I’ve been spending a lot of time lately following around a group of visitors from Afghanistan who are now in Bozeman thanks to the Montana Center for International Visitors, a nonprofit working out of offices at Montana State University.
Staffed by two people, both part-time employees, the MCIV spends the days stumping for international visitors from various State Department programs. Bozeman is one of the smallest communities in the nation to have such a program, and the employees are proud of that. They make the most out of each visit.
The present quartet of visitors are members of Afghanistan’s version of the EPA. Their mission in America is to learn as much about the administrative side of parks, wetlands and conservation practices as possible. They hope to implement those lessons back home.
The Afghan EPA has only been around for a couple years. Speaking with one of its directors, I learned that environmental issues are only just coming to the forefront of Afghan society. For years, the country was torn by warfare that shuffled their priorities. Unfortunately, the environment was dealt to the bottom of the deck.
Now, however, it is becoming important again, and Afghanistan is playing catch-up as they modernize their conservation agencies. The director spent part of the group’s trip to Yellowstone National Park studying signage at various park facilities. The need for knowledge is that basic, and when you really think about it, how many of us really know what kind of signs we’d need to hang if we were starting a national park?
Today, the group toured the fish hatcheries here in Bozeman. Before the tour, the executive director of the Montana Outdoor Science School described part of what their organization does (an organization I’ll describe in a forthcoming blog post–check back at week’s end). Each member of the delegation had an ear piece connected to a microphone held in the hands of their State Department interpreter. Watching these environmental administrators discuss species of fish became suddenly like a scene from the floor of the United Nations.
I suppose that’s the kind of citizen diplomacy MCIV wants to advance, a true feeling of internationalism and global community and a small slice of the life ususual in Bozeman.