Each year, Rotary funds some of the world's most dedicated and brightest professionals to study at Rotary Peace Centres. Through training, study, and practice, Rotary Peace Fellows become leaders and catalysts for peace and conflict resolution; many go on to careers in national governments, NGOs, the military, law enforcement, and international organizations like the United Nations and World Bank.
Zabit Aimal Rotary Peace Scholar
This week we had the privilege of a visit from Zabit Aimal an inspirational Rotary Peace Scholar studying at Bradford University.
Zabit is currently sponsored by the Rotary Club of Reno, District 5190, Nevada, USA.
Zabit explained how Rotary had changed his life and that of his family and tribe in Afghanistan. He told of as a child born in 1989 in Afghanistan at the time the Russian military were leaving and the civil war was developing involving the seven Warlords against the Taliban. He lost his father when he was only 6 months old and over time became the “breadwinner” at an early age taking care of his mother and sister.
His family were living in poverty in a tent with little to eat. He worked from the age of 7 years old with his life threatened due to the system of family inheritance.
In 1996 the Taliban took over from the seven Warlords after 1million people had been killed from a population of 25 million. He suggested that at this time even the Russians would have been welcomed back. The Taliban promised to bring peace to Afghanistan but any western influence such as wearing jeans or watching television could bring a sentence of 10 years in prison. Furthermore any permissive behaviour such as walking out with a woman not covered and dressed all in black or sleeping with a woman before marriage would result in having your hands cut off.
He suggested that with Pakistan being sympathetic to the Taliban the invasion by the US after the 9/11 attack on the World Trade Centre in New York was welcomed. The Northern Alliance having overcome the Taliban allowed 40,000 children to be enrolled in school leading to 9 million students of which 42% are women attending 20 different universities in Afghanistan.
Subsequently elections were called involving 17candidates , one of whom was a woman, running for the office of President. Currently of parliamentary members there are 31% of who are women and at the last election 39% of those who voted were women and now there is an establishment of 200,000 soldiers some of whom are women in the National Army.
Zabit went on to tell us that he had learnt English by watching television and films at the cinema and graduated from school in 2006. Then whilst helping and translating for his Uncle who was selling gems to American troops at a bazaar, a USA Army Officer offered him a job as an interpreter. He was then considered an infidel for working for the USA but promoted the support given to his people by the international community. At the time if he had been captured by the Taliban he would have been beheaded and whilst on a special mission when his vehicle broke down he was offered a lift back to base. He told the person who offered him a lift that he was going to cease his activities as an interpreter in two weeks time. This person turned out to be a US Lieutenant Colonel who offered him 700 dollars a month with 5 days leave a month to visit his family for him to continue in his role with his unit.
When this Officer’s Unit returned to Nevada with all his soldiers safe having adopted the principle of winning the hearts and minds of local people by talking to them and employing them in reconstruction work with this being his concept of conflict resolution he arranged for Zabit to travel to the USA. Only then did Zabit understand that his benefactor was a member of the US National Guard i.e. a part time soldier, who had good leadership skills brought from his civilian and working life. It was only after his arrival in the US did Zabit realise that his benefactor was a Rotarian and that he was prepared to sponsored him through University in the USA where he graduated in 2014.
Zabit also recalled that whilst aged 10 he had encouraged people to take part in the polio vaccination programme which was sponsored by Rotary. He is now married to his former Afgan fiancé who moved to the USA prior to him coming to Bradford to study. On completion of his studies he plans to return to the USA to work for the United Nations and may be able to return to Afghanistan to help create peace. He finally expressed his gratitude to Rotary worldwide and took questions.