Rotarian's journey from Afghanistan makes history, represents hope
Mohammad Dost Safai is the first Rotarian from Afghanistan to attend an RI Convention. Rotary Images/Alyce Henson
Mohammad Dost Safai, a soft-spoken, gracious Rotarian, walks amid the exuberant attendees at the 2008 RI Convention, hoping to meet Rotarians who can help him bring positive change to his country.
Safai, a member of the Rotary Club of Jalalabad, is the first Rotarian from Afghanistan to attend an RI Convention. And while he's proud to represent his fellow Afghan Rotarians, he's come to Los Angeles with a different purpose.
"I want to learn more about how Rotary works and how our club can participate in projects that help build better communities," said Safai, the incoming president of his club. "I want to use the information I gain here and share it back home."
Safai, an English professor from Nangarhar University in Jalalabad, spent a month in San Diego, California, USA, as a Group Study Exchange team member in 2005. After the exchange, he joined the Jalalabad club.
He first learned of Rotary a year earlier, when members of the Rotary Club of La Jolla Golden Triangle, San Diego, installed computers and Internet access at the university. They also trained professors on how to use the new equipment. The following year, the U.S. club raised $200,000 to develop and build a middle school in Jalalabad. Safai was amazed at the impact it had on the community.
"Those projects produced such a positive change in the city. People now started to admire Rotary," says Safai. "I realized how much good Rotary can accomplish and the potential of growth in Afghanistan."
But roadblocks remain. The country continues to struggle with an unstable central government, corruption, and unrest along the border with Pakistan, all of which hinder Rotary's ability to charter clubs. Only five clubs exist in the entire country, none of them more than five years old. And with no mail system in Jalalabad, Safai's club must cross the border into Pakistan to conduct administrative work.
With very few resources in Afghanistan, his club relies on the support and guidance of more established Rotary clubs in Pakistan, Safai says. But complicated political and security concerns limit access for Pakistani Rotarians to come into Afghanistan.
"Our clubs need more training and proper direction," Safai says. "I'm hoping to find and network with other clubs here to help us become stable and strong. This is a great place to improve relations with fellow Rotarians."
Assistance in the areas of education and health is direly needed, said Safai. "With Rotary's involvement, we can improve the conditions for children," he said.
Seeing the camaraderie among Rotarians at the convention, Safai has become more and more inspired to spread Rotary's values back home. "Every Rotarian is like a brother to me," he says, adding that he "can’t imagine life without Rotary." His ultimate hope is that Afghanistan can't either.