When Julie Douglas, an Indiana farm girl and part of the ag communications staff at Purdue University, returned from a short trip to Kabul University, her stories of an area starved for education but locked out of the modern world by war and regime rule for nearly 30 years, sparked an interest to learn more. She was there because she was covering how Rick Foster, a Purdue entomologist, was trying to help people there learn about insect control.
The education void is so large that when Afghan professors come here to train, those who deal with insects don't even know there is such a thing as insect nomenclature. When they want to share with their students, they must hand-draw illustrations. Many of the faculty at Kabul University left once war shut down the university. Closed for eight years, it is making a comeback, but it is a sad, slow process, sources say.
To find out more, Indiana Prairie Farmer spoke with Ned Kalb, the only Purdue connection permanently on the ground in the country. Other professors helping in what's called the A-four project, trying to bring agricultural education up to speed there, come and go. Kalb will be there until early December.
Kalb was once Extension educator, serving in Marion County, amongst other places. After retirement, he and his wife were both involved in various types of international work. That qualified him for the role he plays know, trying to encourage professors to become better trained in Kabul.
Even students know the education is substandard, Kalb says. "But many are optimistic. I really think there is great potential here, and I feel we're making a difference. If I didn't think so, I would have went home long ago," Kalb says.
His sacrifice includes being away from his wife and family. Fortunately, he can talk to them at bargain prices, the same way he did the interview, over a communication system that utilizes the Internet. He talks into his computer, whoever he's talking to on the other side of the world uses a land-line phone. In a place where open sewers run down next to the sidewalks, such advanced communication seems out of place. It's just another part of the puzzle that exists in that part of the world.
"Security is something that becomes part of your life," Kalb says. If you feared for your safety constantly, you couldn't function, he notes. Yet it's something you never forget about at any time. "You learn to do things randomly," he says. "You don't know who might be watching in the shadows, looking for a pattern in your life. I wouldn't dream of walking to the university and walking home at the same times every day, or going to the market at the same time every week. You vary your schedule at random. It's just one of the things you do that helps protect yourself.