Opening Reception and kick off for The Afghan Well Project

Exciting news!!  Global Village Photographer has teamed up with Fahima Vorgetts (Afghan Women’s Fund under Women for Afghan Women) and the capital region Women Against War to build a clean water well in Mir Tagi Shah, a village south of Kabul.  [see Times Union Articlehttp://www.timesunion.com/AspStories/story.asp?storyID=900274&category=REGION] In building a well we are addressing one of the underlying causes of the Afghan humanitarian crises rather than relying on a military solution to the problems.  This is a more effective way to address the deep-rooted and multi-faceted problems inherent in war-torn areas.  I am excited because theAFGHAN WELL PROJECT offers a long-term solution to create human security for the Afghan people in Mir Tagi Shah. Click on the following colored text to see The Afghan Well Project brochure.  You may also print this brochure to pass to people who might be interested in supporting the project.

Fahima, an Afghan American, has raised funds to build wells, clinics and schools in villages in Afghanistan.  It is Fahima’s memories of her early years living in Afghanistan that prompt her to dedicate her life to improving the plight of women in her native country. In her own words, “Afghanistan haunts me. It is my country and my heart breaks for my sisters who undergo daily oppression and hardship there. My passion and life’s work is to reclaim and rebuild the country so that women can be free and equal and can live a life of dignity, literacy, and financial stability.”

Fahima speaking at FUUSA in December 2009

Fahima came to the Albany area in December of 2009 sponsored by WAW and spoke at some of the local colleges (Saint Rose, Siena, Russel Sage) and at public meetings.  She was a guest at Frank’s and my house during this time. Over many cups of tea, we discussed the problems in Afghanistan, focusing on the needed solutions. Both of us cried for our love for the Afghan women and for our frustration that we were not seeing more progress. Not being able to sleep one night after one of these discussions, combined with what I have seen and learned as I have traveled in Afghanistan, it became clear to me that here was where we needed to place our energy…. the actual on-the-ground assistance to Afghan citizens.  From this midnight dreaming the Afghan Well Project was born.

Fahima approaches a community, meeting with the village elders to determine what they need and want. These projects are carried out cooperatively with the village elders deciding priorities and by using village members to work on the projects. In this way they take ownership, thus protecting their own investment. For any of you who have listened to or read Greg Mortenson’s Tree Cups of Tea or Stones into Schools you understand what he has learned and how he has become so successful with his projects in Pakistan and Afghanistan. Greg was interviewed recently by Bill Moyers and speaks very eloquently about his work  [http://www.pbs.org/moyers/journal/01152010/profile2.html] Fahima is no different in her approach and has successfully built a number of schools. Visit her Valley Caravan Gallery web site to learn more about her work. http://www.valleycaravan.com/index.html

We will be kicking off fund raising for the Afghan Well Project at the reception for my current photography exhibition.

Afghanistan Revisited

Photographs taken in September/October 2009

Internally displaced women working in her tent home sewing to earn money to feed her family.

Opening Reception and Kick off for The Afghan Well Project

Friday, February 19, 2010         5:30 to 9pm

See the photos:
February 7- February 28, 2010
Hours: Mon- Fri 9:00am – 4:00pm
Sunday 9:00am – noon

Forum presentation February 21 11:45

First Unitarian Universalist Society of Albany
405 Washington Avenue, Albany, NY

I will be bringing  to this reception additional photographs taken during this last visit to Afghanistan that will be available to purchase to support this project. There will be note cards from around the world, photographs from previous trips to Afghanistan and a few silk scarfs and bags embroidered by Afghan women for sale as well.  Another piece of the Afghan Well Project will be for me to travel with Fahima to Mir Tagi Shah to document the village and  the building of the well. I will record interviews with villagers and return to this village periodically to see the results of the well and work toward other projects that may be needed by this village such as a health clinic, a women’s cooperative and a school for girls and boys. Up dates will be given in multi-media presentations as the project progress.

Fahima Vorgetts will be returning to the capital district area to assist with raising $10,000 for the well in the beginning of March. As we firm up her schedule I will be posting dates for events.

Events/ News/ Radio

Norman in a friend’s Kabul compound.

The promised honorable mention photograph from the The Albany Center Gallery Member’s show.

January 8th has come and gone.  The Peace Corps Reunion & Afghanistan night was very well attended by people who came to see my images, meet women who had lived and worked in Afghanistan in the late 1960’s, enjoy and Afghan buffet at Fifty South.  Kim and Chris from The Mango Tree were their usual generous selves.  In 1969 The World Health Organization had made the eradication of small pox its top priority. The film Once in Afghanistan recalls 17 women who joined the peace corps, learned to vaccinate, traveled to Afghanistan

Children of Northern Afghanistan

and worked with their Afghan male counterparts to eradicate smallpox from Afghanistan. “We walked in on weddings, on funerals…whatever was going on and vaccinated everyone.”

Volunteer reconstituting the Soviet freeze-dried vaccine

I was delighted to meet Jill Vickers one of the filmmakers from Dirt Road Documentaries as well as some of the peace corp participants. It was powerful to see the results of President John F. Kennedy’s challenge made January 20, 1961. I too remember when he said, “And so, my fellow Americans: ask not what your country can do for you – ask what you can do for your country. My fellow citizens of the world: ask not what America will do for you, but what together we can do for the freedom of man. ”  For more information about this film please see the link to their web site.

Kara Lozier from American Councils for International Education brought two young Afghan men who are attending school in Vermont.  One I had met in Schenectady a couple of years ago.  He also works with Sally Goodrich who lost their son Peter on September 11th on flight 175.  The Goodrich family has established a foundation in Peter’s name.   One of their projects is to help this young exchange student build a library in his home community of Bamiyan.

Sunset Bamiyan 2005

While at this event we were interviewed by John Piekarski for his news and information source for Southern Saratoga know as soSara.  You can view his remarks from the link at the bottom right of this site.  Today I also learned that he has written an article for the Balston Journal and they will be publishing a selection of images from my exhibition Afghanistan Revisited at the Mango Tree through January 31.  I will be taking the show down that Sunday to hang  it at the First Unitarian Universalist Society of Albany, 405  Washington Avenue (more about that in the next entry).

After I returned from Afghanistan in October 2009 I was interviewed by Susan Barnett. The program just aired on WAMC’s 51% which may be heard on National Public Radio.   It is show number 1070 when you go to the link.

As you can tell I am full of many Afghan events and people doing great work. On January 14th I traveled to the Schoharie Free library to hear Sue Spivack speak of the Peacemakers of Schoharie County’s efforts to raise funds to support an orphanage know as the House of Flowers in Kabul through MEPO (Medical, Educational and Peace Organization) an organization which also has humanitarian projects in Africa and Nepal.

Next post will contain information for the next showing of Afghanistan Revisited as well as information concerning raising funds to build a clean water and irrigation well in a village south of Kabul this spring.

Current Exhibit

My first exhibition of images from the September/October 2009 journey to Afghanistan is currently at Mango Tree Imports, 2124A Rt 50, Ballston Spa, New York   #518-884-4652 until January 31st.  There will be a special event January 8th, 2010.

Poster for Friday’s event.

Here are two of the images that are featured in the exhibit.  The first is a panoramic taken from the roof of the house of an Afghan family who introduced us to a variety of Afghan public officials.

View of Kabul from Asad and Noorai’s roof.

One of the most moving interviews we had was with Dr. Soraya Sobhrang, Commissioner  for Women’s Rights of the Afghan Independent Human Rights Commission.  She is an OBGYN who fled Afghanistan during the Taliban rule. She has chosen to return to Afghanistan to help her native people, particularly women, at tremendous risk for her own safety.  She has received death threats because of her activities.

Dr. Soraya Sobhrang.

To learn more of my current conditions in Afghanistan and my experiences please contact me to speak to your group or to present an exhibition of my images.

I also am very honored to have received and honorable mention for my submission for the members show at the Albany Center Gallery juried by Tammas Groft, Deputy Director of Collecti0ns and Exhibitions of the Albany Institute of History and Art.  The photograph is one of my first attempts at High Dynamic Range Photography.  Believe it or not it is of a friends compound in Kabul, Afghanistan.  When I learn how to convert this type of image to a format that I can up load I will include it here.

Our last days together

Boys and their toys at Camp Eggers. National Guard from Indiana at a “small” base in Kabul

Afghanistan, 2009

Afghanistan, 2009

Afghanistan, 2009

One of or members wanted to buy musical instruments for her daughter so Asad and Noorai, our Afghan friends who Jodie from CodePink knew from their time in the Bay area, took her to the musicians street. One man who made rebab’s payed for us. The high light was the “older” gentleman of approximately 40 years started to sing a Pushtu song of the love of Afghanistan. Having lived in Kabul all his life in a family that followed the musical tradition of father and mother teaching their children who then carried the information to the next generation. During the Taliban time they buried their instruments in the ground in the basement of their house. If they had been discovered they would have been severely beaten or killed. We all felt his love and our hearts melted as we too found a peaceful, joyous, beautiful county from the tone and tenor of his song.

Afghanistan, 2009

Media Benjamin and Jodie Evans stand on either side of to very brave and courageous women who spoke of the shia family law and the protest they arranged to get the law changed. Telling of how empowered – as well as terrified – they felt as 200 to 250 brave women faced off hundreds of very angry men and women. They continue their work knowing that they have the support of many and the revolution once again is beginning.

October 2nd, 2009 in Afghanistan

Afghanistan, 2009

Afghanistan, 2009

Orphanage children

Shinkai Zahune Karokhail member of Afghan National Assembly

Right Place at the Right Time

Afghanistan, 2009

We keep busy almost every minute with meetings of all types. One of the highlights a couple of days ago was listening to Soraya director of women’s rights in the Afghanistan Independent Human Rights Commission. She was extremely energetic with a sparkle in her eye. She spoke of the work they did to protest and successfully change the Siai (forgive my incorrect spelling) family law. She invited us to attend a women’s conference Afghanistan – India – Pakistan Trialogue for Peace that just happens to be while we are here. So yesterday we attended the opening and met with many different people during a tea break and lunch. The day before yesterday we visited Shinkai Zahine Karokhail, a member of the Afghan National Assembly, in her home experiencing her dedication to women using her position to prevent unjust laws from passing for women and to create a better position for women. It surprises me just how much access we have had to these people. Must get to breakfast to give me energy for the days activities.

Beautiful People

A twenty-five year old mother.

Afghanistan, 2009