A few years after 9/11, I worked for an aid agency in Kabul. One of the memories I cherish most is that of Sahar, a soft-spoken Afghan who was 20 then. Her mom didn’t like her working, because she was a woman. But she showed up every morning, her head wrapped in chador and her large brown eyes both cautious and curious. I taught her how to use Excel and convert Afghanis into U.S. dollars. She said she wanted to be an interior designer someday.
One time, she told me in passing that she’d never smoked a cigarette. So I bought a pack, locked the office door, and showed her how to smoke (“Inhale, Sahar, inhale”). I don’t think she enjoyed the taste, but she was thrilled to hold a cigarette.
Bogale, Myanmar, 10 June 2008 — Every morning since Cyclone Nargis made landfall, Doctor Ye Lwin has been getting up at five o’clock. After morning prayers, he starts seeing patients who have travelled a long way to come to the makeshift clinic UNDP has set up at its Bogale township office.
Aceh, Indonesia — When the Tsunami struck last December, Ibu Aja Cut of Teunom Village in the Aceh Jaya District on Aceh’s West Coast lost all her family members, save two grandchildren. Her house vanished off the face of the earth. The 70-year-old spent the next nine months in a six square meter emergency tent with her two surviving grandchildren. Two weeks ago, they moved into a newly erected temporary shelter. In the 36 square meter room with wooden walls, a metal roof, an open kitchen and two makeshift beds, Ibu Aja Cut, for the first time since the disaster, sees ray of hope.