I have many fond thoughts and also some memories of challenging times at ACBAR. Representing Save the Children in ACBAR was a great experience for me, personally and professionally. When I joined Save the Children as Deputy Country Director in 2000.it was wonderful to reconnect with colleagues I had known earlier while working with IRC in 1991-93 and so interesting to see how their organizations, particularly the Afghan NGOs, had developed in the years since and how the NGO community in general had evolved. I felt, and still feel, that I learned so much from all the membership, and especially from the members of the Steering Committees and working groups on which I sat. I have, on more than one occasion, shared the ACBAR statutes with people engaged in NGO coordination in other countries. And occasionally I visit the ACBAR website to see what’s going on.
I distinctly remember getting into the back seat of the car in Islamabad with a pile of work, and working all the way along the Grand Trunk Road to Peshawar. This happened on a regular basis during the no-Executive Director period at ACBAR in 2001. I was the Treasurer but I had to have a proxy signing checks since I wasn’t based in Peshawar. ACBAR members paid membership fees, but other funding sources had dried up, so the Steering Committee members divided up the Executive Coordinator functions. I also remember Ian Purves, whom Oxfam had hired as post-9/11 communications/advocacy coordinator on behalf of ACBAR, telling us that our familiar NGO world was about to change more than we were possibly prepared for - and it did.
I recall receiving a harsh verbal set-down from an important Afghan minister during a public meeting when I tried to counter his very critical comments about NGOs with my own about NGO professionalism and good work. And I remember so many meetings and workshops aimed at pulling together thoughts and ideas about how NGOs in Afghanistan should move forward.
I eventually stepped down from the Steering Committee to encourage new faces, but I continued to participate in ACBAR itself. When I left Afghanistan for Indonesia in mid-2005, I made an effort to clean out my computer, sort through my electronic documents and keep ones that I wanted to look at again, think about and refer back to (and maybe keep forever!). This included an ACBAR folder.
Here’s what I saved on July 7, 2005, and still have:
1. An Advocacy folder that contains drafts of statements, speeches, position papers—What are NGOs (we are not money grubbers!)? What should PRTs do (no harm! Focus on security!)? How can we/should we coordinate nationally and regionally with government and how can we obtain project approval? What should the government do about housing costs and salaries?
2. A folder on ANSO (now INSO)
3. A folder on Code of Conduct with a draft of a document section trying to capture some of the history of NGO activity in Afghanistan (with the editorial notation “HELP” scattered throughout), some code of conduct examples and a document password-encoded by Paul Barker of CARE for which I no longer have the password.
4. A folder on Executive Coordinator—SCF hosted Executive Coordinator contracts for two Executive Coordinators during my tenure.
5. A folder on NGO legislation with commentary from ICNL and notes for use in discussion addressing particular clauses, concerns about them and recommendations.
6. The text of the NGO statement at the IG meeting on October 13, 2012
7. A folder with small group discussion plans for a meeting with government and drafts of NGO-legislation-related speeches by Raziq Samadi, Chair of ACBAR, and Asila Wardak, Chair of ANCB.
8. A folder on Statutes of Operation—of course! And Roberts Rules of Order.
9. A folder with TORs for working groups, a memo from Acting Chair Fiona Gall apologizing for the short notice for a Steering Committee meeting and transmitting the minutes, in which two absent people, including me, were nominated for SC jobs—a sneaky, but effective strategy—and which discussed the unending topic of office space and rent, among other topics. A contact list.
I may purge some of those documents, but I’ll keep most of them. More than one has been a reference in subsequent years. They transport me back to important people and events. They’re also a good reminder of why we, as NGO workers, choose to do what we do, why and how organizations set and maintain standards, why we are willing to put effort into coordination and what that work actually looks like.
Lisa Laumann, Steering Committee Member and Treasurer 2000-2004