La Verne alum helps rebuild Afghanistan
Posted Oct. 10, 2008

Hilda Grigorian, University of La Verne alumna, is following her passion for helping people—in Afghanistan.

Grigorian is a field program officer working with the Provincial Reconstruction Team in Jalalabad, Afghanistan with the U.S. Agency for International Development.

Grigorian and others met with President George W. Bush and Afghanistan President Hamid Karzai on Sept. 26 to discuss the work being done in Afghanistan.

“It’s not every day that you sit and chat with two presidents,” Hilda Grigorian said in a call to the Campus Times from Afghanistan.

“I work with the military in the capacity of development in Nangarhar,” she said. “(The) Provincial Reconstruction Team, PRT, is a joint effort by the United States and NATO military forces and interagency Department of State, USAID and USDA and other government forces. Our team is called ‘Team Nangarhar,” Grigorian said in an e-mail.

She said the meeting provided a “friendly atmosphere” to talk with the presidents about the work they are doing alongside the military.

“USAID and the U.S. military work in collaboration for the rebuilding of a nation so that conditions leading up to 9/11 cannot repeat themselves. The military, by nature, is more effective in matters of security. USAID is a much better suited developer, and has far greater resources and funding and expertise. It is a marriage of necessity, headed, I hope, toward the military going home for good and letting the professionals develop infrastructure and capacity without the need of the security. Together, we build roads, schools, clinics, provide capacity building training, provide electricity, train teachers, and much, much more,” CPT Tim O'Donnell, Civil Affairs Officer, PRT Nangarhar said in an e-mail.

CPT O’Donnell has known Hilda Grigorian for a year.

“Hilda often travels ‘outside the wire’ with us, placing herself at the same risk as any other soldier on any convoy in country. Jalalabad does have an Al-Quaeda and Taliban presence and they have ‘hit’ convoys in the city in the past. She assumes these risks without hesitation. Her goal is a better, prosperous Afghanistan,” Capt. O’Donnell said in an e-mail.

Grigorian graduated from ULV with a bachelor’s degree in business administration in 1995 and received her master’s degree in business administration May 2000. She spent most of her time at ULV’s San Fernando Valley Campus but also took classes at the main campus.

Grigorian joined USAID in early 2008.

“She’s working endlessly to try to turn that country around along with the other people over there,” Andrew Grigorian, Hilda Grigorian’s son and student at Pasadena City College, said. “I’m very proud of her.”

Andrew Grigorian and his brother Rene Grigorian said it was difficult to have their mother so far away, but they both understand why she is in Afghanistan.

“She’s a very brave, strong and courageous person,” Rene Grigorian, student at Pasadena City College. said. “I will continue to support her.”

Hilda Grigorian said she is fortunate to be working with a “good group of people,” and that this is a way for her to earn her “inner peace.”

Vachik Alvandi, Grigorian’s brother, said she is “perfect” for the kind of work she does.

“Helping underprivileged people is one of her biggest passions,” Alvandi said.

“I wish there would be more media coverage for what they are doing there to see how one person can make such a difference,” he said.

Grigorian said there are many challenges the PRT faces, but some of their focuses include development of villages, youth development and working with local elders in the area.

“I would like for the American public to know what a wonderful job the military is doing,” Grigorian said. “At the end of the day, the mission is to put smiles on faces.”

Nelly Kazman, executive director at the San Fernando Valley Campus and senior adjunct professor, said she is proud of Grigorian.

“We are really fortunate to have a star like her,” Kazman said.

“Ultimately, she is expressing the American culture, the compassionate culture,” Kazman said. “She’s living the ideals of what this country stands for.”

Kazman said that Grigorian is living out the mission statement of ULV, which emphasizes values, community and diversity, lifelong learning and community service.

“She lives out the core principles of the University,” Kazman said. “It tells us as a University, with a good sense of reality, that what we are doing is good for people in the 21st century.”

“For a woman to function in two male dominated worlds, Afghanistan and the U.S. Army, at the same time she must be competent, and thick skinned.. She is both, and much, much more. She is always asking questions about projects that reflect her experience and expertise with developing countries. These questions are often not asked by military officers due to lack of experience, and/or fear of not satisfying the chain of command. She sees the second and third order effects of good projects, and, equally as important, those same effects of poorly planned/executed projects. She is not afraid to make the tough choice to ‘shut a project down.’ I'll be leaving Afghanistan in about 7 weeks, leaving Hilda behind to provide continuity to the next team. I hope they understand very quickly what a valuable asset she is to USAID, the PRT, and to Nangarhar Province. It has been my pleasure to serve with her this tour,” CPT O’Donnell said in an e-mail.

“I’m an optimist, and I have hope for this country,” Hilda Grigorian said.

Information about USAID and the work being done in Afghanistan can be found at www.usaid.gov.

Susan Acker can be reached at susan.acker@laverne.edu.

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