The children of Afghanistan continue to be the victims of wars. Since the Soviet invasion in 1979, the people of Afghanistan have endured lives filled with deprivation, brutality and anguish. Over 1.5 million children have lost one or both parents, and over 700,000 orphans are living in sub-poverty conditions. International Orphan Care (IOC) provides education, healthcare, nutrition and vocational training to the children in need. IOC, Board Member, Sadiq Tawfiq opened the Phoenix School in Herat in 2004. He is the founder and past President of the Herat Rotary Club as well as founder of Afghan Amity, both organizations along with the IOC actively support the Phoenix School and other projects in Herat.
The Provincial Reconstruction Team (PRT) in Herat constructed a new building for the Herat School for the Blind, which the IOC supports financially. In June of this year, Sadiq Tawfiq visited the school and personally pledged IOC's support. His new goal is the construction of a new medical clinic in Herat, Afghanistan.
ANNICK: I am delighted today to be speaking with Long time Laguna Beach California resident and Khyber Pass property owner, Mr. Sadiq Tawfiq Welcome. Tawfiq is your legal name in the United States but your given name is Saferzadeh. What brought about the change to Tawfiq?
SADIQ: When I returned to Afghanistan after 22 years, I realized that everyone knows me because of my family name ‘Saferzadeh’. When I applied for my visa in 1979 from the US Embassy in Kabul I was asked for my first and last name. I gave ‘Sadiq’ as my first name and ‘Tawfiq’ being my middle name as my last name, but they did not ask me for my family name which is ‘Saferzadeh’.
ANNICK: You were born and raised in Herat City in the province of Herat which is well known as the first major battleground in the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan. Herat has a population of approximately 1,800,000. What do you remember from the years you grew up there, and what marked you the most?
SADIQ: Herat is a city of historical buildings, and a place of art and history, and big mosques showing the beauty of the architecture, where there are many gardens of pomegranates, grapes and rose field (Gardens). It was a land of poetry and well educated, peaceful people living an easy life. Peace and prosperity and cooperation that is what I remember.
ANNICK: You attended the University Department of Education and became a Tribal Art Expert. Have you always been attracted to the Arts and Culture of your country?
SADIQ: Yes, I attended Kabul University Department of Education (KU) which had a rich culture of history and academic excellence. I was there as an undergraduate student. The culture and art of Afghanistan always interested me from an early age, and I traveled to villages to interview the weavers, artists and elderly people to learn more about their traditions and history which were passed on from generation to generation.
ANNICK: As a young man, did you have any idea that one day you would be busy building a couple of schools and a hospital in Afghanistan?
SADIQ: It was always my interest to work and help Afghanistan with education; but I never thought that my country would be destroyed by the Communists and other fanatical groups of people to the point that I, and some other individuals, would feel responsible for the rebuilding of schools and hospitals there thinking that it really the problem of the Afghan government with the UN and some well established companies and rich foreign countries.
ANNICK: We know from the television news that it is extremely dangerous to travel to Afghanistan. Is it really that dangerous to be there and how often do you return to your country and visit your family?
SADIQ: Yes, it is dangerous to travel near the rough Pakistani-Afghan border because of the Taliban's dramatic attacks but if you travel in the city and surrounding areas it is safe, and not as dangerous as most people think it is. I go back to my country two, three times a year and enjoy it. Being able to visit my family and meet with friends, students and their teachers, great people working for non-governmental organizations (NGO witnessing the change of history.
ANNICK: How do you see yourself? As an entrepreneur and a wonderful Samaritan, a healing presence for the people of Afghanistan? Do you have any family in the US?
SADIQ: My mother is living in the US and thank God she is in good health and can live by herself. Her children live close by and are looking after her well being. She recently returned from visiting families and friends for four weeks in Afghanistan. She is doing well and has a great spirit. She is very positive. My father passed away when I was thirteen years old, so I became the man of the family from an early age. My mother did not want to marry again because
she had five children under the age of 13.
My younger sister was only six months old when my father died from a common cold because there was no good doctor, no medicine and no hospital available to take care of him. That is one of the main reasons why I really feel responsible for the construction of a new hospital or a clinic thanks to the help of Americans and USAID , or UN, NGOs fundraising in the city of Herat; people continue to be dying due to lack of adequate medical facilities. About 40% of children there die before the age of 5yrs old. That really breaks my heart.
ANNICK: How old were you when you first came to the US and what brought you to California?
SADIQ: I was twenty three years old when I came to the US to study and to earn my Master's in higher education at the University of California in Irvine.
ANNICK: As a young man coming from Afghanistan to study, what was it like to be able to come to North America to finish your education and discover a whole new culture?
SADIQ: Coming to the United States from Afghanistan with only a tourist visa was just like planning to travel to the moon; when you consider the difficulties of language and culture, plus the financial, it was not an easy thing to do. It was very difficult. Don’t forget that I was coming from a much simpler way of life compared to a very fast and complex lifestyle.
ANNICK: You arrived in the US a week prior to the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, it must have been difficult realizing that you would not be able to return home. Do you recall how you felt at that moment when you learned the sad news?
SADIQ: Yes I remember very well. It was extremely difficult to see my country being bombed by Soviet planes killing our people, and destroying the history and culture; the historical buildings , factories and gardens and killing the little amount of animals that we had. It was very sad to witness the pride and dignity of a historical country with over 5000 years of history to be violated and totally decimated.
ANNICK: This is a country that too often is being painted at its worst by the Media. Do you think it is a good thing for the Americans to be there, today and will the rest of the world join forces to bring change and make it a better place for the Afghan people?
SADIQ: Afghanistan is in the news every day, and unfortunately that’s about sad news. The Media paints the news at its worst, it’s true. It is good to see that Americans are there to help Afghans but their service is being misguided because the proper work that is needed is not being delivered the way it should. In order to see Afghanistan get back on its feet, the American soldiers should be training the young generations of Afghanistan to become policemen, teachers, technicians and much more the same as property security along with the military if needed. I really think that they can take charge of the reconstruction of Afghanistan.
The most important project to start with should be the construction of new roads and highways. Along with the UN, the US should also help develop handicrafts and tourism which would create jobs for millions of Afghans, men and women who grew up with wars. At the same time, this would allow all young men and women to be busy serving their country and the people of Afghanistan instead of joining forces with the wrong groups of people who are against them.
The United States is spending a lot of money on unqualified Afghan translators who are working within the military and are often making some serious mistakes ending up killing innocent people sometimes by sending out the wrong messages to the Afghan people which makes everyone wonder about the presence of the US in Afghanistan. Many people in Afghan villages are now thinking that they do not have friends after all to help them rebuild a country that
has suffered dramatically during the last thirty years.
ANNICK: You went through a lot in life and yet, you are a very successful businessman living in a very special and wealthy community along the seaside of California south of Los Angeles. Do you consider yourself very lucky and a happy man today?
SADIQ: Happiness is not about where you live and all the things that you possess or how much money you have in your bank account and what type of business you own, it comes from your heart. Happiness is when you are able to help others make a difference by offering your time and wealth. We have a nice poem that says: “CHO ASTADAI, DAST OFTADEH GIR” which is in all Afghan hearts. It means “if you can stand on your own feet, reach out and take the hand of those who have fallen to the ground.”
Yes, I am a happy man because I have everything that I need to have. I have good health, wonderful family, good friends, a rich background, and I am able to help other people. All of this contributes to my happiness. So, yes I consider myself very grateful to live and work in a prosperous country such as the United States. For the last 30 years, I have had a business which represents the arts and culture of Afghanistan allowing me to earn a good and humble living with my family and friends and like I said, the chance to be able to donate my time and money to help others. On the other hand, the financial challenges and hardship of California are affecting me and my goals.
ANNICK: Let’s go back into time. You came to study in the United States and found yourself stuck in California not being able to return home. How did you feel when you discovered that you weren’t able to go back and be with your family?
SADIQ: It was very hard and unexpected. I felt like my freedom and human rights were totally violated. I had no choice but to accept it. As a young man full of energy, emotions and feelings, I wanted to return home to work and become part of rebuilding my country. I just wanted a happy and normal life with my family and my friends. I wanted to help Afghanistan and its people to enjoy life and prosper. To help them obtain a better quality of life and be part of a peaceful
ANNICK: Being twenty three years old in a new country and different culture; do you see it today as a true blessing into your life?
SADIQ: Of course, it is a real blessing for me to live and work with family and friends living in a safe and prosperous environment. I was shocked to see the invasion of a small country by a big aggressive Communist country such as the Soviet Union. I witnessed no justice and no humanity from our neighbors. It is also a real blessing to see that this whole system of evil of communism is gone. It is very sad to know that millions of Afghans were victims of this dramatic invasion. At that time, I was thinking of being part of the reconstruction of Afghanistan but today, after 30 years, I think that it is more about cleaning up the damages so it looks like it is my call. When I hear and see so many of my friends and family there being victims of such terrible crimes, I feel very sad.
ANNICK: The world is not doing well today and everyone will admit it. As a Muslim yourself, the dramatic event of September 11 in New York City must have been very difficult for you to deal with. Were people full of hatred toward you just because of your religion and nationality or both? How difficult was it?
SADIQ: Those are very sad memories for me. I cannot forget how difficult it was at some point and still is. I was shocked and my heart was very sad and my spirit very much down for months. How could this have happened? It is too difficult for me to understand who could do such an evil act killing so many innocent people and destroying so many families. These people are very narrow minded people because all our lives are connected.
Fortunately, living in a small community of Laguna Beach, I was protected. Our lives have much effect on each other’s life but I was fortunate to be living and doing business in the small town of Laguna Beach full of intellectuals, members of an active community and the Chamber of Commerce including the Rotary Club, which helped a lot. It did not hurt me as much as it did to my personal business. I think that in general, life has changed for all of us and especially for all Muslims living in the US. There are a lot of ignorant people who are talking about Islam in a very negative way, mostly the Media who are influencing the mind and spirit of millions of good people. Their remarks are based on very little information on the Quran and Islam. It made more people upset and confused about everything.
ANNICK: I think that you are right. Not many people do research before talking and the Media is very good at that. Sadiqthe , today you own one of the most beautiful stores in one of the most beautiful cities of the United States. Laguna Beach is a dream place for many. Your store is like a jewelry store. It is a veritable history museum. One can find anything about the culture of Afghanistan. It has clothing, furniture and objects of art representing a culture that goes back to 5000 years in history. It is amazing. It is a great lesson in art history, indeed. You must be very proud of yourself. This represents much work and passion. And sometimes calamity becomes one’s providence. How do you feel looking back?
SADIQ: I am honored and humble when you say I have one of the most beautiful stores in a beautiful city. Yes, I am proud that I have the ability to display the real work of art of Afghanistan which has such a rich and deep history. I am happy that I share the rich culture of Afghanistan with those who come to visit in our store; my mission is to be a voice for the voiceless of Afghans who created such a rich culture and survived thousands of years.
Also my mission is to make sure that the art and culture survive through the destruction of such a beautiful country. In a way with my own decisions and risks, I became the ambassador of Afghans regarding all art, culture and history in order to teach those who visit my store that there is a lot more about Afghanistan than being at war all the time. Historically Afghanistan is a very rich country and it deserves to be presented properly with rich and beautiful handcrafts, art, poems and poetry. I hope that the US economy gets better soon so more trade and sales take place. This is a very difficult time for all of us.
ANNICK: Let’s get to the real beauty of your work. In 2004, you opened two schools for orphans. What are the names of these two schools? Also, I heard that the current salary of teachers in Afghanistan is $70 per month which is nothing. We could not live here in North America with this kind of money. Everything must be much cheaper there...
SADIQ: Yes, I do what I can. I opened two schools in Afghanistan to help the Afghans. One school is named Phoenix Art and Education for boys and girls, and the other one is Women’s Center for Art and Education. The Current Salary for each teacher is more than $100 per month but you must remember that people in general live very simple lives and have only one or two monthly bills to pay. Most people have a bicycle instead of a car. The living standard is less.
Some people live well but technology is not there yet. In general, people are happy with what God gives them so most of the time they don’t think about owning a house, a car, a television or simply going on vacation. There are no credit cards in Afghanistan like in western countries. Most people live close to each other with the support of elderly people and their families sharing all they have. Everyone is grateful for what they have. Life is a true experience. They are happy with what they have. They are not competing with one another.
ANNICK: We say ‘the less you have, the happier you are.’ I noticed that one of the schools is called ‘Phoenix’. Why phoenix? Is it considered as an American school?
SADIQ: I have a much respected (MD) medical friend who is 85 years old and when she learned about my service to the Afghans she said ‘I would like to support your efforts, may I suggest a name for your school?’ I have accepted her choice with great respect. Also the name of Phoenix means to rise from nothing which makes a lot of sense. I liked that while thinking of Afghanistan rising once more from ashes after 30 years of destruction and war. So, the name of Phoenix touched me deeply and was very appropriate. My friends and teachers liked the name Phoenix a lot because the English name is well respected in Afghanistan among educated people. It looks good.
ANNICK: You are like the angel of the city of Herat. Your desire to do well for people who have lost it all is beautiful. Please, tell us more about the two schools that you have built in Hera. How old are the students? Are boys and girls attending classes together the same as in the West? What are the main subjects being taught at school? How many classrooms? As you see, I could go on with my questions. This is so uplifting to be talking to you, Sadiq. Please tell us more.
SADIQ: You are so kind with your words toward me. I am very honored that God gave me the chance to do so much along with the desire and energy to go back to my native country and do something to help the people of Afghanistan who are suffering. I am really doing what I am supposed to do. All Afghans who are blessed and living well should be responsible for rebuilding their country. This is a true blessing to do so.
ANNICK: You are an amazing human being. Improving the life of others is quite a mission. I understand that you are providing the opportunity to over 600 children to receive an education. Are they all orphans or do you also include children from poor families? In other words, who is attending the schools?
SADIQ: Thank you for your appreciation. Again, I am just a simple servant to the poor, no more than that. No, not all of the students are orphans. Many come from poor families but really my goal is education for all the children but my heart goes to the orphans and street kids left behind during so many wars. This is a country where everyone is hurt badly. We also have classes for illiterate elderly people. One of our students is a grandmother so everyone is welcome but most students are from the ages of 5 to 25 years old. Some young women who were not allowed to attend school during the Taliban’s regime and are now married with children, are attending school to learn English, Computer, Art, Sewing and Embroidery. Some other subjects are mathematics, poetry and painting...
ANNICK: You built two schools and now you are working on a very special project: the construction of a hospital there. Last June you held a fundraising event at your antique store in order to collect some funds for this hospital. How much money do you need to support the schools and build a new hospital? Are we talking about millions? Are people understanding your cause and willing to help from the bottom of their heart?
SADIQ: Building a clinic or a small hospital in my hometown of Herat would be very nice and will cost millions of dollars. At this time we need 20 million US Dollars to build a 200-bed hospital to welcome many patients. This project is moving forward. About 25-acre, prominently located along one of the principal paved highways of the Silk Road in Herat, has already been donated by Herat University and the Afghan government. Organizations may contribute to this
huge humanitarian project and everyone is welcome to give a big hand in their own way. The Afghan Amity Society, Grant Writing and Fundraising might help fulfill our mission of building a clinic and possibly the hospital. The plans will be based on historical architectural buildings using local materials for construction and local Afghan builders and workers.
ANNICK: This is exciting. Herat Teaching Hospital - the "New Heart of Herat"-- a planned 200-bed teaching hospital that will include modern treatment facilities, classrooms and laboratories, dormitories, and a public meeting space. How far are you into this fabulous project? How do you find the right people to accomplish such a project? You need professionals with a lot of money. This must be a big headache for you, isn’t it?
SADIQ: No, this is a joy for me to work on this project. It is my dream to come true soon. Many professionals are working together with a team of Grant Writing Professionals from the University. As I said, we have a famous International Architect who is working on the blueprints. I have a Marketing person and many friends who are specialized in the construction of clinics and hospitals. Our last meeting all together regarding the hospital construction was on Saturday,
September 19 and many good things are happening. Today, I know where we stand on this remarkable humanitarian project. Today, we are doing a lot of planning and research. That’s where we are at. Our professional team is committed to make this dream come to life.
ANNICK: What about hiring the proper medical staff like surgeons, nurses and others? How do you do this?
SADIQ: We have many professionals working in the city of Herat and also we have a proposal from a nursing school in addition to building a clinic in the first phase, and then the hospital in the second phase. The Herat Medical School and the Herat Provincial Reconstruction Team (PRT) are ready to help. Also the Rotary International Club is ready to help by sending surgeons and medical specialists to come to Herat and help us out. We have contacted a few organizations and Afghan doctors from Europe and the US who could offer their help once the building is up. It will all happen once we start our fundraising and grant writing. We need a lot of help and support next to money for this beautiful project to happen.
ANNICK: It must be a wonderful feeling to be the one who initiates such a remarkable humanitarian project. Congratulations to you. Now, one those projects are standing up on their own, do you have something else in mind?
SADIQ: My plan is for this hospital to be very successful. I like to see more hospitals and clinics similar to this one being built in Afghanistan. I dream about a lot of good things to do to help rebuild my country of Afghanistan. I must stay focused and real and take one step at a time.
ANNICK: To execute your plans in Afghanistan, how do you manage to be at two places at once? Be in Laguna Beach and Herat, at the same time?
SADIQ: I have few good family friends here and many relatives in Afghanistan so it helps. This work cannot be done by just one or two persons. There is a Board of Directors in Afghanistan and in the US to manage, run and support this project. Also, a US management team will be there for periods of time to make sure everything is in order. A good team for maintaining and running the business will be created. I need a good supervisor to connect us all between
Afghanistan and the US. I really hope to play an excellent role for this fabulous job and to do this I must live here in California and travel there, as well.
ANNICK: When you return to your native country what do you take with you? I’m thinking of maybe bringing lots of donations such as school supplies to be distributed to all 600 students. Am I right? Are Californian companies and organizations helping you or is it all at your expense?
SADIQ: I usually bring medicine and some school supplies but I cannot take much because most of it is being shipped. I bring greetings and excitement with me and that is good to encourage others to help. Also, I bring some American candies for the students and small gifts for the teachers. Everyone needs to be encouraged.
ANNICK: Tell us about the email that you received one day after spending some time in Afghanistan as the founder and president of the Rotary International Club in Herat. It was about a 6 years old boy who was horribly disfigured when a propane gas burner in his family’s poor home exploded. What happened and how were you able to help him?
SADIQ: Yes, this young boy came to America and thanks to God was treated by Dr. Peter Grossman at Grossman burning center in Los Angeles. Then he went back to Afghanistan. He is doing fine. At this time we are dealing with another girl who has a similar problem and is being treated here in the US as well...
ANNICK: Are you a religious person? You don’t have to answer if you'd rather not.
SADIQ: No I am not. To me religion is the freedom of being a good human being, knowing God is within you. I am blessed with all the good morality that religion offers. I am Adam, which means that I am within the religion of humanities and that is the religion of all. I am looking at the religion of Romi who is my mentor in Life (MOWLANA JALALDIN ROMI BALKHI) and was born in Afghanistan 700 years ago. I am sure you know about him.
ANNICK: Are you talking about Rumi who was born in Afghanistan in the year of 1207 and died in Turkey at the age of 66 years old. What is the difference between Romi and Rumi? Are they the same people? What attracts you to the poems of Rumi?
SADIQ: I really enjoy reading and understand Rumi, there is no difference between Romi and Rumi. They bring me a real understanding of life and a true message of humanities and purity. It helps me reach my goal and understand the meaning of life and the quality of each human being experiencing a day to day life and appreciation of life in this world. I consider myself a traveler who likes to travel light.
ANNICK: Would you like to share a short poem with us?
SADIQ: 'Grab the seed, let the shell go.' This poem is in Farsi language.
Assalamu 'Alaykum wa Rahmatullahi wa Barakatuhu
From Maulana Rume' (Rehmatullahi ’Alaih) Mathnavi
If there is any lover in the world, 0 Muslim, it is I.
If there is any believer, infidel, or Christian hermit, it is I.
The wine, the cup-bearer, the musician, the instrument and the music,
The beloved, the candle, the liquor and the inebriation, it is I.
The seventy-two religious sects in the world
Do not really exist;
I swear by God every religious sect-it is I.
Earth, air, water and fire: do you know what they are?
Earth, air, water and fire-and the soul as well; it is I
Truth and falsehood, good and evil, pleasure and suffering, beginning and end,
Knowledge, learning, asceticism, devotion and faith-it is I.
Be assured that the fire of hell and its flames,
Paradise, Eden and the angels of heaven-it is I.
Heaven and earth and all they hold: angels, demons, and men - it is I.
ANNICK: It has been very nice chatting with you, Sadiq. Seeing all your accomplishments and services provided to others is a great example for all of us; you are part of a changing world. You see. You think. You act. We should be following your pattern. There is so much to do around us.
SADIQ: Thank you very much for this opportunity to talk with you, Annick. I am a person who likes to learn from others. You are doing a wonderful job yourself. I appreciate your help and support. You know, I’m just a person like everyone else.
ANNICK: It was a real honor for me, Sadiq as well as for Treasures of Wonderment readers. Maybe some of them would like to help so I will be happy to add some information below to help you raise some money to build the hospital. What is the best way for our readers to contact you?
SADIQ: Thank you very much. The best way to contact me is to either call me at (949) 494-8284. to make an appointment or send me an email to: email@example.com. All donations for the hospital to be built in Herat, Afghanistan are welcome.
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