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First Fact-finding Mission to Pakistan 2001
From December 11 th to 21st, FemAid 's president Carol Mann went on a first fact-finding mission to Pakistan to check out on the projects both organisations had been working on for the past two years.

This is her personal report.

For an Italian translation

http://www.ecn.org/reds/donne/rawa/afganistanrpresFedAim0102.html


As you know, I went to visit the RAWA (Revolutionary Association of Women of Afghanistan) team for 10 days and arrived with 75 kg of medical supplies donated by three generous doctors in the Paris area and Caen, records and equipment asked for by RAWA, a large box of kites sent in by Californian supporters, an equally large bag of seeds for vegetables donated by a French primary school, children's drawings and letters from Canada, letters from supporters and cash. Despite having helped support their projects for the past two and a half years via FemAid, I had never actually been there myself, even though several friends and FemAid supporters had gone to check things out.
RAWA was very happy with the letters and photos I bought, it made everything more personal!



The RAWA team

Where does one start, overwhelmed as I am by such a wealth of impressions ? The first lesson was the constant reminder of context and the quasi irrelevance of our own standards when it comes to women in the subcontinent.
First of all, RAWA is made up of a formidable team of exceptionally dedicated young women aged between 18 and 22, ( with, it seems, very few over 40) One has the feeling of meeting a contingent of veritable Amazons, single-minded in their determination to better the situation of women in their own culture. But behind the apparent ease and sophistication, these are nevertheless Oriental women who have no intention of living like their sisters in the West: in public, they are veiled- (but this is designed not to attract attention), nurture a conservative attitude to sex and relationships with men generally (in a society where all marriages, even today, are arranged), and deliberately cultivate traditional modesty bordering austerity, which in their case includes a refusal to wear make-up or bright colours – a way of refusing concessions to any kind of stereotype East or West. Though definitely not religious, I doubt whether most of them could really call themselves atheists. These girls, some of rural origin others daughters of doctors and professionals, have often been brought up together in RAWA structures (just as the younger girls are today), as some of their mothers have spent the past years, at the risk of their lives, in and out of Afghanistan running literacy classes for women who have been refused education from one set of fundamentalists to the next. In one boarding-school like structure which I visited, many of the teenage students had not seen their mothers for years. Sometimes, 15 year-old Zoya told me privately in perfect English, we sit there and feel so lonely and so deprived… But nobody dwells on such feelings and they are convinced that the sacrifice is worth it in order to bring about a more literate and articulate generation of women who will be able to have their place in the promised land that every single Afghan I have met dreams about, stars in her eyes… And all the Afghans I've met seem to support Zahir Shah, at least his capacity to rally apparently honest people around him, but most are afraid of the threat posed by the Alliance and demand proof that this is not a remake of the situation that brought the Taliban to power.

When their schooling is over, most girls do stints in Afghanistan, teaching in remote rural areas.
These RAWA girls are amazing, warm-hearted and determined. Their thinking is exceptionally clear and mature. To think that my students are the same age... light years away, needless to say. And the boys in their support groups- those I met- are the same. One of them in a refugee camp recited French poetry from one of the few books he had been able to salvage in Kabul. Oh dear, I wax sentimental....