You’ll Never Build Another School for Our Kids…Unless You Pay

Tonight I hosted a reception for the Marigold Fund, an Amherst-based organization that works on humanitarian projects in Afghanistan. After we sipped wine and admired the photographs taken in the north of the country, Gary Moorehead spoke about some of the challenges facing an American aid organization.

Moorehead talked about the time they had just completed a new school and an inspector from Kabul drove up to the remote province for the final inspection. He was there to certify the building and give them their permits. But he kept mentioning the ‘gift’ that would be necessary for them to finalize the transaction. “You will never build another school here unless you take care of this gift,” he said. Moorehead was daunted. He didn’t want to pay a bribe, which was clearly what was being asked. So he stood his ground.

He met later with the inspector at the home of one of the village elders. He sat down next to the inspector, and edged in close. He put his hand on the inside of the other man’s thigh..clearly an uncomfortable position for a western man, but one familiar to this inspector. Then he spoke to him. “You’ve threatened me. You’ve told me that we cannot build another school unless we pay you this ‘gift.’ God has watched us, and I am more afraid of what he would do to me than you. You may be threatening me, but I am sure that since what we have done here, to build a school for local kids, is so important, he wouldn’t allow it to be stopped by one man’s greed.”

The inspector paused, then broke into a laugh. “Oh, I was only joking about that gift,” he said. “You don’t understand, that’s our way of being funny,” he said, clearly making nice now that Gary had confronted him and refused to budge.

It was a good lesson to learn, since once you relent, and pay the bribe, there’s no turning back. Gary had managed to gain the upper hand, simply by not yielding. They’ve built seven more schools since that day, with no bribes paid yet.