Name: Skip Rohde
Stationed in: Afghanistan
Hometown: Asheville, NC
Milblog: Ramblings From A Painter
We had a big event over at the District Center recently -- a class
teaching local widows how to raise chickens, so they can
feed their families and earn a little cash. As their
graduation present, they each received a bunch of chickens to take home and
keep in the chicken coops they had built during the class.
As is typical of Afghan activities, it was chaos. Things that were
supposed to happen, didn't. The start time came and went long before
things actually started. Things that weren't scheduled, happened. This
is Afghanistan, and if you're wedded to a schedule, you won't make it
But finally, each woman came up and received her chickens. The fun part
was putting the chickens into cardboard boxes to take home. The
chickens were not at all interested in being stuffed in any cardboard
box. So every couple of minutes, one of them would escape and go
running around, chased by wildly screaming kids, until it was captured
and brought back. A few minutes later, another one would make a run for
it. Eventually, though, all the chickens were loaded up and taken off
to their new homes. Twenty women now have a way to help themselves, and
their kids, survive.
Kids were everywhere today. This is a small part of the batch. One of
our soldiers wanted to take a picture of a couple of kids, and one of
the women saw that, so she started rounding up every stray youngster in
the area. She was definitely in command: these kids did as they were
told! They just didn't necessarily look at the camera, though.
I've said before that soldiers are kid-magnets. Female soldiers are
girl-magnets. Here's one of our young soldiers playing patty-cake with
As the soldiers left, this young girl hung onto their hands all the way out the gate.
These three young princesses came late to the ceremony, but were definitely the belles of the ball.
UPDATE: The above post triggered a note from a reader. Here's an edited-down version, which I'm answering publicly because it raises issues others may be interested in:
"Although I think you are doing a good job there and making people happy and safe, when I read your latest post I couldn't keep from laughing loudly, to the point where I fell out of my chair. Are you serious that you had to teach Afghans how to raise chickens? You don’t need to bother
teaching what humans have known for centuries -- how to eat and drink and get
their food. I just get sick and tired of this Whiteman stupidity..."
we arranged for an NGO to teach 20 local women how to raise chickens.
Some may think that all Afghans know how to do this, particularly way
out here, far away from the big city of Kandahar. Unfortunately, they
don't. There are too many women around here who do not have a man to
take care of them. Maybe they're widows, or have been abandoned, or whatever. In
this society, men are responsible for women. If a woman is not lucky
enough to have a man to care for her, then her economic options are
severely limited. Here in Maiwand, such women have not been able to benefit from the
US-sponsored seed distributions for some very dumb (in my mind) reasons.
They are generally shuffled off to the outside of society. I've seen
them begging at the District Center. Many have children, and these kids
suffer when the mother suffers.
So we arranged to have an NGO come in to do this class. Raising chickens,
you may think, is a no-brainer. Not so. It's not rocket science, but
there are things that need to be done to ensure that the chickens remain
healthy and produce eggs. This class taught them how to make chicken
coops that were reasonably cool in the summer (important here), had
adequate ventilation, were easy to clean out, and provided security.
They were taught how to care for their adult chickens as well as the
chicks, including feeding, water, what sort of health conditions to
watch for, and more. After the women built adequate coops and showed
that they knew how to properly care for their chickens, they each
received about 40 of the birds. So now these women have a source of
food for themselves and their families that they can sustain over the
course did more than just teach them how to raise chickens. It
provided them with a shared experience and a sense of both community and
empowerment. (I can't speak from first-hand experience here, I'm
relying on what our female soldiers reported). Most of these women had
virtually nothing, but now they have something that will help them
have seen many programs in Afghanistan that I thought were really
stupid, that wasted time, money, and effort. Afghan men figured out how
to game the system long ago so they could make maximum benefit from
these programs. I see lots of focus by district leaders on these large,
expensive programs, that too often result in little benefit to the
district, but in which they make large sums of cash. This chicken
program was a low-cost effort that directly benefited a small number of
people who needed help very much. So, while it may seem ridiculous to
teach an Afghan how to raise chickens, I make no apologies for it.