Australian spotlights progress in Afghanistan
Kay Danes has written several books about her wrongfully imprisonment in Laos.
In 2000, Kay Danes and her husband, Kerry, were wrongfully imprisoned in Laos, where they were managing a security company. A government dispute with one of the firm’s clients, a gem mine, led to 11 months of brutal incarceration before they were released. Since then, Danes, a member of the Rotary Club of Redlands Bayside, Australia, has written several books about their experiences and those of others detained in overseas prisons. Last year, she was named one of Australia’s 50 most influential women.
THE ROTARIAN: It’s been a decade since you were released. How has your life changed?
DANES: Spending almost a year imprisoned in Laos did not change me as a person, but it did make me more aware of my surroundings and more trusting of my instincts. I’m not one to sit in the shadows. I’d much rather turn what could have been a totally debilitating experience into a reflection of strength and determination to make a difference.
TR: In 2008, you went to Afghanistan with the ChildLight Foundation for Afghan Children. Were you worried about security?
DANES: After the flashbacks and anxiety attacks associated with surviving torture, I wanted to be able to go outside my door again without fearing that something bad would happen. When Diana Tacey, director of the ChildLight Foundation and a member of the Rotary Club of Mesa Sunrise, Ariz., USA, asked if I would like to go with her on a humanitarian aid mission to Afghanistan, I accepted. This was the most incredible experience I’d ever had. I documented our journey in my book Beneath the Pale Blue Burqa. Tremendous progress is being made in Afghanistan. There’s a great deal of hope, courage, and resilience among the people.
TR: Has the book been distributed there?
DANES: The book has been very well received in Afghanistan, but distribution is difficult. Many people are poor and usually only access books through university libraries. They don’t have bookstores like we have in the West.
TR: What kind of work did you do in Afghanistan?
DANES: We participated in the first Healthy Families Seminar, where women came from all over Nangarhar Province to learn more about hygiene, midwifery, and mental illness. We traveled to remote communities and helped establish poultry farms to give families an opportunity to earn a sustainable income.
TR: How did you react to being named one of Australia’s most influential women?
It was a humbling experience, and I am grateful that it recognizes the importance of humanitarian work. It’s nice to be acknowledged, but I hope people will focus more on helping impoverished people, particularly those who live in countries devastated by war.