I spent the past week with Alberto Cairo on a whirlwind tour of three U.S. East Coast cities – Boston, New York, and Washington D.C. – speaking about the physical rehabilitation work of the International Committee of the Red Cross in Afghanistan, including our wheelchair basketball program. The tour was organized by the ICRC’s delegations in D.C. and New York and was a fantastic opportunity to raise awareness among several key audiences about the challenges faced by people with physical disabilities in Afghanistan and what the ICRC is doing to help.

Alberto and I flew from Kabul to Boston, where we gave a keynote presentation at the launch of the ICRC’s new collaborative platform for humanitarian innovation in partnership with Swissnex Boston. The presentation was formatted as a moderated discussion led by NPR’s Tom Ashbrook. We followed addresses from several impressive speakers, including Ban Ki-Moon, recent former Secretary General of the United Nations. Our discussion, which can be viewed here, was very well received by an audience of diplomats, thinkers, and humanitarian leaders. Afterward, Ban Ki-Moon came up and personally thanked each of us for the work we’ve done, saying the presentation was very moving for him, particularly since he had spent time in Afghanistan himself during his years leading the U.N. I’ll admit: it was pretty cool to be thanked by someone who has himself done so much important work in global affairs (and whom people address as “your excellency” in conversation).

While in Boston, we also had the chance to meet with several professors at MIT – including the amazing Hugh Herr – to discuss projects they’re working on to develop breakthrough technologies in the field of physical rehabilitation. It was fascinating to hear about the innovation happening on topics including prosthetics, spinal cord regeneration, and wheelchair design for the developing world. What an amazing opportunity to get to hear from true geniuses about the important work they and their students are doing.

After Boston, we spent parts of two days in New York, where we had a string of meetings and presentations lined up. The first meeting was with the deputy UN representative from Afghanistan who, upon our entering his office, immediately recognized Alberto. It turned out that early in his career he spent a year teaching English at the ICRC Orthopedic Center in Mazar-i-Sharif. Everyone in Afghanistan is connected to Alberto somehow; he’s the Kevin Bacon of Kabul.

The following afternoon, Alberto and I were invited to the Italian delegation to the U.N, where we were scheduled to present our story to members of the U.N’s “Friends of Afghanistan” group as well as members of the U.N. Security Council. We assumed that just a few country representatives would make the time in their busy schedules to join, but the conference room quickly filled to capacity, with U.N. representatives from over 20 countries attending. We again got great feedback, with the representative from Canada speaking for the group in saying that they very rarely get to hear such inspiring stories. It was a great chance to build the foundation for important bonds with such an influential group.

We then spent two days in Washington D.C. meeting with more interesting groups – including one at the State Department – and doing several media interviews, including one at the offices of National Public Radio (for their Goats and Soda international development blog, which should be posted soon).

It was an honor to be able to join a legend like Alberto and tell my small part in the phenomenal story of the ICRC’s work on behalf of people with physical disabilities in Afghanistan. It was also great to draw the attention of several important audiences back to Afghanistan after it has increasingly drifted off the radar of the international community in recent years due to fatigue over what seems to be an endless war. Sitting in meeting rooms in U.S. metropolises may not be quite as exciting as teaching players in conflict zones how to play wheelchair basketball, but I hope taking the opportunities offered to do the former will lead to support that will allow me and the ICRC to do much more of the latter.

I arrived in Gaza today to spend the next week and a half working with players, coaches, the local Paralympic Committee, ICRC colleagues, and my old friend, Ehsan Idkaidek from the West Bank, with the goal of helping Gaza wheelchair basketball take another big step forward in its development.