Notes on Training in Afghanistan

“Does it have any impact,” a friend recently asked me, “giving video training to different groups in Afghanistan for only 1 week?”

Surobi
Flying over the Jalalabad road back to Kabul.

If by impact he meant does anything get learned that will be useful to the students now and in the future, then my answer is yes.  In the short span of 4 to 6 days, I watched as young adults in Western and Eastern Afghanistan made visible strides forward in the world of creating video reports and telling stories.  From camera work to editing, from the planning to the telling of a story, each person’s abilities saw some improvement.

For those who already had experience in the world of media, we were able to address skills they had been wanting to develop to further help them at their jobs.  Maybe someone who already worked in radio, learned the missing basics in video so that they could now do both at their work place. Another example were those who worked at issue focused non-governmental organizations, if their employers had not yet made use of video material to highlight or promote their work, after this training these individuals could now implement such activities.

Of course the context is Afghanistan, where education is not always so easily accessible and specialized.  Where many are unemployed and eager to learn new skills, even if it is not clear how or when these skills will make a difference in their professional lives. In such cases they walk away familiar with another area of media production, another ability they can call upon later.  In fact, through centers like the ones these trainings were hosted by, the same students who attended our sessions, could continue working on stories and practicing what they’ve learned on their own or in a group setting. The necessary equipment; basic ingredients like electricity, computers, cameras, and even internet access, are all available for use.

Wouldn’t it be wise to have followup where we return and build upon what we’ve started? Sure, that would be nice for students as well as we the teachers. But again, in the context of Afghanistan, we also know it is a major cost to bring in foreigners to a land where transport, security, lodging, etc, don’t come cheap.  With the money spent on having trainers come from outside, the center could theoretically have bought more equipment for students and more gas for the generators to power that equipment.  As much as I’d love to come back to Afghanistan to teach again, as much as I love sharing my journalism experience with students there, I also see how if we could help ensure that qualified trainers could be found within the country, this could help make an even more significant impact for even more future students.

But beyond this discussion, even beyond the struggles of a vegetarian health-nut in regions that have no concept of either term, it was once again a pleasure and a privilege to get to work in a country as interesting as Afghanistan.  A big part of what makes it so, are the people, from the organizations that we get to know, to the students in the classroom, and lets not forget all the fellow workers at the guest houses that become friends along the way. These people mixed in with the sights and smells, yes even the bad ones, make for an unforgettable learning experience and adventure of the sort few people on this planet get to have.

Once again, thank you friends in Afghanistan. Your personal missions and collective kindnesses are the biggest inspiration I have ever known.

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Herat Roundup Vlog

After one week of teaching video production in Herat, Afghanistan, the following video was made during my last hours in the city.  It goes over my impressions of the city, the work we’ve been doing here (our company Small World News, currently doing work for Internews), and other interesting facts/observations.

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The Return to Afghanistan

Greetings from Kabul, dusty but determined capital of the country everyone has an opinion about: Afghanistan. For the second time in my life, I’ve arrived in Kabul.  No longer confused or intimidated with how things look or work (or don’t work), being back in this magic town is like starting your second year of high school. You’re far from mature and wise, but you’re better prepared and strangely comfortable.

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The Familiar Hills of Kabul

Over the next 16 days as part of the intrepid Small World News training team, we will be working as part of the international media development organization Internews. The mission is to teach, train, guide, and share knowledge with aspiring journalists, film makers, new media producers with all manner of interests and objectives.  With our combined experiences, not to mention the unique experiences of these young people, we intend to better prepare them for the career that could lay ahead.

During the course of these trainings, I’ll be telling my own stories of what I see and what I hear, as always. But to be here in Afghanistan in 2011, one year after having been here for the elections of 2010, one prevalent feeling in the air (at least the air I breathe) is that at this point in global history, Afghanistan is no longer important. The international light that once shined on this place has grown dim, with those who wield it unwilling or unable to keep it on much longer. Whatever the typical time limit for attention and engagement this fickle and easily distracted world, it has been reached.  Listen to a political speech or a news analysis and you’ll hear what to many are good arguments to stop engaging in helping this nation rise from the decade old ashes. Yet here we are, not just Small World News, but so many dedicated people, who still come despite the risks, obstacles, and the criticism; who still work hard for a specific purpose.. helping people build a strong nation with a good foundation.  A foundation that took and will take substantial time and investment in various forms.

So it goes. Working in Afghanistan, for Afghanistan, long after it has gone out of style.

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