Kelly and Peter Shenk Koontz recently completed a three-year MCC service term in Afghanistan where they worked as Peacebuilding Project managers. They are from Goshen, Ind., where they attend Assembly Mennonite Church. Kelly and Peter are both graduates of Bethany Christian Schools and Goshen College.
Jetlagged and nervous, we looked out the window and saw Afghanistan for the first time. Mountains upon mountains, and dust. Lots of dust. Upon arriving in Kabul in October, we were struck by how brown everything was. Even the trees were brown as the dust caked their leaves. However, upon entering the compound of someone’s home, we were blown away. Behind high dusty walls lay lush gardens filled with roses and almond trees.
This was our first of many eye-opening experiences throughout our three-year MCC service term in Kabul, Afghanistan (2011-2014). Many times during our years in Afghanistan things may have looked bleak from the outside, but upon further exploration were actually full of hope and life. Our job, with an MCC partner organization, was to integrate peacebuilding within different sectors of the partner organization, including adult education, community development and many others. Day-to-day, this primarily meant developing curriculum and planning and conducting trainings for a wide variety of contexts, including rural community development teams and university students.
As part of our work, we started an English-medium peacebuilding discussion class, consisting mainly of university students. Our second day of class happened to fall a few days after an anti-Islamic video was released online in September of 2012. Many protests were happening all over the world, some of which became violent, although thankfully the protests in Afghanistan remained non-violent. In our class, we had a rich and difficult discussion about this issue. We talked about various topics, including free speech and different ways to respond to religious hate speech. Most importantly, this class provided space for us to have real cross-cultural and inter-religious dialogue. It allowed us to move beyond the extremist stereotypes portrayed in the news and break down cross-cultural barriers.
Although at times Afghanistan can be a difficult place to live and work, at the same time Afghanistan is a beautiful country with many amazing and resilient people. Day-to-day, we saw people working hard to support their families and striving for a brighter future for their children. Schoolgirls walked in groups and laughed on their way home from school. Schoolboys played soccer on the streets, with large rocks serving as their goal markers. Vendors sold fruit and vegetables in the bazaar, and ice cream sellers pushed carts with music playing through the dusty streets. People in Afghanistan and people in the U.S. are more similar than you might think.
As we return home to life in the U.S., our hope continues to be that Afghanistan will find stability and peace. We hope for sustainable development and job creation in a country that is still one of the poorest in the world. And we hope and pray for a future generation of Afghans that will grow up in a country where war is a thing of the past.
- Kelly & Peter Shenk Koontz