Local web designers help rebuild Afghanistan

Monroe Monitor & Valley News

By POLLY KEARY, STAFF WRITER.

When Monroe's Mark DeLong designed his Virtual Site Manager software, software that allows website subscribers to maintain their own sites without help from a developer, he envisioned it helping small to midsize businesses take control of their own websites.The independence offered by the program turned out to be attractive to a small country trying to take control of its economic destiny. In September, Monroe resident Aziz Sadat, an Afghanistan native working on reconstruction of the war-torn country, approached the Monroe-based efinity Technologies about creating a website for the new World Trade Center in Kabul, Afghanistan. Now, the company has created a web site that allows volunteers and workers at the World Trade Center in Afghanistan's capital city to maintain their web pages from the opposite side of the earth.The World Trade CenterThe website is only the most recent component of a lifelong dream for Sadat; bringing a World Trade Center to his former homeland. Sadat, 45, grew up in Afghanistan and lived there until he came to the United States as a high school exchange student. He stayed to study architecture and political science at the University of Washington. He became a citizen in 1979, but maintained involvement with his home nation.

For years, he returned to Afghanistan every several months to aid freedom fighters against the Soviet army. The bloody civil war that followed Russia's withdrawal in 1989 convinced him to stay in the states, and he married and bought Good Life Health Food in Monroe.  The conflict wasn't enough to keep him out of the country entirely, but when he returned in 1995 to help start a school, he was held prisoner by the Taliban, then by Pakistan, for several months on suspicion of being a spy. He wasn't able to return safely until the U.S. ouster of the Taliban, after which he opened a construction supply business in Kabul in 2003. Since then he has thrown his energy into the reconstruction of the country, including winning a World Trade Center for Kabul.

The World Trade Center in Kabul is part of an association of which the New York Trade Center, built in 1970, was only the first. "It began as a simple idea to make international trade easier to conduct by concentrating traders and trade services into specific, dedicated centers," wrote Guy Tozzoli, the president and founder of the World Trade Centers Association. In Halifax, Nova Scotia, on Oct. 1, 2002, the 33rd general assembly of members voted unanimously to approve Kabul as a World Trade Center site. There are currently 336 centers in 101 countries, Kabul's being the latest. Sadat feels that the center is critical to the healing of his native country.

"Successful reconstruction is not simply the distribution of relief aid and rebuilding infrastructure," Sadat said in a speech to the WCTA General Assembly at the U.N. headquarters in Geneva, Switzerland in October of this year. "To be successful, reconstruction must include the development of a sustainable economy with a healthy private sector." The WebsiteThe website developed by efinity is designed to do just that, help stimulate growth in the private sector. It is uniquely well-suited to the job because Sadat and others do not need to contact efinity to make changes to the site. "They edit if from Afghanistan sometimes and it's sitting on our servers in Everett," said Vaughan Seifert, head of business development at the company.

That is important in the rapidly changing post-war environment of Kabul. The website offers a glimpse into reconstruction life. Under Business Support Services, WTC members are offered language and intercultural training to help develop business relationships with the rest of the world. Training programs are available to help local business owners with technology such as computers and telecommunications. Interpretation, consulting and an online library of companies, products and services around the world are all benefits of membership. Crossing the language barrier is as important for the website operators as it is for Afghan entrepreneurs. "We support foreign languages," DeLong said. "Sadat wanted his website in Farsi." Farsi is the most commonly spoken language of the country, and although users of the web editing tools must know English, the site is published in both Farsi and English. Building the site has been educational for DeLong. "It's unusual in that you don't usually get a request from out of the country for a small company in Monroe," he said. "It gives you a unique insight. You know what's happening over there from the media, but it's different to hear it first-hand from someone who is trying to make a difference. It's not just a war-torn country, it's a country that is emerging from being war-torn. People there want to be part of the world."