Kandahar candid: Sarah Chayes (PBS photo)
Veteran reporter Sarah Chayes left NPR in 2002 to live and work full-time in Kandahar, Afghanistan, after the fall of the Taliban government. After three years of rebuilding homes and working with a dairy collective, she set up the Arghand co-op, which produces hand-made silks, soaps, and body oils to be sold in the US and Canada. Arghand is preserving traditional crafts and giving farmers incentives to grow crops other than poppy, which has been resurgent in the last six years–so much so that Afghanistan exports 90% of the world’s opium supply.

She spoke to Bill Moyers this weekend about the harshness of daily life for her neighbors.

One of my cooperative members, her electricity was cut by a jealous
family member so she needed a new electricity account. She needed to
get a meter. She goes through the electricity department, is told there
are no meters. “You can’t – nobody can open a new account.” But then
she finds out from the little linesman, “Well, if you pay me $600, I
can set up a meter for you….”

According to one local woman, says Chayes, living in Kandahar is like standing on “two watermelons. One foot on one, and the other on the other. She says,
the Taliban shake us down at night, but the government shakes us down
in the daytime.”

Shirin Ebadi 2008-12-21 (photo by Vahid Salemi, AP)
Universal What of Human Rights?:
Yesterday, dozens of Iranian police stormed and shut down the office of human rights advocate Shirin Ebadi, reports the Washington Post. Ebadi, 2003 Nobel Peace Prize winner, was scheduled to host a 60th anniversary commemoration of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, passed by the UN on December 21, 1948; the effort to pass the UDHR was spearheaded by Eleanor Roosevelt.

Ebadi, who had been Iran’s first female high court judge until being demoted to secretary after the 1979  revolution, founded the Center for the defense of Human Rights using the prize money she received from the Nobel committee. Her group has taken on over 5,000 pro-bono cases involving women’s rights, fair elections, and government abuses of human rights. A second group she runs, which is dedicated to clearing land mines , was also shut in the raid.

She remains uncowed. “Obviously such a move does not have a positive message for other
rights activists in Iran, but my colleagues and I will fulfill our
duties under any circumstances,” Ebadi told AFP reporters by phone.

Ingrid Betancourt (Wikipedia photo)Conquering Fear and Loathing in Colombia:
Colombian senator and former presidential candidate Ingrid Betancourt endured over six years of captivity after being kidnapped by FARC rebels in February, 2002. Now, with the FARC expected to release six more detainees this week, she speaks to BBC reporter Alan Johnston, himself a kidnap victim who survived four months of captivity in Gaza.

“I learnt everything about human nature,” she told Johnston. “I learnt for
example how weak we are in front of group pressure – how we can even
see people saying exactly the opposite of what they feel because they
are afraid.”

“I wanted to think,” said Betancourt, “one day I will see this like my past and I don’t
want to be ashamed and I don’t want my children to be ashamed of me.
That was very important.”

(Rachel R.)