Monday, November 01, 2010

Afghan Update: Meetings, NGOs, and International Aid

We have had great meetings... with Kabul University, theatre groups, NGOs, old friends, cultural organizations, etc. and the Embassy.  Everyone has been very happy to see us, interested in the project, hopeful for its success, and yes... they do see dollar signs when they look at us, but most have been genuinely helpful, interested and generous.

Prof. Hussainzadah, the head of the Theatre Department at Kabul University was our first stop – he knows everyone in the theatre business in all of Afghanistan, and has been introducing us to every director of note and the most promising students and inviting us to the important events. Fortunately there was a big Arts Festival at the famous Bagh-e Babur (Babur’s Garden) that attracted directors and artists from all the provinces. We met the Directors of the National Theatres in Herat, Mazar, Jalalabad and Jowzjan Provinces, and have gotten a good sense of what their needs are, who funds them, how they survive, and their hopes or doubts about the future. And we’ve met some of the smaller theatre groups and see how they survive. In a nutshell – foreign money.

The Goethe Institute is the big funder for arts here, and the Norwegians. There’s money flowing into Afghanistan from everywhere, for every purpose, for odd scraps of time… and it’s completely disorganized. No one seems to coordinate with anyone else. Wouldn’t it be great if the Norwegians, who are sending four actresses here to work with the girls at the University for one week (!) to coordinate with us who will be working for five months, and with the French who only seem to bring Afghans to France for extended study, with the Germans who fund this and that theatre group with no communication with anyone else?

It’s really a lesson for us to stay in touch with these groups so we can try to coordinate a plan to move theatre forward in some concerted way. For example, the theatre director from Herat said every foreign group that comes in a requests they do a play about HIV-AIDS. So you have dozens of plays about AIDS and the real issues of water use, agri-practices, anti-corruption, or whatnot are ignored. I get the gist – these are all fine ideas but it might be better to let the Afghans make some decisions about what is important to address. But the counter to that is – the Afghans only want to line their own personal pockets and aren’t looking at the big picture. And the government – that does look at the whole picture – is too corrupt to organize and implement anything. Sigh.

from Joanna in Kabul

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