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To boldly go in Afghanistan

Morand has involved many locals in SDC's project


To go where none have gone before is the guiding principle of the Swiss Development Agency and Cooperation's "man on the ground" in Afghanistan.

When Henri-François Morand arrived in Afghanistan two years ago as the SDC's deputy coordinator, he started out by visiting all the projects that benefited from Swiss support. His travels took him all over the country - by car when the roads allowed, but just as often by horse or on foot.

"Those are among my most treasured memories of Afghanistan," he enthuses. "When you've seen where the people live, when you've travelled across mountains to get to their villages, you understand what their problems are and how to tackle them."

Morand adds that he's come to rely on the knowledge and experience of the man he calls his brother: Sayed Aqa, a native Afghan who has also travelled the length and the breadth of the country.

Local participation

Morand believes it is impossible to work for the Afghans without working with them, and the SDC's strategy has consequently shifted to supporting local initiatives and actions.

A decade ago the SDC had 15 nationals involved in Afghanistan. Today there are just five of them, with the Swiss having been replaced by locals.

"You have to know how to sit down and listen to the people. We've got a lot to learn from them," says Morand.

He cites the example of project to train basic healthcare workers in remote areas in the centre of Afghanistan.

"We work with a French NGO and we're there mainly for quality control," he says.

"We're dealing with people's lives and we have to take the job seriously, but at the same time we have complete faith in the locals to carry on the work."

Rebuilding from scratch

Morand says that although the country is one of the poorest in the world, the people have immense dignity.

"They are a proud to say that they've never been beaten by a foreign power. But they also know they've destroyed themselves."

Morand also thinks that the country's geopolitical context has played a greater role than simple ethnic difference in the ravages of the last 23 years.

"If you go to a refugee camp and see the Afghans faced with essential problems such as how to find and share water, they work together," he says. "The ethnic divisions become less important."

His enthusiasm for his work does not come from the difficulties Afghanistan faces, but rather from the opportunities there are for helping to rebuild the country.

"It's true, I'm attracted to a country where everything has been destroyed, but exactly because there is so much potential for everything to be rebuilt. It's very stimulating."

by Marc-André Miserez, translated by Jonathan Summerton

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