Ashfan Charania spent three and a half months living in Kabul - photo by Martin Dee
UBC Reports | Vol. 52 | No. 5 | May 4, 2006
Not Your Average Internship
War-torn Afghanistan highlight of grad’s business studies
By Lorraine Chan
Ashfan Charania names his overseas work experience in Afghanistan as the absolute highlight of his BComm studies.
“It’s one of the best experiences of my life,” says Charania, who graduates from the Sauder School of Business. “I’d love to go back.”
In 2004, Charania completed as a third-year student his finance internship at Telecom Development Company Afghanistan (TDCA), the country’s largest cell phone and service provider.
During his stay between May and August, he witnessed three rocket attacks, one of them landing 100 metres from his guesthouse.
“Security was always a top priority,” he says, recalling how that near miss sent everyone diving for the basement. “No one really knew who was setting off these homemade rockets.”
Despite the danger, Charania says he valued the opportunity to see how economic tools can help rebuild a war-torn country.
He explains that TDCA is 49 per cent privately owned with 51 per cent owned by the non-profit Aga Khan Development Network, which plows profits back into development through building schools, nutrition and health care.
“I was able to learn more about microfinance, which is making small loans available to people who don’t have access to capital so they can start their own businesses,” says Charania.
He adds that microfinance, unlike debt relief or foreign aid, can address the root cause of poverty. “You can transform entire villages and stop the rural-to-urban migration.”
While in Kabul, Charania — who speaks English, French, Swahili and the Indian language Kutchi — mastered a basic level of Dari and was able to converse easily with his Afghan hosts and co-workers.
“The Afghans are the most hospitable, generous people I’ve ever met,” says Charania. “They invite you into their homes and open their lives to you.”
Charania traces his passion to help developing nations from his own family history and strong ties to East Africa where he still has relatives. “My great-grandfather emigrated from India to Kiisi, a small village in Kenya. I was born in Nairobi and then grew up in Kigali, Rwanda.”
At the age of seven, Charania, his parents and two siblings moved from Rwanda to Canada in 1991. He says he felt a “reverse shock” at seeing such widespread wealth compared to what he was used to in Africa.
“It was strange seeing how the majority of the population is so well off. People have ready access to education and decent health care, but most don’t realize that other parts of the world don’t.”
Charania hopes to further his education with either an MBA or a Master’s of International Development.
“But not right away,” he says, “I’m hoping to go overseas to get direct, hands-on experience in microfinance.”
He has applied for a fellowship with the Aga Khan Foundation Canada for an eight-month placement in either Bangledesh, India, or Tajikistan, which borders China and Afghanistan.