In February of 2016, I traveled to the Middle East as part of the Expedition 196 quest, promoting positive peace through sustainable tourism through IIPT and Skal International. One of the most emotionally impactful Nations I had visited was Afghanistan. I was vlogging my experience in Afghanistan for my Expedition 196 YouTube channel, expecting it be seldom seen. Since the launch of the vlog last February, my Afghanistan vloghas received upwards of 121k views on the Expedition 196 YouTube channel. The amount of positive comments and likes has been astounding.

From the moment I stepped off of that plane alone in Kabul, to the moment I stepped back on having gained local friends, I was in awe at just how enriching of an experience Afghanistan provided for me. Before I tell you about a unique person who reached out to me, I’d like to tell you a little background about my trip to Afghanistan.

The best travel accessory is an open mind. When you leave all preconceptions at the door (including whatever friends, family and strangers have told you), your chances of experiencing something positive and exhilarating are much higher. - Cassie De Pecol

My Travels to Afghanistan

For as long as I can remember, there was a negative connotation with the word “Afghanistan”, and the word “War”, seem to always tag along with it. The Taliban was formed in the year 1994, when I was just five years old. From as early as I can remember, Afghanistan was a place that I never wanted to be anywhere near. As I got older, things only seemed to get worse. Throughout my life the phrase, “War on Terror”, was always the highlight of any casual conversation. People around me would have dialogues pertaining to Afghanistan and its people. As a United States Citizen, these conversations I heard were rarely positive. After the tragedy of 9/11 where these discussions intensified. Then came ISIL, whose brutal attacks started taking a huge toll on society and more so in the past several years. Perhaps it is in these several years that I’ve been concentrated the attacks in preparation for my Expedition. Nevertheless, I’ve been told time and time again, to avoid Afghanistan on this Expedition by both US and international civilians and the media.

Me in Afghanistan in 2016

Yet ironically, in High School, this yearning to want to travel deep into the heart of the Middle East blossomed. I wanted to see what it was really like. I wanted to prove people wrong, even though I had no idea what I was going to prove them wrong about. I had never been anywhere near the Middle East, and perhaps I was a little naive, but I knew that I had to go. You can ask my parents; up until this past February, I told them how much I couldn’t WAIT to travel to the Middle East on this Expedition. Day after day, I’d convince myself as to why I should go sooner rather than later. When I finally got the chance to go, it was the most surreal experience I’d ever had. I was in awe at how beautiful the nature was, how authentic the food was and how warm the people were. Most importantly, I was in shock as to how safe I felt there alone as a foreign woman. I felt safer traveling in Afghanistan than I did traveling alone in Italy at night, where I got cat-called and grabbed by local men. None of this was the case in Afghanistan, and I await the day when I can go back.
Recently, I received a message in my inbox from a man named Ahmad Fawad Amarkhi.

“I Just Saw Your Video On YouTube, Your Trip To Kabul, Afghanistan. While I Was Watching, Tears Rolled Down My Checks; So Motivating And Inspiring, You Are Such A Brave Girl. I Have Not Visited My Country For The Past 5 Years & I’m Planning To Go This August. I Hope That I Meet You One Day In Kabul So That I Can Take You To Some Nice Places, Such As Lakes And Mountains, So That You Can Explore More And Experience Some New Things, And I Bet You Did Not Try Some Afghan Home Cooked Foods? As I’m Sure You Are Aware, Afghans Are So Hospitable.” - Ahmad

Fawad's Story

Fawad shares a remarkable story about triumph where at the age of six he lost his leg in Afghanistan during the interior war. Since then, he’s used his setback as an advantage, coaching and training to compete in the Amputee Football World Cup in 2016, all while earning his university degree. Here’s his story.

Ahmad Fawad Amarkhi

Where are you from in Afghanistan?
I was born in Chehel-Seton and grew up in Kabul. I currently live in London, and play Football for the Great Britain Amputee Football Development Squad, Arsenal FC, and I used to play for Tottenham Hotspur FC. I am also the Co-Founder of London Amps Football Team.
When did you move to England and why?
I moved to England in 2008 for a better life, and after a few months, I decided to look for an amputee Football/Soccer team. Currently, I study at London South Bank University, faculty of Business Information Technology. I will graduate next year in 2017. When I searched the internet I found so many (soccer) clubs but most of them were outside London. The closest one was the Limbless Association (LA Spurs). I got their phone number and address to contact them, and they invited me to join them. I have been training with LA Spurs in Wandsworth and Feltham every week for almost three years. LA Spurs has a mix of players, some using artificial legs and some just crutches like me.
Your passion for soccer stems from a very young age. What was your experience with soccer growing up?
In 2001 I started practicing Football/Soccer on crutches. At the beginning no one wanted to play with me, because I was not really good at it and some people were afraid they might hurt me. But because I loved Football/Soccer, nothing stopped me and I continued playing on my own, with friends and family.
Did you ever coach?
In 2005 I become a Football/Soccer coach in a prate NGO in Kabul, I was coaching the girls’ teams for about three years, and I had approximately 20 to 25 students. In mid-2006 most of my students were selected to play for Afghan National Women team and that was the proudest time in my life.
Are there any big names in the soccer sport that you’ve had the opportunity to meet?
Recently I met some of Arsenal’s famous players such as Peter Cech the greatest goalkeeper in the world, who recently signed with Arsenal FC, Theo Walcott a fantastic striker and Aaron Ramsey, Arsenal’s best Midfielder.
What are your plans for the future?
I play Football/Soccer regularly with Arsenal Amps & locally with my able bodied friends once a week. I go to the gym 3 to 4 times a week to be fit & in shape in the case I play for a team GB in the World Cup. The Amputee Football World Cup is every two years. In 2014 I could not participate in the World Cup in Mexico because of my education, as I am still a student. But my plan is to train hard and be part of the Great Britain team when they next play in the Amputee Football World Cup in 2016.

I love Fawad’s story because he sets a great example of overcoming obstacles, taking a leap of faith, expelling an immense amount of courage, and proving to people through experience, how great of a person he is even though he comes from a country that many Westerners think is very dangerous. He overcame a major setback and is thriving to achieve his dream. There’s a lesson to be learned here. And that is to never give up on your dream find the courage and drive to make your dream a reality, despite any of societies limitations or what anyone else tells you. Fawad and I share the same ethics of persistence and determination despite whatever limitations we might have, and I found that to be remarkable.
You own your life, you make your own choices. If you have a serious desire to want to do something, you WILL make it happen, you’ll make sure you get to where you want to be. I love triathlons, but it’s not enough of a passion to become an elite athlete. You might love travel, but not enough to drop everything and go to every country. If you have a fire in your heart for something, it’ll be on your mind every minute of the day until that desire surfaces.
I am humbled and amazed at the incredibly wonderful people I meet in this world from every country. My journey has lead me to believe humans have the capability to achieve anything, that most people are good and that we can have a tremendous life and future if we really want it. My journey, Fawad’s journey, our potential.

If you’d like to reach out to Fawad, you can find his Facebook page here.
Thanks for reading
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