Afghanistan: Radio, theatre and television for social development

In the West it’s easy to take information for granted. But imagine an existence without it. How would we take control of our lives and make sensible life choices for our families and ourselves without trusted information coming through education and media?

Between 2007 and 2009 I worked with Equal Access, a media for development NGO, in Afghanistan. Together with a team of highly motivated Afghan men and women, we story-lined, wrote, recorded and produced dramas, documentaries and presenter-led chat shows for radio, television and theatre for populations in Afghanistan with few vital media arteries for accurate information or entertainment.

With the support of international donors such as the US State Department, the UK FCO, the Open Society Institute; and with national government bodies such as the Ministries of Health; Education; Culture and Information, I worked with the production team to create entertaining, sometimes funny, but most crucially, informative programmes. We shared our skills and local understanding and combined it with technology to make simple, effective media, which suited the settings in which it was performed and aired.

I witnessed how educated local people could transmit their own knowledge and understanding through various media to other less-informed citizens. The media was by the people for the people; by women for women; by youth for youth. We learned together how, equipped with accurate information, individuals and communities can change their behaviour towards healthier and more productive lives.

During this time we created over five radio series for broadcast; mobile theatre productions which toured countrywide to remote villages and girls schools and boys schools; we found funding for and built a television production studio in Kabul to produce a television soap opera and two television documentaries about opiate addiction in the country. One of these, ‘I am an addict’ broadcasted on Afghan television channels and in mobile cinema format in remote villages and schools. And the other, ‘This is my Destiny’, made with an all female team to gain access to women’s stories of addiction in a culturally sensitive environment, was released internationally. We travelled to some of the most remote regions of the country including to the Wakhan Corridor in the North Eastern province of Badakhshan to record their stories. For us in the West, these tales of addiction in Afghanistan were as new a story as they were for Afghan audiences.

This is my Destiny screened at festivals including The Great Game at the Tricycle in London, and won best director at the Film Directing For Women Festival in London. I co-directed the film with Bahareh Hosseini and the editor was Marta Velazquez.