Friday, March 30, 2012

Octávio Vieira, soldier and dreamer

In his own words, Lieutenant Colonel Octávio Vieira reports how he met Mina Wali and how the Portuguese NGO Assistência Médica Internacional (AMI) embraced Hope of Mother’s project (HOM) from the outset.

A happy meeting
In September 2005, while I was a PSYOPS (psychological operations) officer in ISAF’s (NATO military coalition in Afghanistan) headquarter in Kabul, I met Mina Wali Azim. She was running a company that distributed informative products developed by NATO’s PSYOPS cell.
She was a member of a well known pashtun Afghan family. Her father was an Air Force commander and an aide of Afghan King Zahir Shah. By the time of the Soviet invasion, in 1979, she was forced to flee to the U.S., where she was given American citizenship. There she rebuilt her life.

In 2003, after September 11 and the following U.S. and NATO military operation in her country, she decided to return to Afghanistan to look for her father’s body and to build something on the land she owned in Jalalabad, Kunar and Pakthia areas, near the border with Pakistan.

The several conflicts suffered by Afghanistan in previous years had caused many casualties among the population and a high number of orphans, abandoned and homeless people, beggars... Beyond this tragedy, she returned to the U.S. willing to create an NGO. That’s how Hope of Mother (HOM) was born, aiming to support children building schools and clinics.
There is ground, money is missing
Mina was determined to build her project, so she quitted her job in San Francisco and returned to Afghanistan in 2005, as the manager of a company that distributed informative products, which allowed her to celebrate a contract with NATO.

The day I met her, after a working meeting, she presented me her project and showed me a brochure previously prepared and printed in San Francisco. She asked me if I could help her, forwarding it to any entity or officer of ISAF’s humanitarian area. She sought financing to build schools. She had, already, an architectural project.
For me, Mina Wali’s proposal was a happy coincidence, giving me the chance to grab all the available documentation and to develop contacts at all levels, inside and outside ISAF headquarter. If everything failed in Kabul, I was determined to try in Portugal.
AMI says 'yes' to the project
After presenting the project to several NATO countries, none of them showed interest. So, on my return to Portugal, I started contacts with several entities connected to humanitarian assistance. I also contacted newspapers and televisions.

Two days after sending an email to Assistência Médica Internacional (AMI), I received a call from the secretary of the AMI’s President to settle a meeting. On January 9th, 2006, I met with Dr. Fernando Nobre and his wife, Luisa Nemésio, and presented them with all the documents, brochures, school and clinic plants, Hope of Mother’s certificate, its registration in San Francisco and the authorization by the Afghan government to operate in the country.
At that meeting, it was decided that the President of AMI would go to Kabul, between February 14th and 20th, 2006. I had a month to organize the whole trip, together with Mina. Back in Kabul, I drew up a program and sent it to AMI. It included meetings with representatives of the European Union and the Afghan Ministries of Education and Health, as well as a visit to Mina’s lands where the project would be built and, very important, meetings with local leaders, something that, according to Mina, was crucial for the success of the project.
During January and February, Mina made several contacts and had meetings with these leaders to gather opinions, advice, and get their agreement to build the school. On February 14th, 2006, the visit of the President of AMI to Afghanistan started.
Fernando Nobre in Kabul

Fernando Nobre, Mina Wali, Octávio Vieira
In front of the King’s Palace, severely damaged
Kabul in the back
The President of AMI, together with the President of HOM, held meetings with local leaders and representatives of the Provincial Reconstruction Teams (PRT) working in Nangarhar. After meetings with the Ministers of Education and Health, AMI guaranteed the support to Hope of Mother.
Presidents of AMI and HOM meet the afghan minister of Education and his deputy ministers
Meeting with an European Union representative
School ready on time
AMI has agreed on a financial support of $100,000 for three years, renewable for two extra years, aiming the construction and maintenance of a school and a clinic, in Jalalabad area. The work began in July 2006. The first classes were held in September 2007.
Initially, there were in the school 440 students, from various ethnic groups – pashtuns, uzbeks and many kuchies (gypsies). The school employed 16 teachers (eight men and eight women), three officials for school maintenance, a responsible for the religious duties and a nurse.
After returning from a mission in Iraq (2007-2008), in February 2008, and after further discussions with AMI’s President, we agreed to return to Afghanistan in April 2008 in order to participate in the “official” opening of the school (already built) and of the clinic (under construction).
The ceremony was attended by several members of the government, local PRT’s representatives, religious authorities and media professionals.
Cut the ribbon
Next to the female students
Next to the male students
Wearing a turban given to him as a sign of honor and respect.  
According to the Afghan tradition, the man who uses it becomes part of the community

The ideal model
After beginning to work, the school was honored with several awards by the Ministry of Education. Due to the facilities available, it was considered a model school.
The formula chosen by AMI is considered the most suitable: an afghan national (Mina Wali) helms the project, it respects local values, creates employment and provides education, following a diverse program, rated as the most appropriate regarding education in Afghanistan.
The Portuguese NGO finances, step by step, and oversees the project, which doesn't tamper or interfere with the social organization of such a sensitive region. The Unites Nations, itself, made this recognition and, in September 2008, inscribed AMI in the list of NGO in Consultative Status with the Economic and Social Council of the United Nations.
Photos by Octávio Vieira

Lieutenant Colonel Octávio Vieira profile:

Em missão humanitária, Gingko, julho/2009 (in Portuguese)

Manter a paz num cenário de guerra, Companhia das Manhãs, SIC, 30/12/2010 (Portuguese television) - temporarily unavailable