Post by Kristen Hewitt, Intern for the Afghan Women’s Writing Project and student at The Salt Institute for Documentary Studies

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Credit: Kathleen Rafiq

Art can be a powerful activist tool. As a poet and aspiring documentarian, I‘ve come to see that a single voice telling the story of a life changing, emotional experience can be enough to spark of compassion—to move people to act.

The Afghan Women’s Writing Project was created to give women in Afghanistan a direct voice in the world, unfiltered by male relatives or the media. Volunteer writing teachers from the US hold classes online, and help the women to develop their voices by writing stories and poetry in English. The women then upload their work, parts of which are published on a blog.  These women document their hopes, fears, struggles, and victories, opening a window for readers on what women’s lives were like growing up under the Taliban, and what they feel about conditions in their country now.

The project is about fostering good will and understanding between the Afghan women and their readers. It is both an opportunity to empower these women, and for readers to gain perspective on Afghanistan, thus forging a link between America and Afghanistan.

Because of the increasing danger for women to visit an internet café by herself, our goal is to provide laptops and jump drives, so that they can write in their home and then have a male friend or relative upload their work for them. We are also beginning fundraising to build the first women-only internet café in Afghanistan.

This opportunity for women in Afghanistan to tell their stories is also a chance for readers to connect to citizens of Afghanistan—to listen to other human beings with compassion. These are not arguments about government policy, military action, or aid, but personal experiences of the people that these things directly affect. This project shows the impact of conflict on these women’s lives, and allows them to tell about it for themselves. When those who support violent actions understand the human cost or identify with a victim, they become more reluctant to support such violence.

Voices of people directly impacted by war and violence are so easily lost. As socially engaged human beings, we should always seek out those voices that will move us and change our awareness.  Democracy dies without the voices of the least powerful. Despite overwhelming circumstances, the women in this project create beautiful poetry and moving stories. And once those reach the ears of the world, they may just be able to change it.

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