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Rafiq (center) instructs villagers (Mindy Belz for WORLD)

Village by village

Afghanistan | As the invasion's 10th anniversary nears, one community models a brighter future

TANGI SAIDAN, Afghanistan-The sound of folk music streaming in Tangi Saidan, an Afghan village about 10 miles south of Kabul, is FM 91.3, the rural area's first radio station. Broadcast from a brick-and-plaster building at a community center situated on a hill among an apricot grove, FM 91.3 provides 24-hour streaming audio transmitted via the internet.

The value of the station is that it links villagers in ways they've never been connected before. Music is only one feature of programming; what's key are public service announcements about local immunization schedules or health clinic hours, education classes, and other programs.

The wonder of the station is that it operates without electricity in a region that is wholly unconnected to any power grid. Listeners pick up FM 91.3 on their cell phones, and the entire community center-which includes a health clinic, classrooms, and agricultural programs-runs off solar panels and one generator.

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Tangi Saidan's community center serves over 15,000 people spread throughout 39 villages south of Kabul. The center offers basic medical services plus classes in English and computer technology five days a week. Underwriting the operation is Morning Star Development, a Colorado Springs, Colo.-based nonprofit organization that started working in the community in 2002. But the center is staffed entirely by Afghans.

"Our people are in darkness, just existing," said Mohammad Rafiq, a doctor from Kabul who helped start and now oversees the community center. "Media is very important in our country, and we want to establish more radio stations to reach through all the villages."

The disc jockey and announcer who keeps the station on the air is 21-year-old Hameed Yaldash, a self-taught techno-geek who learned to use an array of radio equipment and helps with training in the center's computer lab. When HCJB Radio, also headquartered in Colorado Springs, learned about the need for a station in rural Afghanistan, it donated and shipped a sound booth, a mixer, a transmitter, and other equipment to set up FM 91.3. Rafiq hopes it can become an important communications component to a community center model for villages across Afghanistan.

Daniel Batchelder, who directs Morning Star and visited the community center this week, believes that the programs offered by the three community centers run by his group could be part of the U.S. exit strategy here, as well: "You hear over and over in our own nation people say, 'What is the answer? After 10 years of war we have very little progress to show for it.' But this is a concept that could work throughout the country in Afghanistan." Over 80 percent of Afghans live in villages like Tangi Saidan.

As the 10th anniversary of the U.S. invasion of Afghanistan nears, anti-war groups throughout the United States plan to stage protests this week, including one starting Thursday in Washington, D.C. Here in Afghanistan, military forces and civilians hope the anniversary isn't marked by any further uptick in the usual level of violence and insecurity.

The U.S. Embassy in Kabul has issued an alert to U.S. citizens working here, which followed the U.S. attack in Yemen that killed al-Qaeda leader Anwar al-Awlaki. His death-plus the capture this week in Afghanistan of a commander of the al-Qaeda and Taliban-linked Haqqani clan-has forces here braced for reprisal attacks on American targets.

NATO forces announced that they had captured Haji Mali Khan in a joint raid with Afghan forces just a day after al-Awlaki's death in Yemen at the hands of a CIA-directed drone. U.S. officials blame the Haqqani network, based in Pakistan, for recent attacks in Afghanistan, including last month's 20-hour siege at the U.S. Embassy in Kabul. Last week the outgoing chairman of the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff, Adm. Mike Mullen, accused Pakistan's spy agency, the ISI, of supporting the Haqqani network in carrying out the attacks, the most serious allegation yet of Pakistani duplicity in the 10-year war.

Listen to Mindy Belz discuss her recent visit to Afghanistan from the Oct. 15 edition of the radio program The World and Everything in It.

Mindy Belz
Mindy Belz

Mindy travels to the far corners of the globe as the editor of WORLD and lives with her family in the mountains of western North Carolina. Follow Mindy on Twitter @mcbelz.

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