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Friday, April 18, 2014
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Published: 3/31/2005

The Afghanistan 10 are women of vision

BY KENDALL F. DOWNS

BAD news is generally pretty easy to come by.

Good news - hopeful news - can be a much scarcer commodity when the next big thing, usually defined as an event with the highest death toll, the biggest explosion, or the most glitz, competes with the last big thing for our attention. But often it is events of little "news" value that are the most important, that have the most potential to change some corner of the world for the better.

Thus it is that First Lady Laura Bush's whirlwind visit to Afghanistan commands our attention, even though she spent a mere five hours on the ground and her presence there changed nothing for the women and children who live in that restrictive society, while the month-long visit of 10 Afghanistani women to northwest Ohio to learn about how to run successful businesses has gone largely unmarked.

And yet it is not Ms. Bush but these women, who will return to Afghanistan next week to share with other women the entrepreneurial skills they have learned and business contacts they have made, who have the greater potential impact on the future of Afghanistan.

Brought to northwest Ohio by the Great Lakes Consortium through a grant from the State Department, these women - whose trip was marred yesterday by the theft in Cleveland of their van, handicrafts, 3 airline tickets and one passport - have spent the past month taking part in roundtable discussions, visiting businesses, and attending cultural events in Toledo, Detroit, Cleveland, Bowling Green, and elsewhere.

They are part of the Afghanistan elite. Highly educated themselves, they are teachers, entrepreneurs, and civic leaders. When they return to Afghanistan they plan, with the help of U.S. and international aid organizations, to start businesses that employ women and help other women begin their own businesses.

Most of these businesses will, of necessity, focus on handicrafts and other products that can be produced by women and either marketed locally or sold at export. But what they produce for sale will not be the real fruit of their labor. Instead, what they will build when they return to Afghanistan is hope, and the true product of the workshops and other enterprises they start will be the possibility of a better future for themselves and their daughters.

While military might was sufficient to chase the Taliban from power, guns and bombs cannot enforce the cultural changes necessary if women are to become equal partners in Afghanistan's future. These changes can only be realized by women themselves - by taking control of their own lives, achieving a degree of economic independence, and proving for themselves and the men around them that they have valuable skills.

So, as their short stay here comes to a close, we should take a moment to honor their courage and vision.

I haven't named them because, in truth, their names matter little. After all, it's not likely that we'll hear of them again after they return home, unless, of course, some disaster befalls them or their success provides a photo opportunity for a future First Lady.

What does matter is that they, and others like them, exist and are working in obscurity to build a better tomorrow for themselves, their sisters and daughters, and, by extension, all the people of Afghanistan.

Isn't that a story worthy of our attention?



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