In late 2004, Dr. Wee Teck Young, a physician from Singapore moved to Afghanistan’s Central Bamiyan province to provide public health education in a healthcare system that had been damaged by the years of conflict. While working as a medical doctor in Bamiyan, he soon realized that peace and education were immediate needs of the people. To promote peace and education, he worked with youth in Bamiyan and in later years in Kabul that eventually led to the establishment of the Afghan Peace Volunteers.
Dr. Young is known as ‘Hakim’ among his friends and colleagues in Afghanistan. ‘Hakim’ means a wise man and thinker, and it also refers to a traditional Afghan doctor. Since his arrival in Afghanistan, he has been engaged with various peacebuilding projects including promoting non-violent strategies and other humanitarian services in the face of violence and war.
Graduated from National University of Singapore in 1993, Dr. Hakim Young travelled to Pakistan in mid-2002 to help the Afghan refugees in the city of Quetta along the border with Afghanistan. Millions of Afghans have been forced to flee to Pakistan since the Soviet’s invasion of Afghanistan.
“In mid-2002, I got an opportunity to help the Afghan refugees in Quetta of Pakistan. My motivation was love for humanity”, recalled Dr. Hakim Young in a virtual interview. His personal motivations, which first brought him to Quetta and then to Bamiyan, led him to an unbreakable love story with Afghanistan.
“I didn’t have a plan to stay long-term in Afghanistan. I evaluated my paths from year-to-year. I felt a growing joy and passion for building nonviolent relationships and practices, not just in Afghanistan, but also among various peace-building groups in different countries,” said Dr. Hakim Young. He continued working in Afghanistan for 16 years. Afghanistan has become a “second home” for him.
Afghan Peace Volunteers (APV)
In 2009, Dr. Hakim Young was inspired to work with a group of young Afghans whom he met during a peace seminar at the University of Bamiyan. He recalled the university students and Bamiyan youth from various villages expressing their wish to pursue peace and alternatives to war. In 2012, he moved to Kabul with some of the Bamiyan volunteers who teamed up with youth in Kabul to establish the Afghan Peace Volunteers (APVs). Until today, the volunteer organization gathers Afghan youth to work together to promote a culture of non-violence. Dr. Hakim Young is currently the organization’s International Coordinator.
The main objective of Afghan Peace Volunteers is to “build non-violent relationships and practices for a Green, Equal and Nonviolent (GEN) world without war.” Besides learning to resolve conflicts non-violently, the APVs also help street children and raise awareness about environmental protection.
As a result of his volunteering activities with the APVs, in 2012, Dr. Hakim Young won the International Pfeffer Peace Award, which is given to individuals or organizations who are committed to three values; peace, justice and reconciliation.
“Listen, learn and love”
The Relational Learning Circles are part of an appealing project that Dr. Hakim Young and his colleagues run. The Circles are online conversations (currently using Zoom) through which participants from different parts of the world establish relationships to “ask, listen, relate and learn from one another”.
The Relational Learning Circles have gone on through the Covid-19 pandemic. Dr Hakim Young feels that more than ever, the human family needs authentic connections. Anyone over 18 years can participate. There is also an option for high school students.
Challenges to live in Afghanistan
Living in Afghanistan has not been very easy for Dr. Hakim Young. He has fears about his safety and the safety of the Volunteers. There have been threats and security incidents. He has also experienced trauma not only from war but also from the socio-economic hardships and day-to-day violence in the country. He, however, emphasized that the “good people of Afghanistan are rarely seen or heard in the news.” He regrets the inaccurate and often negative portrayal of the Afghan people by mainstream media.
More than four decades of war have left a devastating legacy on Afghan culture and on some of its core principles, such as community and its relationships. Dr. Hakim Young believes that community and nonviolent relationships are essential to restore the fabric of Afghan society.
“I admire the Afghan preservation of our human instincts as social creatures, and the value Afghans place on relationships”, said Dr. Hakim Young.
In the midst of tough living conditions in Afghanistan, Dr Hakim Young is grateful for the friendship of his Afghan friends and colleagues who welcomed him to their homes. He wishes that the world would have the opportunity to enjoy the warmth of human-to-human connections with the Afghan people.
With the spread of Covid-19 pandemic and subsequent lockdowns, Dr. Hakim Young has returned to Singapore. He is eagerly waiting to resume his activities in Afghanistan, a place very dear to his heart. Restrictions due to the pandemic leave him in an uncertain situation on when he can return to a country he is in love with.