Communicating Afghanistan Through Photos

Getting the world to listen through photos is a big part of Massoud Hossaini’s work as a photographer in Afghanistan. Even in a moment where he receives compliments and awards from around the world- including the Pulitzer prize– for his tragic photo “Heartbreak”, his message remains the same – the world must know what is happening here, because what happens in Afghanistan always has and always will spill beyond its borders and reach us in some way, no matter where we live on the planet.  Photography, media, conflict, beauty, and art; a followup on a conversation that started on a rooftop in Kabul back in 2010- we spend the hour with photographer and citizen of the world, Massoud Hossaini.

Massoud Hossaini – Amsterdam 2012

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?”

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.

Jalalabad Video Journal

Prior to departing from Jalalabad after completing our work there on behalf of Small World News and Internews Afghanistan, I recorded this video entry to briefly explain what we’ve been doing.  I also include a few images from the trainings we’ve been doing as well as a small taste of some Jalalabad visuals.

as a side note: A huge thank you to everyone at the NAI center in Jalalabad, Internews who were great to work with, and also the good people at the Taj who made us feel at home and showed us another amazing side to working in Afghanistan.  We will surely stay in touch and look forward to seeing you all again. ( I say “we” because Im positive the same goes for my colleagues)

Bringing Internet to Afghanistan

Juan Rodriguez

Since the beginning of 2011 Juan Rodriguez has been working in Afghanistan with the mission to help this country communicate.  This has meant bringing internet connectivity to schools, mobile phones for farmers, and an array of crowdsource projects for health, security, and agriculture.  On one beautiful and relaxed Friday afternoon in Jalalabad, Juan and I sat in the garden of the wonderful Taj to record this program and tell this story.

International Synergy Group

Juan’s Photostream 

Behind Walls in Jalalabad

“Has anyone NEVER flown on a helicopter before?” asks the tall, well armed soldier with an Australian flag sewn onto his flak jacket with oh so many extra banana clips in it. “We haven’t!” – my colleague and I are the only ones of the group of 5 to respond. “Oh,” he cracks a smile and his blue eyes light up, “You’re gonna love it! No worries!”  Not that we needed reassuring, but when you’ve just found out that your transport from the capital city the second largest city closer to the border with Pakistan is an old Russian Mi-8, being guided by guys who say “No worries mate” makes it all the more exciting.

Enjoying the SceneryFrom the moment we step into the belly of the chopper I’m mesmerized by all the Russian writing and the obvious fact that since this thing was manufactured, back around 1961, very little seems to have changed.  “If I give a signal it means we’re going to land hard so just put your arms up and lean forward like this,” our easy going flight chief shows us, as his machine gun dangles at his side.  Minutes later we’re floating above the city and racing, as much as such relics can race, along the path to Jalalabad.

The 1.5 hour journey seems to last much longer, but we can’t be sure since we’re so busy taking photos and being amazed by this machine we’re sitting in and the changing landscape not so far beneath us.  After dropping off a VIP at some military outpost, we eventually find ourselves being dropped off inside yet another military outpost. As we step off the helicopter I see the sign: “Forward Operating Base Finley Shields”, a base I would later learn was named for two soldiers who died while on a mission in this area. We wander the lanes of the base slowly with our gear as the afternoon heat pounds on us, after alot of discussion with many layers of Afghan Army guards we eventually find our ride outside the gates.

The driver greets us, and we listen to our first long conversations in Pashto; new region, new language.  As we drive away from the base I’m impressed by the amount of businesses bustling with activity.  Mechanics, furniture makers, metal workers, food vendors, textiles, the list goes on and on.  The other common scenery, as we eventually pass through Jalalabad, are the schools and organizations with their elaborately painted signs, slogans, and murals outside their massive walls. Many are the world renowned names, but others appear to be simply local organizations with an education or community outreach focus.  The people along the road also strike me as interesting for one basic detail, no one here is wearing western clothes.  Unlike Kabul or Herat, the only other cities of Afghanistan that I know, in this Pashtun world, the shalwar kameez is the only outfit to be worn by men.  On the women’s side I see more burka’s then I’ve ever seen in any other town.  Just as everyone has tried to explain to me, this place has its very distinct differences that one can’t help but notice all the time.

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.