Volunteering Time and Talent in Afghanistan

08/02/2009 05:12 am ET | Updated Nov 17, 2011

We asked you, our readers, to submit your stories of volunteerism and community service, and you've delivered stories of doing good across the globe.

Reader Elsie De Laere submitted an email that told us this tale: after 20 years of working in education in the San Francisco Bay Area, she gave her time and her talents to the women of Afghanistan, who had long been oppressed and undereducated.

"I decided after the tragic events of 9/11 to make a link between my work here and that in Afghanistan. I decided there was too much talking and wringing of hands and joined a friend of mine for a trip to Afghanistan during the summer of 2004 to see for myself what is was like for the teachers, and especially the female teachers, several years after the US and allied forces had removed the Taleban from power."

De Laere had grown up reading National Geographic and she was enchanted by that magazines photos of the geography and people of that region. The famous Afghan Girl portrait by Steve Curry hung on her bedroom wall.

But when she got to Kabul, she saw just how badly her skills were needed, and she got to work right away.

"The second day, I was trailing my American colleague to a school where she ran a teacher training, and the principal noticed me sitting there observing and came up to ask me if could take over an English language class. Teaching the young women a weeks' worth of English conversational lessons changed profoundly how I spent my subsequent Spring and Summer vacations. I have helped organize and conduct teacher trainings in Kabul, Ghazni, Ghor and Khost for both Afghan and American -based educational organizations."

In addition, Elsie has begun a "Change for Change" program to raise funds for Afghan women at her local elementary school in California. She's currently the Afghanistan country specialist for Amnesty International. She has lobbied congress, and she has spoken about pressing human rights issues at fundraisers throughout the Bay Area.

But still, her heart takes her back to her work in Afghanistan. She's been there nine times in all.

Volunteering Time and Talent in Afghanistan

"We travel with donkeys, USAID small planes, US military helicopters, in police convoys and in burkas in beaten up cars. We have slept in VIP quarters at governors' guesthouses, in B-huts on an American base, in simple small rooms in the middle of nowhere. And we've learned one of the local languages enough that we can figure out what people are talking about, which comes in handy. We follow the simple rules of being a guests in another culture, cover up our skin and hair and follow the safety protocols. All this has resulted in an amazing and life altering experience, one in which I feel I have received more than I was able to give, both from average Americans and average Afghan people.

I guess you could say I found the perfect combination for two of my strongest passions: human rights (the right to an education IS a human right, enshrined in the UN Declaration of Human Rights) and education."

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