pc in Kabul

Sharon Gordon gordonse at one.net
Sun Oct 14 14:43:59 EDT 2001

At 12:25 PM 10/14/01 -0400, you wrote:
>I applaud anyone who considers providing help to the suffering people of
>Afganistan. But allow me to pose an alternative view.
>Any aid that can get there should seem to have two objectives:
>- meeting the immediate needs of hungry/starving people
>- preserving indigenous planting material and indigenous knowledge
>in order to allow the people to get back as quickly as possible to doing
>what they know best - feeding themselves.

It seems to me that good PC research/training/instruction could do
all of these things.

1)First, find out what the indigenous systems are.
2)Collect a variety of indigenous planting material and related growing/use 
3)Find out what is working well with the indigenous system and what there
are difficulties with.
4)Look at what the culture finds to be difficulties as well as what you 
from your experience with your culture and other cultures to be difficulties.
5) Create solutions from your knowledge, the culture's knowledge and values,
and consider the positive and negative side effects of each solution.  For 
if the nearest water source is 10 miles away, probably everyone considers
that a problem.  But if women are only allowed out of their house each day for
the time they are getting water, and thus it's their only time to socialize,
exercise, and exchange information, water piped into every home could be
a very negative solution unless something is done to compensate for the
6) Also getting people to share their information with each other is very 
Info like(all the following are made up examples for illustrative purposes):
a)When we grow Kabul purple grapes on the east size of the house we get 4 more
bushels of grapes than when we grow them on the south side of the house.
b) We get the best yields if we grow the Pakistani green apple on the top
half of the north slope and the Norwegian Red apple on the bottom half of the
north slope.
c) When we mix these 3 crops we get good yields every year.

Philosophy disclaimer:  I like to see knowledge shared between groups.  I don't
like to see "the western way" forcefully imposed on groups in general
( I don't mind the prevention of genital mutilation of both genders, the 
of the chopping off of fingers of young girls, the prevention of burning young
brides to death because their dowry was too low, and similar horrors.). I 
think it's
important to gather all the knowledge of indigenous cultures as much as 
and as fast as you can.  And to collect info that seems illogical.  It 
might have
important information in it which may become apparent at some future time.
However I think it's unfair to withhold helpful information since "it might 
the culture."  I also think the more valuable strategy is to teach the tool 
than the prepackaged solution.  It also helps to teach basic science and 
people to experiment, before they convert everything to a new idea.

Also the more people share about works and what flops, the more time they 
save each other.
Aid workers can get too focused on what needs to be fixed and overlook parts
that do/did work well.  By understanding only parts of things they can
help fix one thing and accidentally break something else.   So taking the 
time to preserve all the useful parts of the system can pay off.  People 
with open minds can learn
many things which may also help other groups of people.

Some examples from a friend:  Friend from US was working in what is often
referred to as a third world country.  The people of
the area told him not to go into a certain body of water because there were
invisible biting mermaids that gave people a terrible sickness when they
bit them.  Being from the culture he was from he was positive there were no
mermaids, but trusting that the village had reason for their belief, he had the
water analyzed and discovered it was loaded with amoebic dysentery.
So in this case he could begin giving info about what was wrong with the
water and info about cleaning up water.  The mermaid myth/theory served
a useful purpose, yet the accurate info gave them information they could use
for the water.  So in this case the myth helped, but yet gave insufficient
information to correct the problem they were having.

In another case the incorrect beliefs cost a woman her life.  A group was
working away from the village.  One woman was struck by lightening.
Someone in the group ran back to the village to get him to help as he had
quite a bit of medical training.  They believed that if they picked her up and
ran her to the hospital/clinic that she would be permanently dead as her
spirit which was wandering out of her body after the lightening strike would
not be able to find her body again if they moved it.  They had apparently
observed that some people came back to life after lightening strikes.
His cultural belief was that if you can get someone who has been
  struck by lightening to a doctor
in time, they often can be saved.  While he was running to the location,
he was thinking that he would take her from them by force if necessary
and take her to the clinic in order to save her life.  Who knows what
problems this might have caused???   However the time spent
getting to him and him running to her location meant that she was completely
dead by the time he got there.  Overlooked in this disaster was the idea that
if the whole village knew CPR, then anyone could do it where ever and the
quick immediate first aid would save the most lives.  Try to get
knowledge to everyone.  Four and five year olds have been known to save
people's lives doing the Heimlich for instance.

Young children in their quest to understand often ask questions that can
lead adults to new insights.  Why do we plant these together?  Why do
we plant these now?  Why do you put the rocks like that?  How come
you cook it that way?

Meanwhile, try if you can to fast forward through western style blunders.
While it's true that breast fed babies with malnourished mothers often die
needlessly and that formula can prevent this, it's also been demonstrated
that these babies can die even faster if there is not enough money for formula
and the formula is mixed with dirty water.  It's also been learned that
a breast fed baby with a healthy mother has the best chance.  So try
to go straight there and skip the dirty-watered-down formula phase.

The same friend also bemoaned the fact that if a person of his culture/race
told the village to do something stupidly wrong with their gardens, and
a trained person of their culture told them to do the wise correct thing
that they would do the stupid wrong thing because they had come to
believe that people from the friend's country had all the right answers.
So to the degree that you can get across the idea that both groups have
knowledge to share with each other, and that new ideas need to be evaluated
for how they will work in that particular area, you are likely to jointly
develop the best solution.  Collaborative projects avoid the pitfalls
of cultural imposition or knowledge deprivation.

gordonse at one.net

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