Purdue University Libraries Purdue Logo Purdue Libraries
 Hours  |   My Account  |   Ask a Librarian Get Help Give to the Libraries

That Sheep May Safely Graze (March 2019, Purdue University Press), by David Sherman, brings light to the human story of Afghanistan, the disruptive impact that decades long conflict has had on rural Afghans, their culture, and the timeless relationship they share with their land and their animals.

David Sherman

The book describes the story of one of the most successful and lasting U.S.-funded development programs in Afghanistan since the start of American nation-building efforts there in 2001. It is a story of bringing essential veterinary services to a society that depends day in and day out on the well-being and productivity of its animals, but also a society that had no reliable access to even the most basic animal health care.

The author of the book, David Sherman, has worked all over the world to provide essential veterinary services such as animal health service delivery, veterinary infrastructure development, transboundary animal disease control, goat health and production, and veterinary and veterinary para-professional education. His work has brought him to over 40 countries, working for a variety of international agencies including the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), the World Bank, the World Organisation for Animal Health (OIE), Heifer International, and Farm Africa.

Prior to the book’s publication, we asked David Sherman about his personal experiences in Afghanistan, the way the world views the country, and more.

 


 

Q: What made you want to write about your experiences?

David Sherman: Several things. The United States has been involved militarily in Afghanistan indirectly or directly since 1979 and yet Americans remain largely unaware of the country, its history and its people.  Having been involved in relief and development activities in Afghanistan since 1991, I have been able to gain a long-term experience with the country and its culture and I wanted to share that experience with a wider public. Also, for those who have followed events in Afghanistan, the prevailing view has been that billions of dollars have been spent on nation building with little to show for it. Therefore, I wanted to tell the story of our successful effort to provide sustainable animal health care in the country to a wider audience to illustrate that indeed, effective development in Afghanistan is possible.  Finally, I wanted to invite readers to get to know some of the fine and decent Afghans with whom I worked, so that they can better appreciate the warmth, grace and resilience of these people in the face of the tremendous hardships and losses they have suffered.

 

Q: What is the best story that didn’t make it into the book?

Sherman: Oh, so many it is hard to choose. But there was one that epitomized the challenges of doing development work in Afghanistan. I was able to organize a collaborative effort between my employer, the Dutch Committee for Afghanistan, US Army Civil Affairs officers, a British NGO and several volunteer veterinary practitioners from the US to refurbish the teaching clinic at the Kabul University Veterinary Faculty and restore their desperately needed clinical teaching program for veterinary students. Unfortunately, after we had it up and running and farmers were bringing their livestock and expats were bringing their dogs and cats for treatment, the clinic was bulldozed to make way for the newly created American University of Afghanistan!

 

Q: How do you feel the world’s perception of what is going on in Afghanistan lines up with your own experiences there?

Sherman: Sadly, what the world hears about Afghanistan – widespread corruption, ineffective governance, the opium trade, instability, poverty, insurgency and violence are all true, but the tragedy is that the world hears only about these things. Afghanistan is a country of 35 million people, the vast majority of whom get on with their lives, demonstrating a remarkable inner strength. Every day, they go to work, to market, to school, to the mosque to pray, to the fields to tend their crops, to the pastures to tend their animals, to funerals to mourn their dead and to weddings as an affirmation of their hopefulness for a better future. What the world does not hear about is the dignity and humanity of these Afghan people and their desire for peace and a better life for their children.

 

Q: How would you explain the importance of the work you did to a layperson?

Sherman: Through our work, we were able to establish reliable access to clinical veterinary services throughout Afghanistan. This was a vitally important achievement. Afghanistan is mainly a rural society whose people still depends largely on agriculture. It is estimated that the livelihoods of up to eighty percent of the population depend directly or indirectly on livestock. Nomadic herders, of which there are millions in the country, depend almost completely on their livestock to survive. Since the Soviet invasion in 1979 and the prolonged fighting that followed to this day, what little veterinary service that had been available to farmers and herders through government had essentially disappeared. As a result, the nation’s livestock had succumbed to a wide range of preventable and treatable diseases due to lack of vaccines and medicines and personnel trained in their use. The livelihoods and well-being of livestock owners as well as the national economy suffered as a result.

While there were numerous relief efforts over the years to provide veterinary services through various donor projects, these interventions were not sustainable because the service was provided for free and the personnel were paid salaries. When the projects ended and the free medicines and salaries disappeared, so did the veterinary services. We took a different approach, recruiting and training young men and later women from their home districts, providing them with a six-month training along with the necessary equipment and supplies required to provide good quality clinical services to their home districts once they returned after training. We made it clear from the beginning that we would pay no salaries and that these trained paraveterinarians would have to charge for their services so that they could earn enough money to provide their own income and to purchase their resupply of additional medicines and vaccines to continue working. This private sector, fee for service model worked very well. Since the first paraveterinarians were trained in 2004, almost 90% of them continue to provide animal health care services to the farmers and herders in their districts, some now for almost 15 years. As a result, hundreds of jobs were created for paraveterinarians, the health, welfare and productivity of Afghanistan livestock have been improved and the livelihoods of rural Afghans enhanced throughout the country.

David Sherman (center rear) in Afghanistan

 

Q: What are the most important ways your work affects the general public?

Sherman: Throughout the developing world and even in some parts of the developed world, tens of millions of animal owners do not have access to reliable animal health care. There are many reasons – remoteness, lack of roads, telecommunication and other infrastructure, war, civil unrest, misguided policies, insufficient numbers of veterinarians, lack of economic incentive for veterinarians to serve small holder farmers and nomads, poverty and inadequate knowledge of the benefits of veterinary services. The fee for service, private sector, community-based veterinary paraprofessional model for sustainable animal health care delivery that we refined in Afghanistan can serve as a model to improve access to veterinary services around the world.

The benefits of regular access to reliable animal health care are many, particularly in developing countries. Healthy, vaccinated animals offer protection against the disaster of unexpected loss of flocks and herds to disease, improved food security, better nutrition, increased income, expanded opportunities for value chain development in the livestock sector and even social stability for communities that depend on animals for their survival.

 

Q: If you could have readers take one thing away from this book, what would that be?

Sherman: If I may, I would like to quote a passage from the book to sum up what I would like readers to take away from it. “Sadly, despite so many years of American involvement, the Afghan people remain largely invisible to most Americans, and their hopes and aspirations, so similar to our own, remain unknown. My life has been enormously enriched by the many years spent in their midst and I have grown to love some individual Afghans as if they were my own family. The Afghan people are not faceless ciphers, conniving thieves, ruthless terrorists, and rabid fundamentalists. All societies are complex and contain undesirable elements. It is true of Afghan society as it is true of our own. The Afghans I worked with and came to know well are decent, hardworking people. They are generous, hospitable, good-humored, trustworthy, and devoted to family and community. They have deep and abiding religious faith. Afghans are proud of their country’s beauty, its varied cultures, and its long, rich history. Most of all, Afghans are resilient. They have suffered in ways over the past thirty years that most of us cannot even imagine. They want and deserve better. They want and deserve peace, security, prosperity, and a hopeful future.”

As I write this, the American government is engaged in peace talks with the Taliban. I pray that respect for the quality of life and the basic human rights of ordinary Afghans, especially Afghan women, is on the agenda.

 


 

That Sheep May Safely Graze: Rebuilding Animal Health Care in War-Torn Afghanistan is available now. Check out a free preview of the book.

Get 30% off when you order directly from the Purdue University Press website and enter the code “PURDUE30” at checkout.