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Author: Don Obrien

Afghan financial collapse could threaten La Jolla Rotary school there


The biggest threat facing the La Jolla Golden Triangle Rotary Club School in Afghanistan may not be the Taliban but the collapse of the country’s economy.

The school, built and furnished by the local Rotary Club, has been operating since 2004, educating boys and girls in separate class sessions supported financially by the Afghan government. About 4,000 to 5,000 first- through 12th-grade students are registered at the school.

The Rotarians also set up computer labs for boys and girls in 14 public high schools and a computer training program at Nangarhar University in Jalalabad, teaching male and female students English and internet technology.

Stephen Brown, a retired San Diego attorney and past trustee of The Rotary Foundation, long has been a pillar of the education programs. He transfers money to Afghanistan at the end of each month to pay the salaries of about two dozen staff members as well as expenses for internet service, generator fuel, maintenance and repairs.

His last payment, a transfer of $9,750, cleared the Afghan bank July 31. The bank ceased operations later that day.

“With our bank shut down, there is no way I could wire money there now,” Brown said. “Opening a bank account was a major task even under the old government.” He fears that with the Taliban in charge, U.S. banks won’t be permitted to transfer money there due to anti-terrorism restrictions.

“I can be certain I couldn’t go to my bank tomorrow and say ‘Wire money to Afghanistan,’” said Brown, who remains hopeful the United States will make good on its pledge to continue humanitarian support to the Afghan people and perhaps pick up the education program payments in which his club has been involved.

Meanwhile, despite fears about the Taliban — especially its impact on female rights — the chancellor of Nangarhar University relayed uplifting news.

“Our people running the program have been in touch with the new education leadership [under the Taliban],” Brown said, “and they want to continue programs for both boys and girls at the university level and at the high school level.”

Taliban representatives in Nangarhar province toured the computer facility and met with its operators. Not only was its IT training given a green light, the local Afghans involved in running the center for years have been told they will be presented a letter of commendation, Brown said.

Brown received an email this week asking that the school programs, on hiatus for the summer, be resumed right away rather than wait until the start of the fall semester.

He admitted to being “totally surprised” by the Taliban’s promises of support for continuing classes that include females. But he remains somewhat skeptical.

Fary Moini and Stephen Brown stand amid students at the Afghan school built by the La Jolla Golden Triangle Rotary Club.

Fary Moini and Stephen Brown stand amid students attending the Afghan school built by the La Jolla Golden Triangle Rotary Club.

(Courtesy)

Fortuitously, the Taliban’s education point person is a graduate of Nangarhar University. Plus, the young daughter of one of his colleagues underwent vital heart surgery just over the border in India through a program launched recently by La Jolla Golden Triangle Rotarian Fary Moini, a former nurse who helped start and run the Jalalabad school programs.

During the early days of the Taliban takeover, Afghan educators operating the Rotary-inspired program feared for their safety and went into hiding. More recently, though, 15 male trainers met to assess the situation and concluded their lives weren’t in danger.

All education programs, however, are in jeopardy. The Taliban takeover cut off international sources of funding to Afghanistan as well as foreign aid that was going to the previous government.

The nation’s looming financial crisis is not only affecting the Rotarians’ ability to transfer cash but also the country’s business and civic infrastructure and government services and salaries.

The Rotarian group and many others are adopting a wait-and-see posture. “They’re saying all the right things,” Brown said of the Taliban representatives, though he fears they may not speak with one voice and that infighting and factions are likely to develop.

He is spending much of his time filling out requests for Priority 2 (P-2) visas to move to the United States Afghans who work or have worked for Rotary-supported school programs there.

Brown and the Rotary education supporters also are encouraging the U.S. government to live up to its promise of aiding the Afghan people.

“We have a very unique program in place that has been given a welcome mat by the Taliban to keep going,” Brown said. “The U.S. government needs to prove that it means what it says. Let’s see if it does.” ◆



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