“Afghan children dream about education,” said Fr Stan Fernandes SJ, of the Jesuit province of Pune (Maharashtra, India). In the past five years, the clergyman has been in charge of the Jesuit Refugee Service (JRS) in Afghanistan. In that period , he has promoted small initiatives in favour of education for youth of different ages.
“Young people like us will lead the country,” a female student said. “We are going to rebuild it to realise the dreams of the people. This generation, which experienced conflict and exile, needs to be empowered in order to focus their energies, enthusiasm and potential to promote peace and development in Afghanistan.”
“Jesuits’ reputation in offering first class education enabled us to build bridges of understanding and trust between our institutions and local authorities,” Fr Fernandes said.
Despite their small number, Jesuits have made a significant contribution in the past six years in terms of both short and long-term projects. By training local teachers and staff, including at the university level, they have improved the lives of the most marginalised young people.
For the Jesuit, the image war and violence associated with the country in both national and international media is a problem. In fact, out of 33 million afghans, only 10,000 are rebels according to figures provided by the Interior Ministry. Yet, 0.05 per cent monopolises the interest and resources of the international community.
“Our mission is to give a voice to the other 99.5 per cent,” Fr Fernandes, “those who struggle to get ahead and hope with all their heart for a better tomorrow.”
Together with the local population, “we hope and pray for peace and stability in Afghanistan. In the meantime, we continue our journey among these people, reaching out to the most marginalised. In doing so, we get more than we can ever give. We are enriched and overwhelmed by the affection of those who benefit from our work.”