Sustainable Development in Afghanistan: Educational Opportunity For All is Key, Even Disabled Children

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Yesterday I gave a presentation on Operation Exceptional Child (OpEx Child) to yet another Rotary group.  Since creating OpEx Child three years ago, I have contended that helping children with disabilities in Afghanistan is the kind of project that has “Rotary” written all over it and I have given many, many presentations to a variety of Rotary organizations in those three years positing this very notion.  Though certainly not without its challenges, OpEx Child is the epitome of a humanitarian project that rises above religion and politics and serves the needs of a severely underserved community.

When I give presentations on OpEx Child I have my PowerPoint slides at the ready and make all the appropriate introductions of myself, my non-profit organization PATHS, our mission and what has inspired me to want to go to Afghanistan and help children with disabilities.  The Q&A afterwards is always lively, mainly with nay-sayers citing all the challenges inherent in a project of this magnitude and all the reasons why it cannot be done. 

Yesterday my presentation went a little differently.  After I made the initial introductions I went right to challenging the nay-sayers.  I explained that while our mission to help children with special needs in Afghanistan may have lots of challenges, it is not impossible – yes difficult, but not impossible.  I also emphasized the importance of making no small plans and how in all of human-kind we have not gotten to where we are today by people making small plans that lack inspiration.  In the words of Daniel Burnham, we should “make big plans; aim high in hope and work,” because this is what will “stir men’s blood” and inspire others to achieve greatness.

Lately I have gained much strength from those words because while everything in Afghanistan is very hard, it is not a lost cause.  After decades of war, poverty and disease Afghanistan is full of challenges that make accomplishing anything there extremely difficult, no doubt.  But there is hope.  There is hope because most Afghans have an overwhelming willingness to want to achieve a better life for themselves, their families and a different future for their homeland.   

Ultimately, the challenges facing OpEx Child are like every other effort to move the ball forward in Afghanistan.  But that doesn’t mean we should abandon our effort or ignore the plight of children with disabilities in Afghanistan.  On the contrary, it is because of the challenges and the potential to achieve truly great things together that compel us forward and inspire us to continue to aim high in all our hopes for Afghanistan, understanding that even if we achieve only half of our original aim that truly will be something great.

About the author


I have spent the past 25 years advocating on behalf of my disabled daughter to help her realize greater independence and a better quality of life; it has been a life-lesson for me and the most difficult thing I have ever done. Raising a child with disabilities is challenging enough…

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