About the Author: Jennie Kim is a Foreign Affairs Officer serving in the Bureau of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs.
Yesterday, I attended the closing ceremony of the first Afghan Youth Congress, which ran from April 5-8, 2010. The State Department's Bureau of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs (INL), where I work, funded the event through its Afghan Counternarcotics Public Information program, in partnership with the Afghan Ministry of Counter Narcotics (MCN), and Ministry of Information and Culture (MoIC). The Ministers of both the MCN and MoIC delivered closing remarks.
The Afghan Youth Congress, titled "Youth: The Pulse of a Drug-Free Afghanistan," is similar to the U.S. National Youth Congress, where students from across the country come together to build leadership and problem-solving skills in order to make a difference in their communities. The Afghan version featured 90 delegates, including 35 females, who came from 32 provinces to participate in the 4-day event, which focused on the drug problem in Afghanistan.
I was especially impressed by the female poet co-leading the event, and a young woman from Kandahar province, who faced a host of challenges to attend. When I asked her where she was from, she told me, proudly, "Kandahar -- aren't you surprised that I'm here?"
The closing ceremony featured a student skit, a performance of the national anthem, and a reading of the Afghan Youth Congress's anti-drug pledge, which the delegates drafted and signed. The event ended with speeches by MCN Minister Zarar, MoIC Minister Rahim, and INL Director Drew Quinn from U.S. Embassy Kabul.
The prevailing theme of the Afghan ministers' remarks focused on reviving national pride. MCN Minister Zarar told a story illustrating how Afghanistan's reputation had suffered because of the drug trade. While MoIC Minister Rahim called on youth to restore the culture of Afghanistan. "We used to be pioneers, proud of our culture, known for our math and science, known for the likes of [famed physician] Ibn Sina and [artist] Kamaluddin Behzad," he said. "Now what we are most known for is having the highest levels of drug production, cultivation, and trafficking. Isn't that shameful?"Read more more about INL country programs in Afghanistan.