Saturday, 10 September 2011


With great sadness, I have to report that I think all the dreams that Yousuf and I were having for really good biopsychosocial medicine, for the mentally wounded people of Kabul, might be turning to dust. And I just don't have any idea why - can't get hold of anybody to clarify the situation, and seem to be wanted over there no more. 

I had been a bit worried since the middle of August, as I knew Yousuf would have been back from his family holiday is Dubai - and had had no reply from him. In the time since my arrival back from Kabul, I had been recruiting potential trainers to go over with me for the next three planned visits - and there had been an excellent response from ex-service users from therapeutic community programmes who were willing to volunteer to come over as training assistants, and help explain the model of intensive 'user-partnership' and 'integrated psychosocial' therapy that we wanted to get going. As the intention was to use my personal fees from the project for their air fares and expenses, we could only stretch to two per visit, including the co-trainers.

In fact, many more than this came forward - and I was immediately set the task of selecting the 'best of a good bunch' for accompanying me to deliver the agreed training programme. And as I knew several of them personally or professionally, from our therapy and greencare in the Thames Valley, I did not want to be seen to be biased in choosing between people (all of whom seemed very well-motivated and capable). So I decided to ask each of them to write half a page on why they wanted to do this volunteering, and what they thought would make them good at it. From sitting on the panel in dozens of NHS interviews over the years, the questions weren't exactly hard to come up with!

So that I would get the choices made quickly, and be able to get the best value air-fares for the planned September visit, I asked for a very tight deadline. And everybody responded almost immediately - with some marvellous and inspiring pieces of prose. This was becoming an even more exciting project! And more so, because I had no trouble in also recruiting a journalist, business consultant and researcher to come on the future visits - some of whom would be able to find their own funding, and all of whom would be able to then do work that could sustain and develop the project beyond its current planned ending date. And another Kabul-trained psychiatrist working in Oxford wanted to discuss whether he could help too. This lot will really help the project, I was thinking  - about a dozen highly experienced volunteers more than they were expecting!

So I assembled all the applications into a spreadsheet and sent it off to Yousuf, with a few demographic variables, asking him to rank the applicants so that I could get back to them and make all the practical arrangements (which would have been quite complicated - including visas, insurance, induction, preparation, accommodation and security arrangements) in good time.

One week - no reply. Oh well, he's still on holiday maybe. Two weeks: probably got a backlog of emails to sort out. I'll send a reminder email. I think that was also the week the British Council over there was attacked - so a bit of non-specific worry about the security situation: I wonder if they are stopping all but absolutely essential movements. Three weeks: he's probably just very busy with all the work going on in Kabul, but I'll send a note to the London office just to check all's well. Four weeks: no reply from London or Yousuf - starting to get concerned now. Nothing relevant I could find on the web. Send a 'worried' and supportive email to Yousuf. A colleague over here, who knows Afghanistan quite well, though it would just be normal delay and bureaucracy - so I sat tight for a bit longer.

Then, a few days ago now, I received an odd communication by email from the US offices of the NGO. It was an email asking me to acknowledge receipt of a letter from the impressive manager who had started as Country Director for the NGO just before my July visit - and who seemed to be really invigorating the project with determined leadership (which, from stories I heard, had been in rather short supply on the managerial side, until then). The letter a blurred monochrome pdf which was all of two sentences long, on their headed notepaper, saying my services were no longer needed after a budget realignment. Not even a 'thank you'!

I acknowledged it - with a rather intemperate 'what the hell is going on'-type email to the California office, which got a very speedy receipt and thanks (thanks for your acknowledgement, that is). But no more explanation of what was going on. I informed all the volunteers that it looked like we weren't wanted over there any more, and got some heartwarming messages back. The colleague who knows a bit about Afghanistan and NGOs wasn't at all surprised, and said this sort of thing happens all the time -and really shows what a self-serving shower some of the NGOs are.

So that's where we are at the moment. Although obviously disappointed, I am hopeful that the energy and commitment people felt in coming forward will still be used - though maybe not through this NGO or this project. And it may need a lot of work to get back to where were were.

I have some dark thoughts about NGOs in general, as well as the sort of rumours, mischief and anti-group process that might have been marshalled - but I had better not air them here until I have found out more about what is actually happening. I feel very sorry for Yousuf - I imagine that he is very unhappy that the project has been scaled back in this way, and has probably been asked not to get in contact with me. I think back to how proudly he introduced me to his Kabul colleagues as one of his own teachers - and how honoured I felt by that. And, then, how humiliating it must feel to be unable to even be allowed to explain it to me. But these are my mere fantasies, at this stage. But oh, how we are told that people enjoy such freedom in corporate America, indeed!

In the next week, I shall send friendly individual emails to all the people I know in the organisation, and report my progress here in the blog. I shall also ask why I haven't been paid yet! Watch this space - the story is not over yet...