Patricia Westenbroek said that when she was young, her mother instilled in her a desire to help others. While her agricultural education at the University of Delaware helped lead her to a role in the Cooperative Extension Service, it is that desire to help that brought her to Afghanistan, working as an agricultural adviser for the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Foreign Agricultural Service.
Westenbroek — a UD alumna who graduated in 1997 with a bachelor of science degree in animal science with a pre-veterinary concentration and minors in agricultural economics and chemistry and went on to earn a master’s degree in agricultural development at the University of Aberdeen in Scotland — said that her job entails working with extension specialists in the Directorate of Agriculture, Irrigation and Livestock (DAIL). She said that she works on “a variety of agriculture projects, including animal husbandry, animal nutrition, beekeeping, and planting perennial trees at the district and provincial level.”
DAIL works closely with United States and coalition forces, the Department of State, the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) and local organizations as a team to “strengthen the capacity of the Afghan government, improve farm management and rebuild markets,” said Westenbroek.
One part of her job that she finds especially enjoyable is working with the female extension agents employed by DAIL in the province. “In them is so much promise,” said Westenbroek. “Public roles for women have been limited in Afghanistan and that has been changing. These women take the risk to help their people improve their lives by providing social, agricultural and education services.”
While some might have reservations about moving to Afghanistan, Westenbroek said that the decision for her was fairly easy. “I’ve wanted to be able to do this type of work for a long time,” said Westenbroek. “It was natural to say yes to an opportunity to help farmers and extension agents.”
Although she does admit that there was initially a bit of trepidation about going to Afghanistan, Westenbroek said, “The opportunity to work with Afghans as they rebuild their country outweighed my concerns.”
Though her day-to-day routine is varied — one day she may be out on a mission with military colleagues to meet villagers while the next she may be meeting with government officials or extension agent — she always has a daily Dari lesson to help her learn the local language.
The other thing that remains constant is what she enjoys most about her job: the people.
Westenbroek said that she meets all sorts of people ranging from “DAIL representatives who truly want what is best for their province or district to help the farmers to make positive changes; a young boy who is extremely proud of his goats because they are healthy; a little girl excited to see two women with the military team walking with me around the village and telling me about her day at school; the kindness of everyone as I learn Dari — teaching and laughing with me.
“I have been overwhelmed by the warm welcome from a young Afghan woman who embraced me with tears of joy, thanking me and all Americans for coming to Afghanistan to help her country.”
Article by Adam Thomas
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