Peace Activist Brings Aid as Bombs Fall: Organizations Deliver Food, Blankets to Displaced Persons in Afghanistan. (World)

By McClory, Robert | National Catholic Reporter, December 21, 2001 | Go to article overview
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Peace Activist Brings Aid as Bombs Fall: Organizations Deliver Food, Blankets to Displaced Persons in Afghanistan. (World)


McClory, Robert, National Catholic Reporter


Feeling the earth shake from the concussion of exploding bombs only four miles away, Douglas Hostetter could think only of "the exquisite irony."

Overhead were B-52 bombers, "exemplars of the postmodern world with their satellite-aided, global-positioning systems and their laser-directed bombs," Hostetter said. And below in this displaced persons camp in northeast Afghanistan were people he described as "inhabitants of a pre-industrial world, without electricity or sewage or decent shelter, where the major form of transportation is the donkey. Here we have the most powerful nation in the world versus the poorest nation in Asia."

The irony was intensified when his coworker at the camp, Suraya Sadeen, pointed to the sky and said, "For the cost of two of those B-52s, I could feed, clothe and educate the whole population of Afghanistan for a year." (Sadeen may have exaggerated. According to a U.S. Air Force fact sheet, a B-52 bomber costs $74 million; the population of Afghanistan before bombing caused an exodus of refugees and reportedly more than 3,000 deaths was about 26 million.)

When Hostetter and Sadeen entered Afghanistan in early November with 239 tons of food and blankets, they provided the first U.S. humanitarian aid to arrive by land since the September terrorist attack in New York. Their achievement was basically a two-person project.

Shortly after the attack, Hostetter, 57, former director of the Fellowship of Reconciliation and former director of the American Friends Service Committee New England office, decided the peace and pacifist tradition needed to respond immediately. "I realized the poor people of Afghanistan would soon be paying a price for the terrorist activity, though they had nothing to do with it," he said. "So I felt we had to reach out to the victims."

He explained his idea of immediate massive aid to leaders of the Fellowship and the American Friends and together they made commitments of $40,000 for the project.

But he was told the borders into Afghanistan were sealed and no one could get in. He discovered, however, that a former contact, Sadeen, director of Help the Afghan Children, Inc., was also planning an aid mission and knew how to cross the border from Tajikistan. They both did further fundraising and pooled the total, which eventually came to $130,000. They then flew to Tajikistan, purchased enough food and supplies to fill 29 10-ton rented trucks, crossed over a mountainous area and passed through four Russian-manned checkpoints before entering Afghanistan.

"I think we were on real roads most of the way," said Hostetter, "but it was not obvious. We had to trust the driver."

Their target in Afghanistan was the open-air, displaced persons area in the Takhar Province. Here some 10,000 Afghans were spread out over a 10-mile-wide area only a few miles from where the Northern Alliance, aided by U.

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