Building hope for Afghanistan’s future
Jesus’ words from Matthew 25 are etched deep in the heart of Jan Bradley.
Her husband, Lt. Gen. John Bradley, served as a Reserve chief with the U.S. Air Force. He returned from a trip to Afghanistan in 2006 and told his wife about seeing fellow soldiers use their off-duty time to give clothing, toys and school supplies to the Afghan women and children who visited Bagram Air Base for medical care.
In response, Jan Bradley collected more than 40,000 pounds of blankets, clothing, shoes, boots and school supplies for her husband to take with him on another trip in 2007. While handing out the donations in an Afghan village, the general came face-to-face with 9-year-old Lamia, who asked him for boots like his to help her through the cold winter. A year later the Bradleys delivered boots to her family, and the Lamia Afghan Foundation was born.
Now retired, John Bradley and Jan help build schools and provide medical and humanitarian aid through the foundation, which has received more than $600,000 in donations and pays no salaries. Every dollar goes directly to the needs of Afghans, Jan Bradley said.
Jan Bradley also has worked with programs that serve wounded warriors. In 2008, she received the Air Force Exceptional Service Award.
The Bradleys live in Nashville, Tenn., where they worship with Churches of Christ. John Bradley serves on the board of Lipscomb University. They have one daughter.
Tell us about the purpose behind the Lamia Afghan Foundation.
Our purpose is driven by a strong desire to minister to the needs of the Afghan people, who have suffered through the horrors of 35 years of war and oppression.
Women and young girls have been especially disenfranchised under past Taliban rule and the country’s conservative culture. We’re trying to help by building schools and providing other educational opportunities, along with various types of skills training. We just finished our seventh school for girls.
We have given opportunities in many of Afghanistan’s provinces to hundreds of women to learn sewing and tailoring skills so they can earn income to support their families. This has involved buying hundreds of sewing machines in Afghanistan and shipping thousands of pounds of donated fabrics and sewing supplies from the United States to support numerous established sewing training programs.
The aid is moved on U.S. military aircraft, free on a space-available basis, because of a law referred to as the Denton Amendment. The Denton Office of the U.S. State Department told us our foundation has moved more humanitarian aid to Afghanistan than any other non-government entity.
In an Afghanistan refugee camp, Jan Bradley hugs a boy who has lost both of his arms. Thousands of children in the war-torn nation have been killed or seriously injured in conflict-related violence, including improvised explosive devices, the United Nations reports. (PHOTO BY JOHN BRADLEY) To what extent have fellow Christians participated in this effort?
We have had an enormous amount of support from hundreds of Christians.
For several years Healing Hands International in Nashville provided work and storage space for the humanitarian aid operation. They gave hundreds of aid items, medical equipment and supplies — blankets, sleeping bags. They helped pack boxes. They trucked the aid to the military bases from which it was flown to bases in Afghanistan.
We would not have gotten the aid program off the ground had it not been for the Christians at Healing Hands.
There are also many Christians from around the world working in Afghanistan. One of the finest was Dr. Jerry Umanos, a doctor in Kabul for eight years until April 2014, when he was murdered by a security guard.
“Dr. Jerry,” as he was known, was what we called a “human neonatal intensive care unit.” He saved more babies lives in childbirth that anyone ever in Afghanistan. He saved the lives of more mothers in childbirth than anyone ever.
How do you gain trust among the people of Afghanistan?
We have traveled to Afghanistan seven times together, usually twice a year. This has allowed us to support projects firsthand, visit Afghans, listen to them and learn what they need.
We visit many senior officials of the Afghan national government to coordinate our work and get approval for our projects.
One accomplishment is that we have established credibility with government officials, ministries and people at the grass-roots level. Credibility is everything in Afghanistan. The people there know they can trust us.
You have to be very careful when you talk to Afghans. If you say you will try to do something, they may think you said you will do it. So if you can’t do it, they will lose trust in you.
Jan Bradley holds a baby and visits with children in a refugee camp where she helps to distribute humanitarian aid. (PHOTO BY JOHN BRADLEY) Is the status of females improving in Afghanistan?
Yes! In many ways.
There are more girls in schools in Afghanistan now than ever before. They are getting the education their mothers and grandmothers did not have the opportunity to receive. The culture has not changed enough, but you can see some improvement in the way women are treated.
The health status of women and girls is improving dramatically due to having some very basic health care available. Infant mortality rates have dropped substantially; maternal mortality rates have also plummeted. The expected length of life for women has gone up more than 10 years. Some of this is due to health care. Some of it is due to better education.
Not only are more women working outside the home, they are also having more opportunities to own and run businesses. That is not widespread, but the outlook is promising. Many more women hold senior positions in government.
How do continuing conflicts in Afghanistan impact the schools already started?
We have been blessed that our schools have not had any difficulty from the Taliban and their supporters.
As a matter of fact, the schools in Afghanistan have not generally had the problems that were common several years ago. We have not had a single incident in or around our schools, and we have had no reports of the schoolgirls being harassed or discouraged from attending school.
We are very careful where we build schools, and we only build where the local village men want to have a school for their daughters.
Most village elders today want their daughters to attend school. The local men build the school, under the construction supervision of our builder and his architect or engineer. That way they have ownership, and they will protect it.
We tell the men that they need to value their daughters because their culture is so male-dominant. We tell them they need to educate their daughters, because one thing is the same everywhere: when they, the old men, get sick, it is their daughters who will take good care of them.
This really gets their attention. They usually laugh, shake their heads and say, “Yes.”