Journalist who was in Afghanistan says support still needed

Amanda Jess
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NEW GLASGOW – Mellissa Fung wanted to go back to Afghanistan.

Mellissa Fung, right, signs a copy of her book, Under An Afghan Sky, for Patsy Addison. AMANDA JESS – THE NEWS

After she was kidnapped in 2008 while on assignment for CBC, she felt guilty. She had gone to Kabul to tell the stories of Afghans, and instead ended up telling her own.

“I carried a lot of guilt because no good journalist ever wants her story to be the story people remember. And the story I really wanted to tell was getting further and further out of reach for me,” Fung said during a keynote address for the Evening in Support of Afghan Women and Girls in New Glasgow on Thursday.

The Canadian Women for Women in Afghanistan brought Fung to Trinity United Church for their annual event, hoping to inspire.

“She’s seen the worst of it and she has seen the hope. We can tell the stories from a distance. And she just shrinks that distance,” Susan Hartly for the Atlantic chapter said.

Fung returned to Afghanistan in 2013 to share the stories she wanted to tell the last time.

Despite hearing from others that Canada’s military presence had done very little, Fung found Afghan women and girls who had big dreams and plans, ones they wouldn’t have had a few years earlier.

Twelve years ago, there were 700,000 children in school, she said, most of whom were boys.

Now, there’s 10 million kids in school, four million of whom are girls, she said.

She argues that Canada’s work isn’t done.

“What is going to happen to all those girls? Those four million girls who are in school now. To those women we’ve encouraged to run for office: they tell us they still need us. They still need our support, perhaps more now than ever before.”

Although the military mission is done, Fung suggests we could be doing more in aid.

“If we want to have a legacy in Afghanistan, we need to figure out a way to stay involved,” she said, adding that all of the women she’s spoken to are afraid of losing the gains they’ve made.

Canadian Women for Women in Afghanistan is trying to make sure that doesn’t happen.

The not-for-profit organization has been training teachers in Afghanistan since 2008.

They estimate that 70 per cent of Afghan teachers have little to no training and post-secondary education.

Their goal is to train an average of 1,000 teachers each year in order to help them provide better education for Afghan women and girls.

When Fung returned, she was struck by the aspirations of many of the young girls.

They wanted to be doctors, engineers, teachers, and president.

Hearing their dreams helped to put her mind at ease about a girl she met in 2008.

She had been in Kandahar at a celebration for the end of Ramadan where Canadians had been handing out gifts like cooking oil and clothing to selected needy families.

Others had gathered around the gates of the Canadian mission when they heard about it, asking for help as they told Fung desperate stories of dead or absent husbands and fathers.

It was there she met a girl with brown eyes and a pink polka-dotted scarf whom she’s never forgotten.

She was soon separated from her when soldiers decided to close the gates.

“I tried to ask if I could bring this little girl in and get her family at least some of the gifts that were being handed out, but they were in such a hurry to close the gate… I remember they shoved me in and this little hand that had been clinging to me was just ripped from me. I heard a loud wail and the gate closed. And that was it. I never felt so helpless in my entire life.”

She’s never been able to locate her again, but likes to imagine she’s in school, dreaming of a career.

“What I saw on that trip gave me great hope that what I imagined, that story I imagined for the little girl, wasn’t so out of touch with reality.”

She had returned so she could find other stories to tell, a goal she believes she accomplished, but Fung says she’s not done yet.

On Twitter: @NGNewsAmanda

Organizations: CBC, Canadian Women for Women, Trinity United Church

Geographic location: Afghanistan, Canada, Kabul New Glasgow Kandahar

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