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Penny and Horia

Wednesday, September 10, 2008 by Marianne Elliott

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I sat
waiting for my flight to Kabul with Penny. Penny was the Deputy Country
Director for Mercy Corps, Afghanistan and was one of the two co-chairs of the
board of the consortium for which I would be working. Two months earlier she
had been one of a panel of three people who interviewed me by phone for this
role. My first taste of life in Kabul had been the difficulties we had getting
together at a suitable time for the interview. I suggested a time, Penny
emailed back explaining that that they were under curfew and couldn’t be in the
office after 7pm. They suggested another time, but on the day the phone lines
were down and they couldn’t get through to me.

we got it together and I was interviewed by Penny together with Horia, the
Director of the Consortium, and Kanishka, the co-chair with Penny of the Board.
I was impressed that I was being interviewed by two Afghans for a role in
Afghanistan. This happens much less often than you might expect. 

My first
international job was with Raji Sourani, a Palestinian human rights lawyer, in
the Gaza Strip. For two years I worked in a Palestinian office, with a Palestinian
director and an entirely Palestinian board. In Timor-Leste, although the
project was funded by New Zealand, I worked with and was primarily answerable
to a Timorese woman.
  So my
experience of international human rights work had been as an employee of local
organizations or as an advisor to local experts. But this is not typical. Most
foreigners, or “internationals” working in countries like Afghanistan,
Palestine or Timor-Leste are working for international organizations and their
bosses are foreigners like them.

What most
attracted me to Afghanistan was the chance to work with Horia. Horia Mosadiq is
my age, which means that when I arrived in Afghanistan she was 34 years old.
She was the first ever Afghan director of an organization that had initially
been managed by foreigners. She was well known in Kabul for her intelligence
and her courage. Starting out as a journalist Horia was known for her
willingness to speak out on women’s rights and human rights generally. 

As an
activist in post-Taleban Kabul Horia was deeply committed to seeking justice
for the many victims of past human rights violations in Afghanistan and their
families. When many others were willing to switch their agenda to suit the
preferences and priorities of international funders, Horia never stopped
talking about victims and the need, for the sake of the entire country’s
future, to address their needs.

When I
arrived in Kabul I was single and had no children. Horia had been married for
over a decade and had two daughters, 10 and five years old. I grew up on a
stereotypically idyllic farm in central New Zealand and heard about the
suffering of the rest of the world mostly during our family’s morning prayers
for missionaries around the world. Horia and her family had fled Afghanistan
into Iran after their home was bombed and her brother killed. I studied law at
university in New Zealand, specialising in international human rights law, and
met and married the pastor’s son three days after I turned twenty. Horia
studied journalism and met and married her husband in Iran, moving together to
Pakistan to continue their studies and work.

In a
refugee camp in Pakistan far from her family, Horia had her first child. At
about that time my own early marriage was breaking apart and I was setting out
to explore the world, backpacking for 10 months through East Africa, Middle
East and Eastern Europe. Horia raised her daughter in the refugee camp and
began her work as an activist. At about the same time I was trying to make
sense of the suffering, conflict, poverty and injustice I had seen during those
10 months of travel and decided to look for work using my international human
rights training. As Horia juggled motherhood and working as a journalist to
speak out about problems faced by women under the Taleban regime, I moved to
the Gaza Strip and began to work with Raji to bring the world’s attention to
the oppression of the Gazan people under the occupation.

As the call
came over the intercom to announce that boarding was beginning for the UNHAS flight
to Kabul I was thinking about Horia, who would be meeting me at the airport
when I arrived, and hoping that she would like me. 


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3 Responses to "Penny and Horia"

  1. ash says:

    edge of my seat….she sounds amazing…

  2. tiny noises says:

    I am all a-tingle! I love how you set this up and parallel your journey with Horia’s. Beautiful!

  3. susanna says:

    Very interesting. It’s inspiring to read of women truly making a difference in our world. One suggestion, though. As a reader, I want to know more of YOUR story. You married quite young. Did Horia? Perhaps you want to keep some of your more personal experiences private – and I understand if you do – but I am curious to know more about your ten months of travel, why you decided to go on that trip, what did you see that motivated you to begin your human rights work? You are leading an unconventional life and I think most of us, especially women, are fascinated with your experiences and with you are as a fellow woman.
    Anyhoo,…keep writing! Your story is definitely worth writing down.

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