “In ’78 there was the communist coup, palaces were bombed; I watched it all from my front yard. Tanks in the street, firing concussion shells to scare people back into their home,” he recalls. “That brought in the Communist government, which proceede to kil thousands of people… That involved friends of mine; people I worked with.”

The American ambassador was kidnapped and killed in February 1979; Cross left about three months later.

He didn’t return until 2003. It wasn’t hard to go back, after seeing his friends killed decades earlier, says Cross. “Quite the opposite. I had friend who were trying to improve the health of Afghans, and I felt I knew something about the country.”

The terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001 were on his mind, as well.

“My feeling was that we probably did the right thing after 9/11, but we didn’t do it quite the right way. We were sending over lots of kids, and here I sit having a fair amount of knowledge of the country. If I think we did the right thing, then I should pitch in.”

Like his fellow Brooks alums, he sees the country as a place of hope, especially in the areas of public health. “There have been very dramatic decreases in mortality in Afghanistan for childen under the age of 5,” he said. “We’re able to see the progress; 100,000 more children are living every year. There are a lot of problems, but you find some good people, good Afghans … enough to get some good work done.”

For the last three years, Brian Luti ’94 has worked in the Afghanistan/Pakistan Hands Program for the U.S. Army, providing political, cultural and social expertise to build networks among Afghans, non-Afghans, government agencies, security forces, NGOs and others.

“The idea behind the program was to create a cadre of experts to deal with the problems in Afghanistan and Pakistan, so we’ve had language and cultural training to give us some background as well as training in counter-insurgency theory and practice,” said Luti. He’s currently in Afghanistan, and will remain there for about nine more months.

His work focuses on building relationships at the personal level, village level and district level. “Relationship building is critical in Afghan culture to do anything,” he said.

Max Haivanis ’00 works for the Friends of the American University of Afghanistan as a fundraiser. He previously was the senior manager of Middle East affairs for the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. In his current role, he heads to Kabul two or three times a year.

While there are challenges to his work, being able to talk about education is easy. “Who could say providing a 22-year-old Afghan with an education would be a bad thing, regardless of how you feel about the U.S. engagement in Afghanistan.”

He and Leigh both foresee that there are connections between the university and SOLA in the future.

“It’s great to see that different types of people are getting involved in education in Afghanistan in different ways,” he said. “It goes back to making the country a better place. You see all the tragedy and violence in the media, but if you look at projects like SOLA or the university, you see that not everything is bad.”
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