Marni Gustavson is the executive director of Parsa (which stands for Physiotherapy and Rehabilitation Services for Afghanistan and also means “integrity” in Farsi), an independent charity that runs projects across Afghanistan including reviving the Girl and Boy Scouts. The scouts were originally established in Afghanistan in 1931 but when war came to Afghanistan in the 1970s, the organization crumbled, until Parsa restored it in 2003.
Back in 2007, Parsa’s building needed great repair and Ms. Gustavson was put in touch with the singer Prince who wrote a check for $15,000 which paid for the foundations of a new building. Up until the singer’s untimely death, Prince made annual contributions to Parsa that, according to Ms. Gustavson, were “fundamental to expanding our scout program to what it is today.”
Thanks to private donations like Prince, today in Afghanistan, there are 2,000 scouts in 14 provinces, and the Girl Scouts account for 40% of the scouts, participating in much the same activities as the boys with an emphasis on leadership, so vital in a country where women are often discriminated.
Ms. Gustavson says the withdrawal of international combat troops in 2014 has created a space for Afghan voices to emerge. ” During the rehabilitation time there are voices that have emerged, like the voices of youth, who have a hope for their future,” she says. “This is a vibrant, historical time for Afghanistan and I consider it a very important turning point.”
PHOTO NOTE (PER AP): In this recent photo, American musician Lanny Cordola practices a Prince song with Afghan scouts at Physiotherapy and Rehabilitation Services for Afghanistan (Parsa) center in Kabul, Afghanistan.