Lacombe foreign aid worker Eric Rajah speaks about his experiences in conflict zones

A Better World co-founder presents his time in Iraq and Afghanistan at the Mary C. Moore Library

As part of the Mary C. Moore’s Arm Chair Travel Series, A Better World co-founder and Alberta Order of Excellence recipient Eric Rajah spoke about his experience doing foreign aid work in the war-torn countries of Iraq and Afghanistan.

“My talk is simply about finding compassion in some of the most dangerous countries,” Rajah said.

Both countries, which have experienced the travesty of war for well over 30 years, are rated as some of the most dangerous countries to do foreign aid work, but the danger should not stop people from reaching out to help these countries according to Rajah.

“My focus is to let people know that even in these countries, there are compassionate people who look after you, who care for you and will protect you,” he said.

During his time in both countries, Rajah and other volunteers from Lacombe’s A Better World stayed with host families, particularly in Afghanistan where A Better World continues to provide aid including building schools.

“They host us and they travel with us, meaning the risk for them is just as much for them as it is for us,” he said. “They are hosting you in their homes and they are awake at night outside watching out for you so you can have a good sleep.”

For Rajah, it is important to provide help to these countries who are often shunned by individuals and organizations due to the danger of working there. For Rajah, it is important for people to recognize that extremism and violence make up a very small percentage of the population in both countries.

“In Afghanistan, there are about 40 million people and less than a million people are involved in extremism and fighting,” he said. “Most of them want to have a peaceful life, they want education and they see the next generation as being able to change the attitude towards and perception of their culture.”

To change the perception of these cultures, Rajah said it is important that investments into health and education are made.

“When people have nothing and are everyday are struggling for food — they have nothing to lose,” he said. “In most of those cases, people have lost purpose and have nothing to look forward to. You see that in real life everyday that you are working there.”

Since Rajah first went to Afghanistan in 2004, three years after the repressive Taliban regime was ousted in 2001, he has seen huge improvements in the country — particularly in the education of females.

“As years went by, specifically when I was there back in 2010 — I saw girls publicly on the street in the hundreds walking to school. It was one of the most beautiful things I have ever seen,” Rajah said. “They are thirsting for education and wanting education and that’s what pushes us to build all these schools in Afghanistan.”

Rajah was also thankful that none of the schools that were built or supported by A Better World in Afghanistan have experienced violence.

“That is a good sign that the community is wanting education,” he said.

Rajah said one of the most important messages he would like to get across is that people should not judge a country on a small percentage of extremists

“The other thing you can do is befriend people here to gain a better understanding,” he said, adding there are many ways people can help out.

“They can look at ways they can help out, such as volunteering with A Better World or other organizations.”

Rajah wanted to thank the people of Lacombe who have supported A Better World for 29 years.

“We have hundreds of people who have travelled with us and we appreciate a small City like this being concerned with what happens beyond the borders of our own communities. I want to thank the people of Lacombe for that.”