Daman Irby-- Director of Global Initiatives at the University of Virginia Center for Politics (CFP)–helped set up the summer 2011 program for the first two delegations of Afghans participating in the ECA U.S./Afghan Professional Partnership. The Afghan professionals came to Virigina to take part in a CFP arranged curriculum of job shadowing and learning about U.S. history and government, public administration, and a comparison of the countries’ judicial systems.
“I admit I was a little nervous before we met,” states Daman. “I discussed cultural etiquette particularly between men and women with Afghan expatriates before the group’s arrival and considered how we might greet one another. When the moment finally came, we simply smiled and shook hands.”
Following the introductions the Afghan delegation was informed that a local television station had heard about their stay and expressed interest in an interview.
“Through a translator, I told the group about the media interest and that the choice was theirs to do the interview or not considering the security issues back home,” says Daman. “There was an animated moment of discussion and then came a response from one woman on behalf of the group: “Our families understand why we are here. We are from Afghanistan, and we are not afraid of anything.”
The friendly and resolute tone of this initial contact set the tone for the summer’s two exchange delegations and resulted in Daman and his colleague Meg Heubeck being selected to participate in the return exchange to Kabul in December 2011.
“We reunited on the evening of our arrival in Kabul with most of the Afghan participants and learned about the training sessions they had hosted on topics such as individual rights, the importance of civic engagement, the rule of law, and the pamphlets they had created and distributed on the importance of civic participation of women and knowing how to respond when their rights are violated, recalls Daman. The joyous reunion, however, is what I will remember the most from that day. The chance to reconnect with friends you may never see again is indescribable.”
Daily activities during the Kabul portion of the exchange included meetings with government agencies and NGOs of the Afghan delegates, and visits to cultural sites.
“Relief International and Afghanistan’s Bureau of Reconstruction and Development, did an excellent job planning and implementing our visit,” says Daman. “Seeing cases being tried at one of Kabul’s Primary Courts was particularly eye opening. We had the opportunity to witness a case of drinking and driving and another of adultery. Having seen the documentary Love Crimes of Kabul this past summer which focused on court cases of people accused of committing moral crimes made the adultery case especially fascinating. The meetings with the Ministry of Women’s Affairs and representatives of advocacy networks at the BRD office were especially inspiring.
“During our stay in Kabul, I learned about the very important work that is being accomplished by the ministries and organizations we visited. Reuniting with our friends, meeting members of their families, and the joy they displayed while teaching us firsthand about what they do and where they work is what I hold most dear. The exchange could not have been more successful, and this summer’s arrival of the next two delegations and the friendships that we will establish can’t come soon enough.”