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Pilsen Welcomes Afghan Orphan Advocate, Teacher

By Chloe Riley | February 26, 2013 7:04am
 Ian Pounds will speak about his time in Afghanistan at the Uri-Eichen Gallery Tuesday.
Ian Pounds will speak about his time in Afghanistan at the Uri-Eichen Gallery Tuesday.
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PILSEN — Six years ago, out of nowhere, Ian Pounds’ wife asked him for a divorce. She said there was something pressing in her life and she didn’t want to have to involve him.

His wife, a lieutenant in the Marine Corps, was about to be deployed to the war in Iraq.

“It kind of threw me completely upside down,” said Pounds, now 52, who will speak at Uri-Eichen Gallery in Pilsen Tuesday night. “I didn’t know what to do with myself.”

In 2008, the United States was at war with both Iraq and Afghanistan. Knowing he wanted to help in some way, Pounds applied as a volunteer to the Mehan Orphanage in Kabul.

Since he was accepted as a volunteer in 2009, the fate of the orphanage — and neighboring orphanages in Kabul — has become his life’s work, even leading him to sell his house in Vermont.

“I built my house. I had a community, a garden. And it had come to really nothing ultimately. I just really had had it with the idea of trying to build the American dream,” he said.

For the past four years, his new dream has been teaching photography, drama, English and computer skills to some 700 children in 11 Afghan orphanages. 

From March thorough early December, he teaches and lives in Kabul, with no official security presence to keep him safe.

His security, he said, is the Afghan community.

“I really don’t have a home right now. My home is just a room in Kabul that’s waiting for me when I get back,” he said.

Last year, while traveling the United States to speak and show video of what his life in that room in Kabul looks like, Pounds raised $92,000 in partnership with the Afghan Child Education and Care Organization.

During that trip, he brought along six Afghan children to tell their stories of what it has been like to grow up in Afghanistan. They rented an RV and put on 10,000 miles touring the United States.

“They’re kids of war,” Pounds said. “They’ve seen the worst humanity has to offer.”

He said it is especially difficult for the young women between the ages of 16 and 19. Other than in cities like Kabul, Afghan girls are barely educated, and rarely beyond eighth grade, Pounds said.

“They could be killed for just trying to become a professional,” he said. “But they’re not daunted by the blockades before them. They know how to walk in both worlds.”

Kathy Kelly is the co-coordinator for Voices for Creative Nonviolence, a campaign to end U.S. military involvement in Afghanistan. Kelly, who spoke to Pounds’ students while in Afghanistan, also arranged for him to talk at the Uri-Eichen Gallery.

The gallery, which opened in June 2011, showcases art and artists with a focus on social justice and labor rights issues.

Kathy Steichen, who co-owns the gallery with her husband, said Pounds’ monologue offers a global social justice perspective.

“His perspective in Afghanistan sounds like a good fit for what the gallery is doing. We’re excited to be having him,” she said.

Pounds will give his presentation — "Undestroyed: One Man’s Journey to Afghanistan" — at 7 p.m. Tuesday at the Uri-Eichen Gallery, 2101 S. Halsted. Admission is free. Donations will be accepted after the 1-1/2-hour performance.

Kelly will also speak at the gallery regarding her 12th trip to Afghanistan, where she spent a month as a guest of the Afghan Peace Volunteers in a working-class neighborhood of Kabul. That event is at 7 p.m. Friday. Admission is free.