The children of Afghanistan continue to be the victims of wars. Since the Soviet invasion in 1979, the people of Afghanistan have endured lives filled with deprivation, brutality and anguish. Over 1.5 million children have lost one or both parents, and over 700,000 orphans are living in sub-poverty conditions. International Orphan Care (IOC) provides education, healthcare, nutrition and vocational training to the children in need.
IOC, Board Member, Sadiq Tawfiq opened the Phoenix School in Herat in 2004. He is the founder and past President of the Herat Rotary Club as well as founder of Afghan Amity, both organizations along with the IOC actively support the Phoenix School and other projects in Herat. The Provincial Reconstruction Team (PRT) in Herat constructed a new building for the Herat School for the Blind, which the IOC supports financially. In June of this year, Sadiq Tawfiq visited the school and personally pledged IOC’s support. His new goal is the construction of a new medical clinic in Herat, Afghanistan.
ANNICK ELZIERE: I am delighted today to be speaking with long time Laguna Beach California resident and Khyber Pass property owner, Mr. Sadiq Tawfiq. Let’s get started with my questions. Tawfiq is your legal last name in the United States but your given name is Saferzadeh so what brought you to change your name to Tawfiq?
SADIQ TAWFIQ: When I returned to Afghanistan after 22 years, I realized that everyone knows me because of my family name ‘Saferzadeh’. When I applied for my visa in 1979 from the US Embassy in Kabul I was asked for my first and last name. I gave ‘Sadiq’ as my first name and ‘Tawfiq’ being my middle name as my last name, but they did not ask me for my family name which is ‘Saferzadeh’.
ANNICK ELZIERE: You were Born and raised in Herat City in the province of Herat which is well known as the first major battleground in the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan. The city of Herat has a population of 1,800,000, I believe. What do you remember from the years you grew up there and what do you remember the most?
SADIQ TAWFIQ: Herat is a city of historical buildings, and a place of art and history, and big mosques showing the beauty of the architecture, where there are many gardens of pomegranates, grapes, and rose field (Gardens). It was a land of poetry and well educated, peaceful people living an easy life. Peace and prosperity and cooperation that is what I remember.
ANNICK ELZIERE: You attended the University Department of Education and became a Tribal Art Expert. Have you always been attracted to the Arts and Culture of your country?
SADIQ TAWFIQ: Yes, I attended Kabul University Department of Education (KU) which had a rich culture of history and academic excellence. I was there as an undergraduate student. The culture and the art of Afghanistan always interested me from an early age, and I traveled to villages to interview the weavers, artists and elderly people to learn more about their traditions and history which were passed on from generation to generation.
ANNICK ELZIERE: That sounds wonderful. As a young man, did you ever have the thought that one day you would be busy building a couple of schools and a hospital in Afghanistan?
SADIQ TAWFIQ: It was always my interest to work and help Afghanistan with education; but I never thought that my country would be destroyed by the Communists and other fanatical groups of people to the point that I, and some other individuals, would feel the strong need to help rebuilding schools and hospitals there thinking that most of it would be handled by the Afghan government with the UN and some well established companies including some rich foreign countries.
ANNICK ELZIERE: We know from the television news that it is extremely dangerous to travel to Afghanistan. Is it really that dangerous to be there and how often do you return to your country and visit your family?
SADIQ TAWFIQ: Yes, it is dangerous to travel near the rough Pakistani-Afghan border because of the Taliban’s dramatic attacks but if you travel in the city and surrounding areas it is safe, and not as dangerous as most people think it is. I go back to my country two, three times a year and enjoy it. Being able to visit my family and meet with friends, students and their teachers, great people working for non-governmental organizations (NGO witnessing the change of history.
ANNICK ELZIERE:How do you see yourself? As an entrepreneur and a wonderful Samaritan, a healing presence for the people of Afghanistan? Do you have any family in the US?
SADIQ TAWFIQ: My mother is living in the US and thank God she is in good health and can live by herself. Her children live close by and are looking after her well being. She recently returned from visiting families and friends for four weeks in Afghanistan. She is doing well and has a great spirit. She is very positive. My father passed away when I was thirteen years old, so I became the man of the family from an early age. My mother did not want to marry again because she had five children under the age of 13. My younger sister was only six months old when my father died from a common cold because there was no good doctor, no medicine and no hospital available to take care of him. That is one of the main reasons why I really feel responsible for the construction of a new hospital or a clinic thanks to the help of Americans and USAID , or UN, NGOs fundraising in the city of Herat; people continue to be dying due to lack of adequate medical facilities. About 40% of children there die before the age of 5yrs old. That really breaks my heart.
ANNICK ELZIERE: How old were you when you first came to the US, and what made you decide to go live in California? It seems like many people of the Middle Eastern much prefer to live in California than anywhere else in the States.
SADIQ TAWFIQ: I was twenty three years old when I came to the US to study and to earn my Master’s in higher education at the University of California in Irvine.
ANNICK ELZIERE: As a young man coming from Afghanistan to study at the University of California, how did you move to North America to complete your education and at the same time to discover a new way of life?
SADIQ TAWFIQ: Coming to the United States from Afghanistan with only a tourist visa was just like planning to travel to the moon; when you consider the difficulties of language and culture, plus the financial, it was not an easy thing to do. It was very difficult. Don’t forget that I was coming from a much simpler way of life compared to a very fast and complex lifestyle.
ANNICK ELZIERE: You arrived in the US a week prior to the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan in late December 1979. Thousands of Soviet troops took over Kabul. Did you soon realize that maybe you would never be able to return home? Do you still remember how you felt at that moment when you learned the sad news of the Soviet–Afghan War that ended in February 1989.
SADIQ TAWFIQ: Yes I remember very well. It was extremely difficult to see my country being bombed by Soviet planes killing our people, and destroying the history and culture; the historical buildings , factories and gardens and killing the little animals that we had. It was very sad to witness the pride and dignity of a historical country with over 5000 years of history to be violated and totally decimated.
ANNICK ELZIERE: This is a country that too often is being painted at its worst by the Media. Do you think it is a good thing for the Americans to be there, today and will the rest of the world join forces to bring change and make it a better place for the Afghan people?
SADIQ TAWFIQ: Afghanistan is in the news every day, and unfortunately that’s about sad news. The Media paints the news at its worst, it’s true. It is good to see that Americans are there to help Afghans but their service is being misguided because the proper work that is needed is not being delivered the way it should. In order to see Afghanistan get back on its feet, the American soldiers should be training the young generations of Afghanistan to become policemen, teachers, technicians and much more the same as property security along with the military if needed. I also really think the Afghans are able to be in charge of a new Afghanistan within rather a short time.
The most important project to start would be to help build new roads and highways, help assisting hand craft and tourism which would create jobs for millions of Afghans, men and women who grew up with war in their life. At the same time, this would allow all young men and women to be busy serving their country and the people of Afghanistan instead of joining forces with the wrong groups of people who are against them.
The United States is spending a lot of money on unqualified Afghan translators who are working within the military and are often making some serious mistakes ending up killing innocent people sometimes by sending out the wrong messages to the Afghan people which makes everyone wonder about the presence of the US in Afghanistan. Many people in Afghan villages are now thinking that they do not have friends after all there to help them rebuild a country that has suffered dramatically during the last thirty years.
ANNICK ELZIERE:You went through a lot in life and yet, you are a very successful businessman living in a very special and wealthy community along the seaside of California south of Los Angeles. Do you consider yourself very lucky and a happy man today?
SADIQ TAWFIQ: Happiness is not about where you live and all the things that you possess or how much money you have in your bank account and what type of business you own, it comes from your heart. Happiness is when you are able to help others making a difference by offering your time and wealth. We have a nice poem that says: “Cho ASTADAI, DAST OFTADEH GIR” which is in all Afghan hearts. It means “if you can stand on your own feet, reach out and take the hand of those who have fallen to the ground.”
Yes, I am a happy man because I have everything that I need to have. I have good health, wonderful family, good friends, a rich background, and I am able to help other people. All of this contributes to my happiness. So, yes I consider myself very grateful to live and work in a prosperous country such as the United States. For the last 30 years, I have had a business which represents the arts and culture of Afghanistan allowing me to earn a good and humble living with my family and friends and like I said, the chance to be able to donate my time and money to help others. On the other hand, the financial challenges and hardship of California are affecting me and my goals.
ANNICK ELZIERE: Let’s go back in time. You came to study in the United States and found yourself stuck in California not being able to return home. So, how did you really feel about that and were you able to go back to visit Afghanistan?
SADIQ TAWFIQ: It was very hard and unexpected; I felt like my freedom and human rights were violated totally. I had no choice but to accept it. As a young man full of energy, emotions and feelings, I wanted to return home to work and become part of rebuilding my country. I just wanted a happy and normal life with my family and my friends. I wanted to help Afghanistan and its people for a better quality of life and to become a part of the peace and prosperity of the world.
ANNICK ELZIERE: After thirty years living in the United States, do you see it as a true blessing in order to be able to be of service to the people of Afghanistan in the future?
SADIQ TAWFIQ: Of course, it is a real blessing for me to live and work with family and friends living in a safe and prosperous environment. I was shocked to see the invasion of a small country by a big aggressive Communist country such as the Soviet Union. I witnessed no justice and no humanity from our neighbors. It is also a real blessing to see that this whole system of evil of communism is gone.
It is very sad to know that millions of Afghans were victims of this dramatic invasion. At that time, I was thinking of contributing to the reconstruction of Afghanistan but today, I think that what I must do is more about cleaning up the damages created by nonstop wars. It looks like it is my call. When I hear and see so many of my friends and family over there being victims of such terrible crimes, I feel very sad.
ANNICK ELZIERE: As we all know, today the world is not doing well. As a Muslim, I must think that the dramatic event of September 11 in New York City must have been very difficult for you to deal with people who often are full of hatred toward people coming from the Middle East.
SADIQ TAWFIQ: Indeed, those are very sad memories for me. I never forget how difficult it was at some point and still is. I was shocked and my heart was sad and my spirit very much down for months.
I kept asking myself “How could this have happened?” It is difficult to understand who could do such an evil crime killing so many innocent people and destroying many family lives. Whoever it is, these people are very narrow minded because our lives are all connected. Fortunately, living in a small community of Laguna Beach, I was very much protected. Doing business in the small town of Laguna Beach full of intellectuals, members of an active community and the Chamber of Commerce including the Rotary Club helped me a lot. I was very much protected so it did not hurt me as much as it did to my business.
I think that in general, life has changed for all of us and especially for all Muslims living in North America. There are a lot of ignorant people who are talking about Islam in a very negative way including the Media who are influencing the mind and spirit of millions of good people. Their remarks are based on very little information on the Quran and Islam. All that news made people very upset and confused about everything.
ANNICK ELZIERE: Yes, we are surrounded by a lot of ignorant people. I believe that touch one, touch the other one so it is extremely easy to hurt many people at once. So many people just listen to the mainstream and refuse to do their own research on what is what. It’s very sad.
Sadiq, today you own a beautiful store in one of the most beautiful cities of the United States. Laguna Beach is a dream place for many people, I hear. Your store is a veritable museum of history. It seems like we can find anything regarding the culture of Afghanistan going from clothing, furniture to objects of art representing a culture that goes back to 5000 years in history. You must be very proud of yourself because it represents a lot of work and shows a lot of passion. How do you feel about yourself and all you have done?
SADIQ TAWFIQ: I am honored and humble when you say I have one of the most beautiful stores in a beautiful city. Yes, I am proud that I have the ability to display the real work of art of Afghanistan which has such a rich and deep history. I am happy to share it all with those who come to visit my store.
My mission is to be a voice for the voiceless of Afghans who created such a rich culture that survived thousands of years. Also my goal is to make sure that the arts and culture survive through the destruction of such a beautiful country. In my own way, I am like a true ambassador of Afghanistan when it comes to the history of such a beautiful country by teaching those who are interested in discovering this country which has a lot more to offer than war.
Historically Afghanistan is a very rich country and it deserves to be presented properly with rich and beautiful handcrafts, art, poems and poetry. I hope the financial situation in the US becomes better so that I can see the results of trade and sales. This is a very difficult time for all of us.
ANNICK ELZIERE: You are an incredible person, Sadiq. In 2004, you opened 2 schools for orphans. What are the names of these two schools? What kind of salary does a teacher make there compared to the U.S.?
SADIQ TAWFIQ: I do what I can to make a difference. I opened two schools in Afghanistan to help the Afghan people to move forward. One school is called ‘Phoenix Art and Education’; it is a school for boys and girls. The second school is called ‘Women’s Center for Art and Education.’ The Current Salary for each teacher is around $100 per month but you must remember that people in general live a very simple life and have only one or two monthly bills to pay. Most people ride a bicycle instead of driving a car.
Yes, the living standard is a lot less. Some people live well but the technology is not there yet. Most people are happy with what God provides them and never think about living in bigger homes and owning cars, televisions and going on vacation to exotic places.
There are no credit cards available, yet. Many people live close to each other with the support of the elderly and family members sharing everything. They are grateful even when they go to college and are getting married. Life is a real fact and experience for themselves. They don’t live to show off what they have to others.
ANNICK ELZIERE:Of course, we say ‘the less we have, the happier we are’ and that I believe in this. Why did you call one of the schools “Phoenix”?
SADIQ TAWFIQ: I have a much respected old medical friend who is 85 and had the kindness to suggest to me the name of ‘Phoenix’ once she discovered my service to the people of Afghanistan.
One day, she came to me and said ‘I would like to support your efforts, may I propose a name for your school?’ I liked that and accepted her choice with great respect. Also the name of Phoenix means to rise from ashes so that made a lot of sense to me.
I liked that and could imagine Afghanistan rising once more from ashes after 30 years of total destructive wars. So, the name of Phoenix touched me very deeply and was quite appropriate for the school. Also, my friends and teachers liked the name Phoenix a lot because English names are well respected in Afghanistan among educated people. It reflects education.
ANNICK ELZIERE: You are like the angel of the city of Herat. Your desire to do so much for the people who have lost everything is beautiful. Please, tell us more about the two schools of Herat. How old are the students attending the schools? Are boys and girls attending classes together the same as in the West? What are the main subjects being taught at school? How many classrooms? As you see, I could go on with my questions.
SADIQ TAWFIQ: You are so kind with your words toward me. I am very happy that God gave me the chance to be able to do so much and gave me the strength, the desire and energy to go back to my native country and do something for all these Afghans who are suffering so much. You know, I am really doing what I am supposed to do. I feel it is my duty to help my country and would think that all Afghans being blessed and living well would feel the same way. It is a real honor to be part of the reconstruction of such a beautiful country.
ANNICK ELZIERE:You are awesome. Improving the life of others should be everyone’s purpose on this little planet. It’s all about service to people, isn’t it? I understand that you are providing the opportunity to 600 children to receive an education. Are they all orphans?
SADIQ TAWFIQ: Thank you for your appreciation and encouragement. Again, I am just at the service of people who are less fortunate than I am. Not all students are orphans, many come from poor families; but really my goal is the education for all of the children, and my heart is for the orphans and children who are growing up in the streets during all these years of war. This is a country where everyone is hurt badly. We also have classes for illiterate elderly people.
One of our students is a grandmother, too. All ages are welcome but most students are between 5 and 25 years old. Some young women who were not allowed to attend school during the Taliban’s regime and are now married with children, are attending school to learn English, Computer, Art, Sewing and Embroidery. Some other subjects are mathematics, poetry and painting…
ANNICK ELZIERE:The two schools are completed and running well thanks to you and now you are working on a very special project, the construction of a hospital in Herat. As we all know, it takes money to do anything. I can't imagine how expensive it must be to build a new hospital. Are we talking about millions of US dollars to build it?
SADIQ TAWFIQ: Building a clinic or a small hospital in my hometown of Herat would be very nice and will cost millions of dollars. At this time we need 20 million US Dollars to build a 200-bed hospital to welcome many patients.
This project is just moving forward. About 25-acre, prominently located along one of the principal paved highways of the Silk Road in Herat, has already been donated by the Herat University and the Afghan government. Organizations may contribute to this huge humanitarian project and everyone is welcome to donate to help make this project go faster.
The Afghan Amity Society’s Grant Writing and Fundraising events might help fulfill our mission of building a clinic and possibly a hospital, too. The blue prints are based on historical architectural buildings using local materials for the construction and site and the beautiful work of local Afghan builders and workers. Herat Teaching Hospital - the “New Heart of Herat”;-- a planned 200-bed teaching hospital that will include modern treatment facilities, classrooms and laboratories, dormitories, and a public meeting space. It will happen.
ANNICK ELZIERE: This is exciting. How do you find the right people to accomplish such a project because you need professional staff and doctors next to finding the funds? This must be a real headache for you, isn’t it?
SADIQ TAWFIQ: Not at all, this is a joy for me to work on this project. It is my dream to come true soon. Many professionals are working together with a team of Grant Writing Professionals from the University. Like I said, we have a famous International Architect who is working on the blueprints. I also have a Marketing person and many friends who are specialized in the construction of clinics and hospitals.
Our last meeting all together regarding the hospital construction was on Saturday, September 19 and many good things are truly happening. It’s very encouraging and today, I know exactly where we are standing on this remarkable humanitarian project. We are still in two phases: planning and research. That’s where we are at. Our professional team is committed to make this dream come to life.
ANNICK ELZIERE: How difficult is it to hire the proper medical staff like surgeons, nurses and others? How do you manage this?
SADIQ TAWFIQ: We have many medical professionals working in Herat and we have an offer from the nursing school in addition to building a clinic in the first phase, and then the hospital in the second phase. The Herat Medical School and the Herat Provincial Reconstruction Team (PRT) are ready to help, too. And, the Rotary International Club is ready to transfer many surgeons and medical specialists to Herat to help us out.
We have contacted a few organizations and Afghan doctors from Europe and the US who could offer their help once the building is up. It will all happen once we start our fundraising and grant writing business. We need a lot of help and much support to receive some funds to make this beautiful project happen.
ANNICK ELZIERE: It’s all so impressive. Congratulations to you. I bet you must feel very happy to be able to be at the head of such a remarkable humanitarian project. Once all these projects are completed, do you have something else in mind?
SADIQ TAWFIQ: My plan is for this hospital to become very successful. I like to see more hospitals and clinics similar to those being built all over Afghanistan. I dream about a lot of good things to do to help rebuild my country of Afghanistan. I like to see them do well and for that I must stay focused and my feet on earth. It is really one step at the time.
ANNICK ELZIERE:In order to put your plans into execution, you probably have to be at two places at once. I’m thinking of being in Herat, Afghanistan at the same time as being in Laguna Beach at the same time as being in Afghanistan. How do I manage it all?
SADIQ TAWFIQ: I have few good family friends here and many relatives in Afghanistan so it helps. This work cannot be done by just one or two persons. There is a Board of Directors in Afghanistan and in the US to manage, run and support this project. Also, a US management team will be there for periods of time to make sure everything is in order.
A good team for maintaining and running the business will be created. I need a good supervisor to connect us all between Afghanistan and the US. I really hope to play an excellent role for this fabulous job and in order to do this I must stay in California and travel there, as well.
ANNICK ELZIERE: Every time you go back to your native country what do you bring with you? I’m thinking of lots of donations and school supplies to be distributed to all 600 students. Am I right? Are Californian companies and organizations helping you or is it all at your own expense?
SADIQ TAWFIQ: I usually bring medicine and some school supplies but I cannot take much because most of it is being shipped. I bring greetings and excitement with me and that is good to encourage others to help. Also, I bring some American candies for the students and small gifts for the teachers. Everyone needs to be encouraged.
ANNICK ELZIERE: Would you mind sharing about the email that you received one day after spending some time in Afghanistan as the founder and president of the Rotary International Club in Herat. It was about a 6 years old boy who was horribly disfigured when a propane gas burner in his family’s poor home exploded. What happened and how were you able to help him?
SADIQ TAWFIQ: Yes, this young boy came to America and thanks to God was treated by Dr. Peter Grossman at Grossman burning center in Los Angeles. Then he went back to Afghanistan. He is doing fine. At this time we are dealing with another girl who has a similar problem and is being treated here in the US as well…
ANNICK ELZIERE: Are you a religious person, Sadiq? You do not have to answer if you'd rather not. I say this because often that’s the kind of mission that religious people are on but I could be wrong.
SADIQ TAWFIQ:No I am not. To me religion is the freedom of being a good human being, knowing God is within you. I am blessed with all the good morality that religion offers. I am Adam, which means that I am within the religion of humanities and that is the religion of all. I am looking at the religion of Romi who is my mentor in Life (MOWLANA JALALDIN ROMI BALKHI) and was born in Afghanistan 700 years ago. I am sure you know about him.
ANNICK ELZIERE:I am with you that it’s all within. When you say Rumi, are you talking about Rumi who was born in Afghanistan in the year of 1207 and died in Turkey at the age of 66 years old. The Rumi that we admire and love so much? What is the difference between Romi and Rumi? Are they the same people and if you, what attracts you most to his poems?
SADIQ TAWFIQ:I really enjoy reading and understand Rumi, there is no difference between Romi and Rumi. They bring me a real understanding of life and a true message of humanities and purity. It helps me reach my goal and understand the meaning of life and the quality of each human being experiencing a day to day life and appreciation of life in this world. I consider myself a traveler who likes to travel light.
ANNICK ELZIERE: Rumi was both a poet and a mystic, but he is a teacher first, trying to communicate what he knows to his audience. Like all good teachers, he trusts that ultimately, when the means to go any further fail him and his voice falls silent, his students will have learned to understand on their own. Would you mind sharing one of Rumi's poems?
Grab the seed, let the shell go. This poem is in Farsi language.
Assalamu & Alaykum wa Rahmatullahi wa Barakatuhu: "Peace be upon you and God's Mercy and Blessings.
From Maulana Rūmī, (Rahmatullah ’Alaih) Book name: Mathnawi
If there is any lover in the world, 0 Muslim, it is I.
If there is any believer, infidel, or Christian hermit, it is I.
The wine, the cup-bearer, the musician, the instrument and the music,
The beloved, the candle, the liquor and the inebriation, it is I.
The seventy-two religious sects in the world
Do not really exist;
I swear by God to every religious sect-it is I.
Earth, air, water and fire: do you know what they are?
Earth, air, water and fire-and the soul as well; it is I
Truth and falsehood, good and evil, pleasure and suffering, beginning and end,
Knowledge, learning, asceticism, devotion and faith-it is I.
Be assured that the fire of hell and its flames,
Paradise, Eden and the angels of heaven-it is I.
Heaven and earth and all they hold: angels, demons, and men - it is I.
ANNICK ELZIERE: It has been a great honor for me to speak with you, Sadiq. Seeing all your accomplishments and services provided to humankind is a great example for all of us; you are part of a changing world. You see. You think. You act. We should all follow your pattern of action in order to do so much more to transform this beautiful earth into a real heaven.
SADIQ TAWFIQ: Thank you very much for this opportunity to talk with you, Annick. I am a person who likes to learn from others. You are doing a wonderful job yourself. I appreciate your help and support. You know, I’m just a person like everyone else.
ANNICK ELZIERE: Maybe some of the readers will be inspired by your work. I hope so. I am happy to add some information below to help you raise some money to build the hospital. What would be the best way for anyone to contact you?
SADIQ TAWFIQ: Thank you very much. The best way to contact me is to either call me at (949 )494-8284 to make an appointment or send me an e-mail to email@example.com.
Please visit my website at: https://khyberpasstreasures.com. All donations for the hospital to be built in Herat, Afghanistan are welcome.
ANNICK ELZIERE: Thank you, Sadiq. Stay blessed and safe!
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