For 12 hours straight, Nangyalai Attal, 25, slept peacefully on Susan Johnson’s apartment floor in Saratoga Springs and listened as her wind chimes clanged outside the window.
Attal, who is accustomed to sleeping on the ground, said the sound reminded him of his days in Afghanistan as a shepherd. It was the same sound he would hear as his sheep ventured off in the fields. He found the sound a familiar and comforting reminder of the home he left behind two years ago.
In 2010, Attal, an Afghan and now Fulbright scholar through Rochester Institute of Technology, emailed Johnson, program director of Seeds for Peace International. He wanted to help her with Seeds for Peace, a nonprofit organization based in Saratoga Springs that provides seeds and simple garden tools to poverty-, war- and disaster-stricken areas around the world. These seeds allow people to grow everything from kitchen gardens to small-scale farms to feed their own family or sell for profit. Seeds for Peace has reached nearly 15 countries around the world, including Uganda, South Sudan, Bosnia and even parts of the United States, according to Johnson.
“We are literally feeding people,” Johnson said. “When I hear the impact our seeds have made it blows my mind.”
For years, Johnson wanted to bring the Seeds for Peace program to Afghanistan, but she simply did not know how. Seeds for Peace relies heavily on ground contacts in the countries it serves. With significant social and cultural barriers in Afghanistan, it seemed nearly impossible, but Johnson was still hopeful. When Attal emailed her, she said, it felt like fate.
She speaks highly of Attal. “It is rare to run into someone like him,” she said.
The slogan for Seeds for Peace is, “changing the world one garden at a time.” With Attal’s assistance, Johnson believes Seeds for Peace can flourish in Afghanistan.
“If you send seeds to Afghanistan they will be planted here,” Attal said. “And that will be a garden in the future. I think civilian assistance does make a difference.”
Attal, like Johnson, acknowledges the challenges facing Seeds for Peace in Afghanistan.
For one, Afghanistan does not have a traditional postal system and the places that need the seeds most are often in the isolated countryside. But Attal also explains that if people are able to get these seeds it could turn around their lives.
He grew up in the countryside with seven siblings about 60 miles from Kabul, the Afghan capital. He lived in extreme poverty, he said, but his mother was determined to have her children educated and worked very hard to instill that mentality in them.
Attal walked roughly five miles to school every day. At his school there were no desks, chalk boards or even classrooms. He sat with his classmates in outdoor gardens, sometimes seeking shade beside Soviet tanks.
“Everyone is scared. It is scary,” he said. “It is a challenging environment in Afghanistan. It is always challenging in Afghanistan.”
Over the years, he saw many of his classmates become insurgents because they had no other alternative. He said almost all of his first-grade classmates have been killed, but programs like Seeds for Peace give the Afghan people an alternative. Attal sees his country significantly improving and he has high hopes. More people are starting to follow the “path of education” as he calls it.
From 4 to 8 p.m. Sunday he will accompany Johnson to a Seeds for Peace fundraising event at the Parting Glass in Saratoga Springs. The event is open to the public at $10 for individuals or $15 per family. Tickets provide live music, raffles and of course, Attal. All of the proceeds will go toward the various Seeds for Peace projects.
“I’m hoping to give people the opportunity to talk to him,” Johnson said.
Attal feels he is called to both provide assistance to his people in Afghanistan and help educate Americans on his country. He is optimistic, excited and thankful for the education he is getting here in the United States. He plans on bringing all he learns back to Afghanistan to continue helping others on the path of education.
“Peace is the biggest need for Afghanistan. Peace is very crucial,” he said. “If you send seeds to Afghanistan and you plant the seeds, every seed in itself is a message of peace.”