In September, I travelled to the Ahangaran Valley in the Bamiyan province of central Afghanistan to work with local children as they produced videos about their school, their lives, and their dreams for the future.
Bamiyan made headlines back in 2001 when the Taliban destroyed the ancient Bamiyan Buddha statues that had been etched into mountainsides. For more than 1,500 years, pilgrims from across Asia had set up camp near the Buddha statues and the huge caves beneath them. Now, only the caves remain.
But it is not only the Buddha statues that are missing. The region of villages and valleys near the provincial capital also lacks hospitals and schools. One of the areas without services is the Ahangaran Valley. We entered the valley in a UNICEF jeep and drove along a dusty, rocky path to a small village in the mountains.
The village participates in the Let Us Learn initiative and it is where the OneMinutesJr. video workshop took place. OneMinutesJr. is a video initiative by UNICEF, giving youth, especially those who are underprivileged or marginalized, the opportunity to have their voices heard and to share their ideas, dreams, fascinations, anxieties, and viewpoints with the world.
Let Us Learn in a school building made from clay
The girls and boys who participated in the workshop were between 11- and 14-years-old and attended the local community-based learning centre in Ahangaran. The centre was established in the village because the closest formal school was too far away. It provides children with a basic education that can increase their chances of entering formal education if area infrastructure and access to schools improves.
The centre is one of almost 400 in Afghanistan and is part of Let Us Learn, an initiative also active in Bangladesh, Madagascar, Liberia and Nepal. In Afghanistan, the centres provide 9,000 children with the chance to access education in their villages – an impossibility before Let Us Learn.
Girls and boys study together
Most inhabitants of the region are Hazaris, an ethnic group with moderate views on religious and social norms. As a result, boys and girls attend lessons together.
The centre’s building is made from rocks and clay. It has two classrooms, a prayer room and a kitchen. Only a narrow sliver of daylight that breaks through from an opening in the ceiling. The classrooms have no desks or chairs. The students sit on traditional pillows and use a blackboard. Our workshop took place in the bigger of the classrooms.
Video workshop without electricity
To get to the workshop in Ahangaran each morning, we drove for 45 minutes from the United Nations compound in Bamiyan. The long trip was necessary because of strict security precautions. However, we also needed to return to the compound each night to charge our cameras and computers because there was no electricity or running water in Ahangaran.
The children in the workshop had never held a camera in their hands before. But they were curious, open-minded and keen to immediately start shooting their films. First, however, we gave them detailed instructions and discussed how to turn their ideas into stories so the filming could proceed smoothly.
Most of the students’ stories took place in or near the learning centre. Some focused on life in the mountains. As a result, we got a glimpse of the children’s lives. We learned that children in the village cook, do laundry, fetch water and work in the fields. Many do a combination of all these chores.
Counting sheep in the morning
The boys, in particular, start early every morning by taking sheep into the mountains to graze. They do not return until nearly noon.
One of the boys, 11-year-old Ali Aga, set his OneMinutesJr. film, ‘Practice’, in the mountains. It is a movie essentially about counting sheep.
The way to school
The importance of the Let Us Learn centre to the children became evident when we talked to them about their future jobs. Some of the boys and girls wanted to become doctors, others wanted to be engineers and some wanted to be teachers in the schools they expect will exist someday in their village.
It was also interesting to us that none of them expressed plans to leave the village. They all wanted to stay and contribute to the improvement of their community.
In this video, 12-year-old Qodrat described his journey to school and why he was so eager to learn and finish his education.
17 films in four days
In only four days, we filmed 17 movies with the young participants. The films provided great insight into the lives of the Afghan children and demonstrated to us how important projects such as Let Us Learn really were to the village. The films also captured the importance of education and the benefits to a society when every child can attend school.
When we left the Ahangaran Valley, we saw some of the boys and girls from the workshop making their long and dusty way from the centre to their homes. From the distance, the young filmmakers waved goodbye. The next day, they would be ordinary students once again – after they had counted sheep.
This blog was originally posted by the German National Committee for UNICEF.