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Rochester man to help Afghan refugees
By Erin Galbally
Minnesota Public Radio
January 14, 2002

This week a Rochester man will travel to Pakistan where he'll establish relief services for Afghan refugees. Frank Anderson represents the American Refugee Committee, a non-profit organization that in the past has taken him to Bosnia, Croatia and Thailand. Anderson believes this could be his most challenging posting yet.

Frank Anderson of Rochester travels to Pakistan shortly, to head up refugee efforts for Afghans who have fled their country. Anderson has spent years in many of the world's hot spots, providing services to refugees on behalf of the American Refugee Committee. View images of Anderson's stay in Thailand.
(Photo courtesy of Frank Anderson)

The first weeks of 2002 have passed like a blur for Frank Anderson. On New Year's Eve he found out the American Refugee Committee, or ARC, planned to set up services in Central Asia. A few days later, Anderson accepted a role as the project's field director. And not too long after that he was told he'd head to Pakistan in January rather than April, as originally scheduled.

By the end of this week Anderson will be Islamabad. There he'll start to organize relief efforts for the region's four million Afghan refugees.

"We do know that there is some serious malnutrition in children in the refugee and displaced persons population," Anderson says. "We do know that there's a high incidence of tuberculosis."

But Anderson says hard information on the conditions will have to be gathered on the ground. Anderson will be responsible for finding safe passage into Afghanistan, and determining the most effective way to set up relief programs and services.

It's something he's had plenty of experience with. Long stays in Thailand, and shorter stints in Bosnia and Croatia, have taught him to expect the worst. That was certainly the case during his time in war-torn Sarajevo.

"We went into a city that was under siege and we didn't bring any food. The Holiday Inn was open in downtown Sarajevo, but it didn't have any electricity and running water only for 20 minutes a day," Anderson recalls. "We filled our bathtub up with water, but our bathtub plug had a leak. So half an hour later there was no water. So you couldn't flush your toilet, you can't brush your teeth - none of that. And there's no electricity and we hadn't brought candles or any of that stuff with us so we were just incredibly unprepared."

Anderson says experience has taught him to travel light.

"There's an amazing foolishness in what's taken. In a refuge center in Thailand, the information that was given out was to bring jungle boots and Pepto Bismol," he says. "And nobody wore jungle boots or used Pepto Bismol....we had a shelf lined with Pepto Bismol and jungle boots."

Anderson was in Thailand most recently for about five years. In 1988, the Minnesota native and his family moved back to the United States to accept a job in Rochester.

Since then, Anderson has served as executive director of Bear Creek Services, a non-profit that runs group homes for victims of traumatic brain injuries and the developmentally disabled. His family lives on a farm in Zumbro Falls. Anderson says the opportunity to help with the refugee crisis is a personal way to overcome the events of Sept. 11.

"One of the things that I've learned - and partially through this process - is that we do have a choice about how we determine our relationship with those things," says Anderson. "With Afghanistan, I'm sure there are people that have blocked it out . There are people that have reached out to Muslims in their community. So everybody does have a choice - who do I want to be, in the face of this situation."

Anderson suspects he'll be in Pakistan for at least six months. He's had a lot of dangerous postings in the world. He admits Afghanistan scares him. If the ARC stays on to provide refugee services, Frank Anderson won’t rule out a permanent assignment in Central Asia.

More Information
  • American Refugee Committee