National Press Club

Houston activist urges U.S. to address basic needs in Afghanistan

May 13, 2012 | By Robert Webb |

Myron Belkind of the International Correspondents Committee introduces Joanne Herring who was portrayed by Julia Roberts in "Charlie Wilson's War."

Myron Belkind of the International Correspondents Committee introduces Joanne Herring who was portrayed by Julia Roberts in "Charlie Wilson's War."

Photo/Image: Noel St. John

Joanne Herring, whom Julia Roberts played in the 2007 movie, "Charlie Wilson's War," urged Congress and the nation at a May 10 NPC event to support her crusade to rescue Afghanistan from the Taliban by addressing basic needs.

She urges assistance to end the country's vast illiteracy, poverty and other needs.

Herring came to the Club directly from Capitol Hill where she had appealed for Congressional support for "winning the peace" by addressing those needs that also include clean water, health care, and better schools.

"Even the Taliban would support this," said Herring, founder in 2009 of the Houston-based non-profit, Marshall Plan Charities for Afghanistan (MPCA).

Herring mentioned one Taliban leader who she said was thrilled with the MPCA plan. She said terrorists use a distorted "version of their religion to enslave the people."

Her effort, along with that of then Texas Congressman Charlie Wilson, to generate American help for Afghanistan in its war with Russia led to the script for "Charlie Wilson's War." She said she successfully fought for revision of the script to make more accurate some of the lines of Julia Roberts.

She drew a grim picture of "refugee camps and people living in caves now. If we leave the country without addressing its serious needs," she said, "the Taliban will kill everyone in a village." At the same time she emphasized the MPCA plans will help the security of America by stopping terrorism in Afghanistan.

Herring also mentioned a New York University study which found so much of the country's poverty was caused by "the people's need for protein ...they also need medical clinics and skills training. Teaching women to use sewing machines making uniforms would help."

An MPCA briefing paper released at the event says the charity teamed with USAID to give the country clean water. The non-profit is also working with the Afghan Minister of Health to provide a clinic for a model village, Khairabad (core population, 3,000), to "serve as a 'hub' for 20,000 people in the Showz District."

The briefing paper covers a wide list of MPCA projects including replacement of poppy growing and opium production with soybean crops, reducing the illiteracy rate that's 80 percent in women, and building a job training center training up to 250 men annually in motorbike repair and providing sewing classes for 250 women a year leading to cottage industries.

The paper also says Texas A&M University is working to strengthen the country's goat herding industry. The paper said goat herding had been an Afghan industry for 3,000 years "and was all but wiped-out by war."

Asked after the event if MPCA wants Congress to help fund these projects, Herring said, "we want money from Congress and anywhere else we can get it."

The event was arranged by the NPC International Correspondents Committee.