September 14, 2012

Name: Skip Rohde
Stationed in: Afghanistan
Hometown: Asheville, NC
Milblog: Ramblings From A Painter
Email: skip@skiprohde

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 here!

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 local girl.

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..."

Yes, 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 long term.  

This 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 survive.
I 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.



Thank you to the soldiers who participated in this program,helping these women and children in such a direct, meaningful way. Thank you for your service to our country, and around the world. Blessings to you and your families back home.

...and one more thought: I was so touched at the photo of the young girl holding the hand of a soldier, as they walked out to the gate. The service these soldiers are giving goes far beyond the immediate needs of the people. The children, the rising generation in Afganistan, see these acts of kindness and humanity, and their opinions of America and what we stand for are profoundly influenced for good. Thank you again for your service and your example.

Hi ! I happened upon your story while arguing with my computer. I am I did. It was an appropriate class. What is an NGO ? Yes I am a newby at this. My question is was their a follow up visit? There should be one about two weeks - one month after the class ends and about three and six months to see how effective this class really is helpful. This probably isn't reality oriented. However, one visit is. This is to help us in really being effective in our pursuit to make a positive result to our intervention , to a problem we assessed as their problem. thank your story of the activities of our soldiers. God bless all of you and keep safe. Come home to us.

Well, OK. If it is true that some Afghani's are so culturally devastated that they can't get re-started after the disasters, starting by raising chickens is about the smartest and most economical thing I've heard of. Sadly, it's a sign that these people are stunningly impoverished in ways we can't imagine.

Food raising and sustinence existed there before, and there is every good reason, and nothing contrary, to restore this. I hope that political forces can align with some basic human intelligent plans for these fellows.

It's a preview to what could possibly happen in more areas of this country. Anyone familiar with ghetto life knows this reality.

Thanks, and if there is anything I can do to support these types of programs let me know. I support Heifer International which focuses on these same types of projects. And, as to your commenter who thought this was useless...
I have a terminal graduate degree, and am a perpetual student. I'm smart. I also started raising meat chickens this summer and those dumb birds have got the better of me several times. Raising them to be healthy and productive requires knowledge that doesn't come in a book (believe me, I tried.) If it weren't for farmer neighbors, who laugh, kindly, but share their knowledge, and the wonderful folks at the feed store, we would have pretended my birds were Cornish Game Hens instead of Cornish Crosses and fired up the grill long ago.
It speaks so much good of you all that you participate in these programs. Thank you so much.

I've been peripherally involved with a similar program in Honduras. Several simialarities really struck me - First, chaos. Second, raising chickens is not difficult if you know what to do. People are not automatically born with that knowledge. What is really presumptious is to automatically assume that every third world peasant is a natural born farmer. Third, and this is a biggie, the kids. Wherever you go be it Afghanistan, Haiti, or Honduras, kids gravitate toward anyone who shows an interest in them. They may have a caring mother who works like a dog every day just to keep them alive but that doesn't leave her much time for anything else. Many times male role models are scarce and they hang around you looking for dad. Generally they are beautiful people and not at all the damaged goods we may imagine. As trite as it might sound they really just want somebody to love them. I could go on about the success stories of chicken farmers in underdeveloped countries but there is no NGO for replacement fathers.

This was a very interesting and inspiring story. I was not aware the US military engaged in projects of this type. I hope some other media outlets contact you about it as it's a very different picture than is often shown.

I also thought your response to the angry commenter was very level-headed. The web can be such a nasty place sometimes and I was impressed that you could use that comment to further illustrate how the program works, and why it works - in contrast to flashier projects that don't.

Thank you, and thank you all for the great comments. I, too, support Heifer, International, and I'm glad the US is doing work like this.

Thank you for the beautiful story and pictures. I wish we saw more of this in the mainstream media. We are all human beings trying to help each other and get by in a challenging world.

Thank you so much for being a part of this wonderful program! You are truly someone to look up to! This program sounds wonderful. I'm glad there are people like you out there! It truly makes me proud to be a part of this country and proud to support our troops! God bless!

This is such a great thing that you and the other soldiers did for those women over there. I am so thankful that there are people like you out there. I am proud to be apart of this country and proud to support our troops! God Bless!!!

I so enjoyed your post!!!! Here in Indiana, my family raises chickens for eggs and meat birds for the freezer. Yes they are a simple animal to take care of, but it is so wonderful that you are training them from the beginning....people forget about the coops/shelter, and their feed.

I am thankful that this is one of the things that we are doing to help them to take care of themselves and to help them to learn how to feed their hungry.

God Bless you!

It is amazing what you men and women do for this country and the world. Heroes for the bravery and guts to go over seas and help people, and to serve. salute.

Thank you for sharing this with us. I think that this is a great program to have for the Afghan people. It may seem simple, but sometimes it is the simple things that make the biggest impact.

Thank you for all you are doing! I appreciate your service!

I am an intelligent, self-sufficient, well-educated woman with over 40 years of (mostly successful) life experience behind me, and all the background benefits that accrue to the average Western-society middle-or-above-class individual. I wouldn't know what to do with a live chicken if you threw one at me. (I only know what to do with a dead one if it's already had all the feathers pulled off.)

Although I agree that the "white messiah" thing gets old, so does the "noble savage" thing. There is no universal knowledge; people need to learn. There are two ways of learning - trial and error, or being taught. When lives are at stake and there is only a minimal system of inherent experience-based learning in a society (such as, I don't know, one that's been torn apart by years of war?), let the lessons begin.

It was really nice to read this post and learn that some positive things are happening over there, even if it is something as small as teaching some women how to keep chickens.
Thank you for your work, and God bless!

Wow - first a story about the supposed flying "f'in" chocolate bar, now I read about Crazed chickens. Yes, I'm laughing not at your mission to protect and serve the women and children. Bless you for that! Laughing as I picture soldiers chasing chickens. I hope for a small moment in time it did bring you laughter and joy. I wish these stories were shared with the world. Thank you for being you! My heart is with you...keep smiling!!!!

I really enjoyed your post because it gave me a great understanding on how we take simple things like teaching women to raise chickens for granted. I just want to thank you guys over there for doing your jobs and prey that everyone returns home safely when we are done.

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