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NICCO driven to continue Afghan aid

by Atsushi Kodera

Staff Writer

Members of the Kyoto-based nonprofit organization Nippon International Cooperation for Community Development (NICCO) defied danger and entered Afghanistan as soon as the brutal Taliban government had fallen. They have since continued their difficult humanitarian support activities for more than 10 years.

This September, their long, arduous efforts paid off in an unexpected way.

The group received a heartfelt message of gratitude bearing the seals of six farming villages and counties in the western province of Herat where members have provided agricultural support.

The message states: “In Afghanistan, 80 percent of the people engage in farming and livestock breeding. However, more than 30 years of civil war and 15 years of drought damage have seriously hit farming, and people can’t buy even what they need for their living.

“We understand there are countries in the world where one farmer can feed 100 people, but here we cannot even support just two . . . due to lack of farming equipment, fertilizer and knowledge. . . . That’s why we sincerely appreciate the humanitarian support people of Japan have extended to us. . . .”

“It even said, ‘We all know your support is sincere, and not motivated by political or business purposes’ — that’s exactly what we had thought we had to convince them of all along,” said Norimasa Orii, secretary-general of NICCO and manager of its Tokyo office. “They knew.”

NICCO started out in the late 1970s as a group of students and housewives in Kyoto uniting behind the cause of supporting Cambodian refugees.

It currently engages in humanitarian support in many places, including Malawi, the Palestinian territories, Jordan, Iran and Myanmar, as well as disaster-hit areas in the Tohoku region.

In Afghanistan, the group rushed into action as soon as the Taliban regime fell under the U.S.-led attacks that started in October 2001.

An inspection mission was sent to Herat province that November, and NICCO’s support program was already in operation the following February.

Last year The Japan Times Readers’ Fund donated ¥118,061 to the group, which used the money for a self-reliance support program for Afghan women, including reading and writing in Dari, one of Afghanistan’s two official languages.

The ratio of literate Afghan women, who were banned from receiving an education under the Taliban regime, remains around 50 percent, according to Orii.

“Sometimes children may learn to read, but they then start to look down on their illiterate mothers,” Orii said. “If mothers can’t educate their children with confidence, they may grow up with only a one-sided view of fathers. Women have an important role to play — to teach the culture of peace.”

NICCO hopes to use this year’s Readers’ Fund donations again for female self-reliance support programs: a reading and writing education program for rural areas in the province, and teaching skills required in the modern work environment, such as computer skills and English, in the city of Herat, the provincial capital.

“I know there are views that Afghanistan may fall back to a civil war situation after NATO pulls out” by the end of 2014, Orii said. “But I believe we can expect a more stable reconstruction without interference from other countries. Next year could become a watershed for the Afghans.”

Donations to NICCO are accepted through PayPal at www.kyoto-nicco.org/english/donation/index.html .