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Summer 2002

 

Rising from the ashes
Purdue Agriculture helps rebuild Afghan's Kabul University
By Beth Forbes

Rising from the ashesl

Kabul UniversityStaff and students return
The Kabul University campus (top) lies in ruins after years of war in Afghanistan. (Photo by Kevin McNamara)
Members of the Kabul University agricultural faculty return to the classroom. (Photo by Kevin McNamara)

This is not the same place I left 30 years ago," thought Kevin McNamara. He was returning to Afghanistan, but he couldn't believe his eyes. Gone was the bustling city of Kabul that he remembered from his days as a Peace Corps volunteer.

Flying over the snow-capped mountains, the view was beautiful and peaceful. But McNamara saw the scars that war had left on the country as soon as he landed. The runway was littered on either side with the bombed out relics of aircraft. The airport had no electricity, and red flags marked areas where land mines were still buried.

In the city, most of the houses were rubble, and the shopping area had been destroyed. The hotel where McNamara stayed was riddled with bullet holes. Rusting electric trams no longer transported anyone.

The tree-lined lane that led to Kabul University was still there, but the bustling campus that McNamara remembered was now a gutted ruin of laboratories and classrooms instead. "I knew that it would be bad, but I was really surprised by the level of destruction," says the agricultural economist, one of three Purdue faculty members who traveled to Kabul University in March, the first step in a plan to rebuild the institution.

Education amidst turmoil
Kabul University was once a premier institution of higher education in central Asia. But trouble began in the late 1970s when the Soviet Union took control of the country and cut ties with U.S. and European universities. Faculty who had been educated in the West fell out of favor.

During the 1990s, the Kabul campus was on the front line of a long-and-bloody Afghan civil war. Many of the male students were literally drafted into the army as they walked along the street. Dorms were used as barracks for soldiers.

Women became the predominant student gender on the Kabul campus. But when the civil war ended and the conservative Islamic Taliban regime came into power, women were prohibited from pursuing an education.

Turmoil broke out again in Afghanistan when the international war on terrorism began last year. The former hallmark of Afghan education eroded further and became a campus in shambles. The university still had a few thousand students, but few qualified teachers. Labs and classrooms were ransacked. There were only two computers and no textbooks on campus.

 

Rising from the ashes

 

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