Alberto Cairo, works as a physiotherapist for Red Cross. In 1990 he found himself in Afghanistan and has remained there ever since. He arrived from Africa to run the orthopedic center in Kabul. In over 2 decades in the country he has helped more than 100,000 Afghanis and is a beloved figure loved by all including the Taliban. In the early days when fighting used to break out the center used to close down, but not any more. Alberto provides the story of how the change came about.
Once when the fighting had broken out and the center was closed Alberto became involved in food distribution. One day when returning from a food distribution assignment he heard a bomb fall in a nearby field. He saw everybody scatter and the street empty out. All except one man in a wheelchair and a boy who was pushing his wheel chair. Afraid for his own life but with no other options, Alberto rushed out of his car and helped the boy and the man in the wheel chair to safety. He then learnt that the name of the man was Mahmood and the boy, his son, was Rafeeq. Mahmood was missing two legs and an arm. In the heat of the moment Alberto promised Mahmood to reopen the orthopedic center and help him get new prosthetics. No sooner Mahmood had left Alberto realized his mistake. There was no way he could single-handedly reopen the center and help Mahmood.
The next day he went to the center with the resolve to turn away Mahmood with an apology and maybe offer him some money as help. But when he reached the center he found that not only Mahmood had showed up, with him there were 20 other people who needed help. In addition a few staff had also come to work when they learnt that the center was reopening. Alberto now found that he had no option but to reopen the center and help all those who arrived. Within a few months Mahmood got his brace and was soon able to walk. From that day onwards the center has never closed, except for maybe a few hours if the fighting got too close. Rafeeq is now able to go to school as he is no longer needed to push his father’s wheelchair.
Mahmood was also responsible for more changes. After a year he once again approached Alberto. With eyes on the ground he stood in front of Alberto and said, “You have given me my legs, but I am just a scrap of a man, reduced to begging. Please give me a job!” Alberto knowing the severity of Mahmood’s injuries, two legs and an arm missing, feared that his presence on the production line might slow down the work. However he was persuaded by Najmudeen, his assistant, to give it a try, with the condition that if production dropped the arrangement would be called off. The Afghani people are a resourceful bunch, and Najmudeen quickly made all the adjustments for Mahmood so that he could work on the production line. Production actually jumped up by 20% in the first week instead of dropping!
Soon Alberto realized that the role of the center was not just to provide for limbs, but also to provide its patients with dignity. From now on the policy of the center was changed. Many patients were given jobs within the center itself. Others were given vocational training. The presence of former amputees in the center helps new patients when they see that it is possible to be productive again. The center is now greatly expanded and helps over 7000 patients annually.
Alberto is one of the few persons in Afghanisthan who is respected by all sides. In decades of civil war the center has never been directly attacked, though the fighting sometimes came periliously close. Alberto routinely gives away his salary to help his patients, and works selflessly to serve them. He is a living example of a Karma Yogi, and shows the power of selfless work.