Going to a country in the midst of a war probably isn't something most people would consider. But Dr. David Hodgson, a veterinary anesthesiologist at Kansas State University's College of Veterinary Medicine, is not most people.
Hodgson, a professor in K-State's department of clinical sciences, just returned from his third trip to Afghanistan, where he's been working with Kabul University to better prepare the country's future veterinarians.
"The thing that really keeps me engaged in this effort is the enthusiasm the students have and their real desire to learn and develop clinical skills and expertise," he said. "If I didn't think that I was having a significant impact, I wouldn't keep going back."
Hodgson first heard about the chance to go to Afghanistan in a hallway at K-State's Veterinary Medical Teaching Hospital. For some time, he'd been considering serving internationally, going as far as to research the possibility of working with the Peace Corps.
When Hodgson made his first trip to Kabul University in 2007, he found the students ill prepared and the university's curriculum and textbooks very much out of date. He said much of his first trip was spent encouraging university faculty to update their materials and dealing with a shortage of drugs, supplies and equipment needed to effectively teach the basic diagnosis and treatment of ailments in a variety of animal species.
Friends and co-workers at K-State's College of Veterinary Medicine and the department of clinical sciences helped by donating thousands of dollars in equipment, supplies and current textbooks to the Kabul University Veterinary Clinic. Hodgson said their constant interest, support and encouragement provided him with a source of strength and a desire to represent them well in the impoverished country. In return, Hodgson made the students and staff at Kabul University constantly aware of how interested everyone at K-State was in their educational opportunities.
During this last trip, Hodgson spent his mornings at the veterinary clinic and out in the field teaching current techniques in veterinary medicine appropriate for Afghanistan. In the afternoons he worked with the university's veterinary science faculty, offering help and encouragement for any staff member wanting to update lectures or revise the outdated curricula.
Hodgson said he has learned a lot about cultural differences, but that living in Afghanistan can be challenging. He has been personally faced with security issues, given the activity of the Taliban in and around Kabul. He said that at the beginning of each trip it takes him several weeks to adjust to the food, water and time change in Afghanistan. Reliable access to the Internet and electricity also were daily challenges.
But Hodgson said the sacrifices he endured were well worth the potential beneficial outcomes for students and staff members.
"The real thing that is going to change Afghanistan is education," he said. "The funds that we direct toward education at every level will effect more positive change in this country than money that is directed toward war and further destruction."
Hodgson describes his work in Afghanistan as a calling and said that he will return again next year. He said he wants his students at Kabul University and the people of Afghanistan to know that people in the U.S. care about what they're going through.
"I want them to know that there are people at K-State and in the United States who care that they are making progress and care about the things they want to do to better their living conditions and their future opportunities," Hodgson said.