UNO’s International Studies still playing a vital role in rebuilding Afghanistan


By Chip Olsen

During the past year, the increased interest in Afghanistan has brought worldwide attention to International Studies and Programs at UNO.

The bulk of that attention has been focused on Thomas Gouttierre, director of the Center for Afghanistan Studies and dean of International Studies and Programs.

Since the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, Gouttierre, one of the leading experts on the culture of Afghanistan, has been called upon regularly by local, national and international media to express his expert opinion on the country.

He and his staff have shed light on a land that several months ago few people in America knew much about.

"This is a chance for us to do what we can and it enables us to do our part with what we have to offer," he said. "And I feel proud that we’re in that position."

Gouttierre’s program, which serves as the only institutional base in the United States specifically concerned with Afghanistan affairs, has become progressively involved in the education of Afghans.

In fact, The U.S. Agency for International Development provided a $6.5 million grant to the program to print textbooks, develop teacher kits and train teachers for the opening of schools under the new government of Afghanistan.

In a space of less than two months, he said, more than 10 million books were printed.

"We feel that we have been able to contribute," Gouttierre said. "We have nearly 3 million Afghan students going to one through 12 grades."

The books, the teacher training and the pursuit of education by Afghans are the positives that have stemmed from these changed times, he said.

However, there was a great deal of concern after it was determined the Sept. 11 attacks came from the Middle East. Harm, specifically by way of retribution against the international students on campus and those in the community, was his leading fear.

With prime conditions for hate, the single incident Gouttierre heard about on campus, he said, was of a Latin American student being heckled.

"That just tells people’s lack of knowledge when they can’t tell one part of the world from the other," he said. "I can tell you, very happily, that Omaha and UNO did itself proud by not getting into stereotyping of people."

Gouttierre said that without question, this past year has been draining, primarily on his time and energy.

Yet, at the same time, he said, "It’s very energizing."

His program and his staff are in the rare position of working on a topic that was of little concern 12 months ago.

"All of the sudden, everybody knows where Afghanistan is," Gouttierre said. "And we’ve tried to take what we have available in terms of our experiences and make them available."



Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here