People Helping People in Afghanistan: Marigold’s Humanitarian Work

Children at the Baland Oba School

People Helping People in Afghanistan: Marigold’s Humanitarian Work

By Beth Simmons

The Marigold Fund is a non-governmental organization (NGO) working to rebuild Afghanistan’s communities by building relationships between local Afghans and Westerners.

Marigold focuses on developing programs in the areas of social service, public health, and education for the betterment of Afghan citizens.

Marigold’s mission is “to help Afghans rebuild their country after decades of war, and to establish substantial friendship and understanding between Afghans and Westerners.”

Marigold strongly believes in the importance of relationships as the key to making effective changes in these communities. Living and working alongside Afghan villagers creates a personal relationship that gives insight into their culture and from these relations Marigold identifies and prioritizes their programs.

New Englander Gary Moorehead, who has lived in Afghanistan since 2003, founded Marigold in 2004. Marigold’s office is located in Amherst, Massachusetts, and field based in Taloqan City, Takhar, Afghanistan.

Moorehead calls Marigold’s Afghanistan base home. “I’ve been there seven years now. It is quite stimulating, educational and enjoyable to be able to regularly dwell in, explore and integrate with these various places, but I’m pretty bad with air travel and so don’t much like all the coming and going.”

Moorehead also calls Amherst and Oxfordshire, England, home, with his England base serving as the perfect transitional home while traveling back and forth betwen Afghanistan and the States.

Gary MooreheadGary Moorehead.

When asked if there was a large difficultly with adapting to Afghan culture, Moorehead replied, “A challenge that living in Afghanistan presents and reveals in my own character is what a privileged, voracious consumer I am.”

“It is quite fascinating, funny and horrifying! I do like good, slow food of traditional character, but more often I want my food and other goods fast, on the go or on-hand with as little prep time and yet as many options and venues as possible.”

Noting his American consumerist identity and learning from Afghan culture, Moorehead has grown to appreciate Afghanistan’s modest resources.

There are also eye-opening realities to living in this country that are foreign to most Americans. These harsh realities include violence, and Moorehead experiences this first-hand in his Afghan village.

Map of AfghanistanMap of Afghanistan.

“I have come to love my neighbors and the people I work with and live among, but the security in our area has been deteriorating this past year. I have recently lost friends and mentors to violence, and the gravity of living there is more serious than ever… and yet a reasonable hope remains for the future.”

Marigold displays their hope for the future in Afghanistan by implementing several projects. A recent success was the completed construction of a medical clinic in Takhar province that will be working heavily to service patients with tuberculosis, a major public health issue in Afghanistan.

Moorehead describes this accomplishment as a “beautiful and well-built structure and a case in point of how you build something of quality with locally-bought materials, with local workmanship, and without bribery and corruption.”

Marigold also worked alongside Afghan locals to build a functional and safe bridge providing an accessible passage to the town and markets. This project like all of Marigold projects was a relational, “people helping people” success that included workers from GoNOMAD’s very own Pioneer Valley in Massachusetts.

Bridge before and after reconstructionBridge before and after reconstruction.

Moorehead shares the details to the bridge’s development: “We built it slowly and carefully, planning the various stages of construction with the locals, and using only local materials and with the volunteer labor and management of the villagers.”

“American and British donors financed most of the materials. The final month we had several carpenters from the Pioneer Valley who took their vacations from work and came over to help us with the finish work on the bridge – it was a great cross-cultural experience for them and their Afghan hosts.”

While building this bridge, Moorehead noticed a population of deaf children who were unable to attend school due to lack of sign language instruction available. Marigold saw this opportunity to develop a program geared towards these children deserving of an education.

Board chairman and treasurer, Debbie Knight shares the inspiring development: “An international partner helped us find a teacher and we started a small classroom to teach sign language.”

“Sign language, literacy skills, and just teaching these kids has continued for five years. It’s a small classroom and we’ve trained and hired teachers. These kids are learning a lot. We used a tent at first but since then we’ve built a small classroom.”

Afghan midwives and motherAfghan midwives and mother.

Another important education project is midwife training. They have built a relationship on the ground with Afghan Midwives Association of Takhar (AMA) and the Ministry of Public Health (MoPH) in their efforts to provide quality healthcare to women and infants.

Working together they have created a refresher course for registered midwives in this Afghan area. Marigold funds and monitors this project that has proven to empower Afghan midwives by encouraging and strengthening their skills.

Knight shares a moving personal story during a trip to Takhar in 2005: “At the time it was two Americans, including myself and a room full of Afghan women. In our ability to spend a couple of days with these women, we learned what you can communicate nonverbaly and through touch.”

Debbie KnightDebbie Knight.

“There was a woman who had her young boy with her and this was in the winter time. I held the boy’s cold feet, just held them and it was moving in a way I can’t quite describe.”

“One woman was a translator, and she told me it helps us to know we’re not forgotten. Even though we weren’t able to connect, it was an expression of love between women.”

Knight primarily works stateside spreading knowledge of Marigold’s mission to build Westerner awareness while also enabling vital fundraising opportunities that will ensure these projects can be put into motion for the local Afghans.

Doris Buffett and the Sunshine Lady Foundation have agreed to match all contributions to the Marigold Fund, up to $126,000, so donors will see the impact of their contributions doubled, and if they work for an employer that matches charitable contributions, as many do, their donation is effectively quadrupled.

Buffett praised Moorehead and the Marigold Fund for its transparency and its judicious use of contributed funds:

“”He is connecting with Afghan citizens in the city and the villages. He is respecting their culture and their needs, and not forcing them into an American way of doing things,” she told the Daily Hampshire Gazette. “Marigold Fund is doing work that Afghans need done.”

Marigold’s work displays the importance of humanitarian work. Although differences in our cultures exist, we are all people and citizens of this world.

Moorehead concludes, “Even in hard times, Afghans are very hospitable, and we can learn things from them. With careful planning, it is possible to responsibly visit Afghanistan even in times such as these.”

“We are also wise if we understand Afghans not just as hapless recipients of Western aid, or enemies to be dealt with, but as our neighbors, folk with whom our mutual welfare is somehow linked at this time in history.”

“How we deal with Afghans in this season will have some sort of significant impact on our own future.”

Get Involved in the Cause

Visit GoNOMAD Café in South Deerfield, Massachusetts, through November 30, 2010 to see Marigold’s Afghanistan photo exhibit.

Marigold is always looking for new places to display their photography, so if this is of interest to you or your business, feel free to contact their Amherst office.

Further Information

Read more about Marigold Fund and check out photos by visiting their website!

You’ll find Marigold on Facebook where you can “Like” their page and stay connected!

Keep up-to-date with Marigold’s work in Afghanistan by visiting their blog!


Beth Simmons

Beth Simmons

is an editorial assistant with GoNOMAD and attends the University of Massachusetts in Amherst, Massachusetts. She writes the Travel Reader Blog.

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