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[caption id="attachment_1908" align="alignright" width="389" caption="In Kandahar, Afghanistan: Rangina Hamidi and Paula Lerner"][/caption]

My heart aches from pain and sorrow as I write this about my dear friend Paula Lerner who left us way too soon.

As I struggle to find a higher answer for the losses I have felt in the past couple of years of loved ones, I do take pride in knowing ordinary people who have done extraordinary things in their lives and who have made positive changes to others in a very short amount of time. Paula certainly was, and will always remain, an extraordinary soul for me and the thousands of Afghan women and men whose lives she touched.

I met Paula during a Bpeace expedition to Kabul in 2007 where we just simply “clicked” the minute we met. I was one of the Fast Runner entrepreneurs Bpeace was providing with business guidance. Paula's genuine interest in the work and lives of Afghan women was immediately visible with her beautiful photographs. Her eyes were special--they saw things that ordinary visitors to my country did not. Paula would humbly say that her camera allowed her to see things differently, but we all know that a camera is only a machine, the real eyes were Paula’s and the search for that special sight was Paula’s.

Living and working in Afghanistan’s most troubled region of Kandahar was not easy even for me--an Afghan with Kandahari roots. But it did not bother Paula to make the decision to come and be with the women of Kandahar. When many international visitors were trying to discourage others from going to Kandahar for security reasons, it was Paula who insisted, “We must cover the lives of women in a region where everyone refuses to go!” She was not afraid of taking the risk to come there and spend time to tell the stories of women from Kandahar.

We had many visitors come and go in the nine years of my life in Kandahar, but never had I met someone who took such genuine interest to the region and to the cause as strongly as Paula. She came at least three times to Kandahar and was keen to come more often, but in the end I discouraged her after the security situation worsened on the ground. She was not afraid in spite of the fact that she was struggling with cancer.

When in Kandahar, Paula bonded in a very special way with the women there. Without even speaking the same language the women whom we met would constantly tell me “there is something special about this friend of yours...she is not like the others – she listens to us!” This is important for Afghans and for anyone in the world. To feel this connection is special and Paula easily made this connection with the women she met.

During one of her visits the women of my office decided to throw Paula a singing good-bye party. The Kandahari women sang love songs and friendship songs to Paula and they danced and enjoyed themselves very much. Paula decided to sing a song about women to them (my memory fails me to remember the title). Without translating the words the Kandahari women began to cry! Paula was crying with them. I began to cry as well because they both communicated through music without understanding each other. Parween, one of our Kandahari friends, replied when asked why she cried, she said “I don’t know what Paula sang to us but I just felt that it was from her heart and something to do with us as women!” Not many people have this gift.

As I sit and write this painful memory of Paula, I remember one thing my grandmother used to tell me growing up “Do good, throw it in the river; the river will not take it away!” This means that even if one tries to wash away good deeds they cannot be washed away. Paula’s commitment to giving Afghan women voice and helping them tell their stories will not be washed away by time. She may have left this physical world, but her spirit will forever be alive among the women, among her family and friends and certainly with me to continue the legacy for as much and as far as I can.

[caption id="attachment_1908" align="alignright" width="389" caption="In Kandahar, Afghanistan: Rangina Hamidi and Paula Lerner"][/caption]

My heart aches from pain and sorrow as I write this about my dear friend Paula Lerner who left us way too soon.

As I struggle to find a higher answer for the losses I have felt in the past couple of years of loved ones, I do take pride in knowing ordinary people who have done extraordinary things in their lives and who have made positive changes to others in a very short amount of time. Paula certainly was, and will always remain, an extraordinary soul for me and the thousands of Afghan women and men whose lives she touched.

I met Paula during a Bpeace expedition to Kabul in 2007 where we just simply “clicked” the minute we met. I was one of the Fast Runner entrepreneurs Bpeace was providing with business guidance. Paula's genuine interest in the work and lives of Afghan women was immediately visible with her beautiful photographs. Her eyes were special--they saw things that ordinary visitors to my country did not. Paula would humbly say that her camera allowed her to see things differently, but we all know that a camera is only a machine, the real eyes were Paula’s and the search for that special sight was Paula’s.

Living and working in Afghanistan’s most troubled region of Kandahar was not easy even for me--an Afghan with Kandahari roots. But it did not bother Paula to make the decision to come and be with the women of Kandahar. When many international visitors were trying to discourage others from going to Kandahar for security reasons, it was Paula who insisted, “We must cover the lives of women in a region where everyone refuses to go!” She was not afraid of taking the risk to come there and spend time to tell the stories of women from Kandahar.

We had many visitors come and go in the nine years of my life in Kandahar, but never had I met someone who took such genuine interest to the region and to the cause as strongly as Paula. She came at least three times to Kandahar and was keen to come more often, but in the end I discouraged her after the security situation worsened on the ground. She was not afraid in spite of the fact that she was struggling with cancer.

When in Kandahar, Paula bonded in a very special way with the women there. Without even speaking the same language the women whom we met would constantly tell me “there is something special about this friend of yours...she is not like the others – she listens to us!” This is important for Afghans and for anyone in the world. To feel this connection is special and Paula easily made this connection with the women she met.

During one of her visits the women of my office decided to throw Paula a singing good-bye party. The Kandahari women sang love songs and friendship songs to Paula and they danced and enjoyed themselves very much. Paula decided to sing a song about women to them (my memory fails me to remember the title). Without translating the words the Kandahari women began to cry! Paula was crying with them. I began to cry as well because they both communicated through music without understanding each other. Parween, one of our Kandahari friends, replied when asked why she cried, she said “I don’t know what Paula sang to us but I just felt that it was from her heart and something to do with us as women!” Not many people have this gift.

As I sit and write this painful memory of Paula, I remember one thing my grandmother used to tell me growing up “Do good, throw it in the river; the river will not take it away!” This means that even if one tries to wash away good deeds they cannot be washed away. Paula’s commitment to giving Afghan women voice and helping them tell their stories will not be washed away by time. She may have left this physical world, but her spirit will forever be alive among the women, among her family and friends and certainly with me to continue the legacy for as much and as far as I can.

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