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Catholic Relief Services worker shares insight from time in Afghanistan

| Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Joe Weber, Head of Office for Catholic Relief Services (CRS) in Bamiyan, Afghanistan, spoke about his work in Afghanistan’s Central Highlands and his experience working closely with impoverished Muslim families in rural areas of the country Wednesday night.

Weber has worked in Afghanistan with Catholic Relief Services for eight years, managing 10 international staff members and 350 national workers. He said when he was first presented with the opportunity to work in Afghanistan, he had a very different idea of the country in his head than what he experienced when he got there.

“When I thought of Afghanistan, I thought of tanks and desserts, and when I got there, they were none to be seen,” he said.

“In college and in graduate school, I carried around this angst on my shoulders and I wanted to fix the world, and I worry if [this angst] still exists in colleges today.”

Weber said his team has been working on two projects. One of the projects is training two people each from multiple communities to manage a school and training select community members to be school teachers. In one month, Weber’s group trained 47 communities to start up first grade classes, he said.

The second project is improving livelihood. Weber said the rural villages in the mountains are completely isolated due the the aftermath of terrible winters and severe erosion. The conditions became so bad relief organizations cannot reach them, and the amount of land useable for growing has decreased. Weber’s group achieved what he said seemed impossible and got 400 severely food-insecure families to construct and replicate a model of vegetable gardens. He said the group works with incredibly impoverished families who have been greatly affected by famine.

“Potatoes are a main crop in the villages and due to the weather conditions, people were losing 60 percent of their potatoes,” he said. “It was one step forward and two back, so we brought in a national potato expert. He implemented simple adaptations and reduced the loss to 2 percent, and the new adaptations only costs six to ten dollars. Keyhole gardens began to sprout up all over the place. … When you talk to the poorest families, you’re still not there. Then you talk to the women, and you pull the voice up from the voiceless,” he said. 

Saint Mary’s junior Breanna Elger described her job as a CRS student ambassador in relation to the talk and said the talk helped to achieve her objectives in that job.

“Our role as ambassadors is to educate, and he [Weber] painted a picture with [Catholic Relief Services],” she said. “He described tangible ways that they implement CRS.”

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