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Asking More Commentary: Perspectives from Mendoza College of Business

Commentary Post - Carolyn Y. Woo

Huts and Water: Providing relief to those fleeing Swat Valley

August 19, 2009

On July 27, 2009, Carolyn Y. Woo, Martin J. Gillen Dean of the Mendoza College of Business at the University of Notre Dame, arrived in Islamabad, Pakistan, as part of a 10-day journey to observe the work of Catholic Relief Services in Pakistan and Afghanistan. Woo, a CRS board member, traveled from major cities to remote villages in the two countries, seeing first-hand CRS’s relief work aimed at improving education, agriculture, water resources and other significant humanitarian needs. The following Asking More Commentary entry offers a personal account of Dean Woo’s visit and her personal observances of the countries, the people and CRS’ relief efforts.


July 31, 2009

In Pakistan, fighting in the Swat Valley between the Pakistani military and Taliban displaced 3 million people. Many fled to the Mardan District in the Northwest Frontier Province of Pakistan. Two million of the 3 million were taken in by relatives!  As this is a farming area, space is not an issue; people just camp on their relatives’ land.  One farmer we visited hosted nine families (the average size is about seven people.  This gave me a profound sense of what FAMILY and HOSPITALITY mean.

Our relief work here is to provide dwelling and latrines within the hosts’ “compound.” The standard approach is to buy tents.  These cost $400-$600 U.S., and they run out of supply during large displacements so you end up with low-quality tents.  They cannot be re-used.  The tent is relatively small.  Since the women cannot come out into the public, they stay in these tents when the temp is 100-115 degrees F.  CRS did a prototype of a straw hut –18 feet x 14 feet. A pitched roof rises to 8 feet and is 6 feet at its lowest point and sought input from the people. Some modification:   the plastic sheet for insulation and rain protection was moved under the under the thatch roof rather than over. A piece of fabric is draped inside the shelter for additional privacy.  A drainage system is dug around the shelter to re-direct rain.  Each shelter costs $300 in materials and can be constructed within 1-3 days.  The owners and community all pitch in the assembly of the shelters.  It is very comfortable for a family of seven.  I went into quite a number of them; each family has made it a home in its own ways.  The shelters would be useful for the host families even after their relatives return home.

In addition to the shelter, CRS also constructs latrines and bathing houses to accommodate these refugee guests.  These are very well-designed, clean, functional, and private.  A host family has actually built permanent brick walls around some of these.  We talk about fences making good neighbors; sanitation facilities make good guests.

Aug. 3, 2009

We visited at the U.S. Embassy in Kabul with the deputy ambassador and assorted staff to describe the CRS approach and thank them for their support and flexibility. Tomorrow, I leave Kabul to come home.  I want to thank you for all the prayers which have accompanied me.   It is hard to describe what it is like to be in war zone with armed guards everywhere and definitely in every restaurant for expatriates.  During the nine days, there were two sets of bomb explosions in Herat and Kabul.  Yet, I have met incredible people, including four sisters from Germany, Switzerland, Japan and France. One has stayed for last 50-plus years; two who have been here for 37 years.  They take care of each other, work in the hospital and exude JOY, laughter, humor, incredible prayer lives and a sense of community.

I am so proud of the CRS teams here: the international and the Pakistani and Afghan staffs who choose to work with us.  Our U.S. staff members are young – mostly in their 30s.  They all have master’s degrees from great institutions.  But they choose to be here – without security guards, going out into the villages and working shoulder-to-shoulder with the locals.  They know how to get along in highly stressful situations and have fun while doing great work.  Matt McGarry and Joseph Kelly, country representative and head of programming in Afghanistan, are ND alums.

When I looked out into our compound garden in Ghor, beyond the gates are rocks and more rocks.  Within the gates is a luscious garden of vegetables, ornamental flowers, the sweetest tomatoes and a greenhouse where CRS staff is experimenting with multiple plantings before rolling out to the locals.  So … Hope. It looks green and luscious; it is in the friendships and working partnerships with each other, with the Pakistani and the Afghans. They already look less different, more like people who care about the same things as we do – a better life, peace for cultivating fruit trees and a road that allows mothers and wives to be taken to hospitals during problematic childbirths.

From the work of CRS and all our partners, I have learned more deeply:

       How some people can really embrace the message to serve the “discarded;”

       How when everything seems up in the air, they truly trust God;

       How joy is possible in what would be the saddest of situations;

       How it is not up to us to assess the impact in serving 20 kids in a forgotten province – God decides.

PS:  The combination of policemen and donuts is a universal phenomenon.  A CRS project with local women that created businesses includes a bakery that now has a huge contract to provide cakes and biscuits to local policemen. The business broke even in four weeks.

Postscript, Aug. 3, 2009

Buzkashi is an Afghan National Sport. In Buzkashi, a headless carcass of a goat is placed in the center of a circle and surrounded by the players on horseback of two opposing teams. The object of the game is to get control of the carcass and bring it to the scoring area.

Although it seems like a simple task, it is not. Only the most masterful players – called chapandaz – ever even get close to the carcass. Opponents can punch players on the other team.  Teammates are needed to steer the horse and defend the one with the carcass.  As this is a highly participatory sport, spectators can also run into the arena anytime and punch the players. The players are not the only ones who undergo arduous training; the horses that participate in Buzkashi must train for five years before ever making it to the playing field.

To many Afghans, Buzkashi is not just a game, it is a way of life; a way in which teamwork and communication are essential to being successful.