By Robert Thelen - Director of International Programs
If you’ve read Three Cups of Tea, you’re aware that Central Asia Institute was founded on the belief that sitting down with people and drinking tea together is the essential first step to accomplishing great things. Without those face-to-face exchanges, change is nearly impossible in that part of the world. Relationships of trust must be built before plans can be drawn for a new school, a teacher receives training, or a child walks into a classroom to begin her education.
In the spirit of our founding philosophy, Robert (Bob) Thelen, Central Asia Institute’s new director of international programs, journeyed to Afghanistan and Tajikistan in November to meet with our partners, visit schools, and listen and learn from our colleagues on the ground and the people we serve. Bob is a veteran to international development work. He’s lived and worked abroad for a good share of his career including three years with an international non-government organization (NGO) in Afghanistan.
Despite his familiarity with the region, the trip this fall had its share of adventure, beginning with the flight from Kabul into Ishkashim district, a remote province in the mountains of northern Afghanistan.
“We couldn’t travel by ground because the roads aren’t secure. There’s a commercial flight, but that’s also not safe. So we flew in a six-seater plane run by a company that flies NGO staff into hard-to-access locations. I sat in the co-pilot seat with oxygen tubes in my nose – we all had them in case the pilot needed to fly higher to avoid turbulence over the mountains. We landed on a short and bumpy dirt runway. There’s only one flight a week.” The time and risks involved in the journey underscored for Bob why support from Central Asia Institute is so needed. “These are places that don’t get a lot of attention from the central government or the international community because they’re so remote and marginalized.”
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