Rural conditions bring great rewards for grad volunteering in Afghanistan
Cory Heins 77 talks to an Afghani child as part of his volunteer work for World Concern. All photos courtesy of World Concern
If youre one of the many PLU friends of Cory Heins 77, dont
be offended if you havent heard from him lately. Hes been a bit
hard to reach, living in Afghanistan and working for World
Concern, an international relief organization that has helped the country
that has been torn by civil war and famine for 20 years. Communication comes
via battery-powered satellite phone, from a dark, quiet, electricity-free
office that doubles as his home.
Afghanistan became even more dangerous for American relief organizations in the months following September 11, as the U.S. and its allies fought the ruling Taliban government. Heins started participating in the Afghan relief project in December 2001 and January 2002 as the distribution coordinator, responsible for providing logistical support and assisting in the distribution of food and emergency supplies in the northeastern Afghani province of Takhar.
One of the first projects he coordinated was the distribution of 5,000 pairs
of boots and shoes to boys and girls between the ages of 3 and 14. At the
time, Heins was the only westerner in the remote district of Chah Ab.
The locals welcomed Heins and helped keep him safe on his journeys through Afghanistan's rough terrain.
Heins returned to Afghanistan last November, overseeing projects that include
building roads, repairing schools, building schools from scratch, building
bridges and constructing water systems for villages.
"With over 5,200 local people working on our projects, we are quite
busy," Heins said.
Then there are the days driving out to the sites.
"Its a bone rattling adventure," Heins said, via e-mail.
The roads are a disaster, and there are the inevitable challenges of snow,
rain and deep, voluminous mud.
In northeastern Afghanistan, transportation is by donkey, and there are no
road signs. Distribution is very detailed and time consuming. Compensation
is a combination of wheat, oil or lentils. There are no telephones, newspapers,
running water, postal service, music or television. Its the most remote
place Heins has ever been.
But the people are grateful and loving, despite their circumstances.
"Its truly the Land of the Greeting," Heins said. "Many people approached me in the streets to welcome me. It is always a handshake and a placing of the hand over the heart." Heins is frequently asked if he fears for his safety, and the answer is always "no."
Heins found many upbeat children in Afghanistan, despite the tough circumstances.
"The Afghan people surrounded me with their world-renowned hospitality," Heins said. "They wouldnt allow a visitor to venture out alone. Unthinkable."
Heins compares his feelings about people of Afghanistan to that of those
"What stood out were the people at PLU and the friendships that I made,"
He has also done relief work in Nepal and Vietnam, and worked on a development
project in Bangladesh for World Concern in 2001. His involvement in international
relief began in the early 90s, when he helped build a school and 172
clean-water wells in Cambodia. In 2003, Heins
plans to shift his relief efforts to famine-stricken East Africa.
Heins lives in Edmonds, Wash., and works as a real estate broker when not volunteering for World Concern. He encourages everyone to help in any way they can. "Even the smallest effort can have a great effect on someones life. I know. I've been there."
Visit Encore! to learn more about Cory Heins.