It’s safe to say that many of us don’t tend to have a positive reaction when we think of the Afghan people. What we often forget is that a vast majority of them endlessly find themselves victim to the violent atrocities carried out by the Taliban regime. Thankfully, Amandine Roche, a French humanitarian and UN peace building consultant, is working to make this pattern of violence a thing of the past.
Having created the Amanuddin Foundation, Amandine has devoted her life to ending violence and inspiring peace among the Afghan people. She has been doing this for years in Kabul by providing mental health counseling, meditation, and most recently, yoga. Yes, you heard that right. Yoga.
While some of my readers may be skeptical to believe that the same yoga they do at the gym every morning can have such a significant impact on this nation, think again. Amandine has successfully created a program that brings hope to despaired souls and encourages peace among Afghan officials that have known nothing but violence all their lives.
I had the pleasure of speaking with Amandine last month. Here are a few highlights of our conversation that demonstrate her impressive accomplishments in Afghan democracy, education, and human rights.
YOU ARE: Why have you dedicated your life to helping the Afghan people?
AMANDINE: Afghans are the most peaceful people I’ve ever met—humble, tolerant, generous, compassionate, courageous, kind, perseverant, joyful, and positive, not to mention also having a great sense of humor.
I fell in love with them 12 years ago when I was helping the Afghan refugees at the Tajik border. And from that point on, I’ve just wanted to know more about them. I am still here in Kabul today as I believe this group of people has a peaceful message to deliver to humankind. And that peace starts from within.
YOU ARE: Tell me about the Amanuddin Foundation.
AMANDINE: The Foundation’s main goal is to promote nonviolence in Afghanistan. Created in Kabul in 2011, the Foundation wears a number of different hats. First, it has its own mental health program in which it counsels those suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder and offers meditation classes in conjunction with the Afghan Ministry of Health, Interior and Justice. We also teach the Afghan people how to embrace peace and carry out a life free of violence. Additionally, the Foundation has inter-religious dialogue.
Most recently, we’ve launched a pilot program within the Torch of Light private school, located in the poorest and most violent area of Kabul, that aims to raise its 200 students as peaceful citizens.
YOU ARE: Any specific stories of those you’re now helping that have had a profound impact on what you’re working to accomplish?
AMANDINE: A woman was celebrating a birthday with her family at a restaurant in front of Qargha Lake when insurgents stormed in and assassinated her husband, sister’s husband, and two good friends, in addition to 80 other people in attendance. The woman was also severly injured, with bullets found in her skull, cheek, and arms. She saved her three daughters by wiping her blood on their faces while they pretended they were dead for a straight 11 hours.
The woman and her daughters have undoubtedly suffered from PTSD, living with depression and anxiety. I am now working to help them overcome this trauma through counseling and meditation.
YOU ARE: Tell me about Sola Yoga. Why do you strongly believe this will have a lasting effect on the Afghan people?
AMANDINE: Sola Yoga means ‘peace through union of body and mind.’ Its function is to heal the Afghan people who have endured extreme suffering. We’re working to instill peace in the population prior to the withdrawal of Nato Forces in 2014.
This project marks the first time meditation has been been taught to Afghans and international troops. Until now, the international community has focused on war to bring peace, but we can’t bring sustained peace through conflict. War starts in the minds of men and, therefore, it is in the minds of men that the mechanisms of peace must be constructed.
YOU ARE: What has been your biggest challenge to date and how have you worked to overcome it?
AMANDINE: I’m actually experiencing my biggest challenge right now in working to change the mindset of potential donors that fail to acknowledge how that addressing the mental health situation, promoting non-violence, and creating an inter-religious dialogue in Afghanistan should be of the utmost importance. It is really hard to change a person’s entire belief system.
YOU ARE: What has been the most rewarding part of your experience?
AMANDINE: I was working for a UN Civic education program in the Kabul region in 2003. Our main goal was to spend one whole year encouraging Afghan women to take the lead in forming a more democratic society by inspiring them to participate in the voter registration process.
We coordinated with the Afghan government and media at the regional and local level in addition to working alongside the UN, local governors, Kuchi liaison officer, Afghan government Ministries, and partner NGOs. We disseminated electoral messages to national NGOs and, with the help of the National Small Grant Fund Officer, organized workshops and social events in the Kabul Province. We also educated Afghan women on the benefits and advantages of democracy, the peace process, and the Bonn Agreement.
On Election Day, 54% of Afghan women casted their vote—even despite numerous death threats from the Taliban. This day marked a historic and successful democratic election and was certainly our proudest achievement to date.
YOU ARE: Favorite quote?
AMANDINE: “They didn’t know it was impossible, so they made it.”