Humbling Humanity

November 7, 2008

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  <span class="field-credit">
    Miguel Samper for Mercy Corps  </span>
    Daud Shah, 33-year-old farmer from Takhar, returned from taking refuge in Pakistan to find 40 Taliban soldiers living on his farm. What happened next was a beautiful show of humanity. Photo: Miguel Samper for Mercy Corps

Today we were in Takhar, a farming province in northern Afghanistan near the border with Tajikistan. It's home to some of the frontlines for pre-2002 battles between local forces and the Taliban.

The scars of the fighting are visible throughout the area — particularly along the highway, where the landscape is spotted with long plastic poles adorned with green, red and yellow flags. Each flag represents a person who was killed at that particular spot. Far too often, the poles are bowing under the weight of these flags, as bombing campaigns killed families and communities en masse.

It's a sobering reminder of how this area has suffered at the hands of this conflict. Amazingly, though, the people in this community are ready and willing to forgive and, more importantly, move forward.

Daud Shah exemplifies this spirit. The 33-year-old farmer was forced to leave his home in Takhar due to the fighting, fleeing with his wife and eight children to Karachi, Pakistan. Daud and his family returned four years later when the fighting subsided, only to find some surprising guests on his farm: 40 Taliban soldiers.

Daud was somehow able to subdue them. He took their guns (he turned some into the Afghan government and sold the rest to support his family) and kept them as prisoners for four days.

Here's the part that positively staggers me: When Daud decided to release these soldiers, he gave each of them a small sum of money to aid them in their journey home.

Today we're helping Daud by giving him tools to increase the yield of his peach orchard — shovels, saws, scissors — and connecting him to buyers.

He admits that capturing and disarming the Taliban fighters was a vengeful act on his part, fueled by his anger for all the harm they have caused to his friends and neighbors. But that soon gave way to a beautiful show of humanity for his fellow Afghans. We could all learn a lesson from Daud. I know I did.