(Note: The five boys I met in Kabul, Afghanistan, from the Afghan Youth Peace Volunteers were young " the oldest only 20 " and as charming and well-mannered as teenage boys can humanly be. Their mentor, Hakim, displayed patience and tireless compassion.
I found it easy to settle into a comfortable relationship with them for 10 days, but during the event described below, it became clear that these young men were a courageous lot, going against many cultural norms in Afghanistan and doing so publicly. People in places like today's Afghanistan have been "disappeared" for less.
As I began to realize how dangerous the Peace Volunteers' work could be, the global call-in project dubbed "Dear Afghanistan," became much more than a chance for callers to meet a handful of charming, brave boys. It was the beginning of an international support committee that at some moment may need to quickly mobilize to demand governments intervene to protect these young men's lives. Indeed, after a few years of quiet work in their province and the relatively high-profile Dear Afghanistan calling project, Afghan security forces visited Hakim's village for a third time, leaving the distinct impression he is no longer welcome. Just before he and the AYPV were to make the 11-hour drive through the mountains to Bamyan, he booked a flight to another country.)
------------KABUL " At four in the morning on New Year's Day, 2011, a group of young Afghan peace makers and their much-older U.S. colleagues huddled around a laptop computer in this city, to begin a 24-hour conversation with people from all over the world. They called their project "Dear Afghanistan" and as phone-a-thons go, it, and a similar one they did December 19, 2010, may well be the first of a kind.
The effort consisted of an entire day of Skyped-in phone calls, emails, Facebook and Twitter posts, with the goals of providing an opportunity for world citizens to learn about Afghanistan first-hand from experts " people trying to live their lives in a war zone; provide moral support for the members of Afghan Youth Peace Volunteers (AYPV); and begin linking conversations among a global, below-the-radar network of veteran peace activists, determined that the war in this country can and must be ended absent military force.
Doug Mackey, technical producer for the project that was promoted entirely via independent media and the international peace movement, explained, "The teleconference team was centered in Olympia, with two crew members in Oakland, CA , one in Saratoga Fl, and a few around the world keeping an eye on production issues like teleconference connection, livestreaming and corrections."
People wanting to participate sent an email to producers and were placed on a call-in schedule that was ultimately impossible to keep because of the highly animated conversations.
A sampling of callers and conversations included:
Sherrie, from California, told the five AYPV young men, that on December 16, two dozen people were arrested in San Francisco in conjunction with 131 people arrested that same day at the White House in a peaceful war protest. She also related the case of Father Louie Vitale, serving a 6 month jail sentence for crossing the boundary line of Ft. Benning, in Georgia, as part of the annual demonstration demanding closure of the Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation, formerly known as the School of the Americas.
Ali: "Please tell Fr. Louie, "You are not alone. The government that arrested you, arrested you for peace, so you are not alone.'"
Sherrie: "All of us who were arrested had smiles on our faces. It gave us a chance to communicate with more people about what is happening in your country."
Gulamai: In another conversation, about barriers to their work in Bamyan Province, he admitted the reality is that there is little trust among ordinary Afghans or between Afghans and their national neighbors. "We distrust people in Pakistan and India and this has to be overcome by persistence."
Ali: "The people of Afghanistan want to build relationships with people in other countries as well as people here. People in other countries don't trust their governments and so the same with the people. We have to end that!"
The next caller requested a news report from Kabul.
After few moments of silence, Abdulai always ready with a wisecrack, announced, "Fresh news from Kabul"the Afghan Youth Peace Volunteers had eggs, tea and warm bread for breakfast."