Tuesday, February 17, 2015

First Impressions of Afghanistan and the Creativity in Action Program

Heddy Lahmann-Rosen, a Bond Street company member, just returned from her first visit to Afghanistan with Michael and Joanna for our new, two-year Creativity in Action program. Heddy will visit Afghanistan a handful of times during the course of the program, acting as our Outside Evaluator, and eventually using this research in her PhD thesis. 

I'm a little late to the party on getting a blog entry going for my time with the Creativity in Action program in Afghanistan, but I'll do my best to give a flavor of the whole experience. 

I embarked upon the adventure to Kabul with Michael and Joanna in mid-January, and I stayed for 2 weeks. Joanna and Michael are still there working away at building this program and making sure it's got the wings to keep flying when they come back.

My first week primarily consisted of a good amount of administrative work and preparation for this big and ambitious program. This baby is no small feat! The Creativity in Action program is 2-year youth development project that includes 15 young people from each of 25 provinces across Afghanistan (375 youth in all!). The program is providing jobs for local Afghan artists to work with youth– teaching them about expressing themselves and accessing their creativity, and then mentoring them and supporting them as they create and implement improvement projects in their own communities. If you can't tell, I'm pretty excited about it. So excited in fact that I'm centering my (eventual) dissertation around this phenomenal program!

So what's Kabul like? That’s kind of a tough question to answer, because I didn't really see so much of the outside world except through the car window. What did I see out the window? Well, Kabul is less conservative than other parts of the country. Some women wear burqa’s, although there are very few women on the streets anyway. I’d say it’s like 90% men. Unpaved roads for the most part. The air outside smells smoky from the ovens they use to warm homes. It’s winter and pretty cold – ranging from around 35 degrees F to 50. The heating isn't what we’re used to in the US, so lots of layers are necessary. It even snowed a few days while I was there!

The driving in Kabul is really something. It’s positively fearless (except for a Western passenger like me) – I mean, we navigated through the most insane tangle of cars on the way home one night– I thought we might be in serious trouble and stuck there for awhile (because if we were in the US, we would have) – but somehow our driver just wriggled, honked, and near-missed his way through. It was something to behold. 

The food is awesome! Maybe with the exception of breakfast, but that’s just because they don’t really do breakfast like we do. But everything else was AMAZING. Flower street, which had several florists up and down the street, was very pretty! Butcher street is not so pretty, as you might imagine.

The Afghan people I had the opportunity to meet are lovely. Very kind and warm. I met and spent some time with the Afghan artists who are/will be leading the youth workshops and are long time friends and creative partners of BST. They were all so eager to share their thoughts and experiences with such openness and enthusiasm. It was a major highlight!

I also had the opportunity to see some of the youth workshops in action in the Balkh region. I had such a wonderful time  meeting and getting to know the youth participating. They're a very inspirational group. They were incredibly warm and welcoming and had many questions about my doctoral program and my experience of being in their country. They are all very concerned and passionate about the state of their community and country and are eager to talk about the problems they see and ideas for ways to go about addressing them. I was pretty floored by how engaged they were with the whole process from the get-go. After I left, the youths from Balkh and Kunar met in Kabul for a combined workshop. This program provides a unique opportunity for connecting young passionate problem-solvers from across the country and across ethnic divides. It's killing me to have missed the Kabul workshop! But alas, my spring semester classes beckoned me back. I've been living vicariously through email updates from Joanna on the collective workshop with the 2 groups in Kabul- I will let her tell it- from what I read, the experience is something truly special.

I'm already looking forward to my return!

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