Mightier Than the Sword fundraising begins


DSC_2519Mightier Than the Sword

A documentary project by Journeys to the Edge

 Journeys to the Edge (J2E) is very pleased to announce a partnership with Entertainment Media Arts Society (EMA). The Canadian charity, under President Jacqueline Feldman of Vancouver, is supporting J2E’s upcoming project: a documentary to be filmed this summer in Afghanistan titled Mightier Than the Sword: The Emergence of Female Afghan Journalists and Filmmakers and their Impact on Gender Perceptions in Afghanistan. J2E will require $30,000 to cover the cost of accommodations, security, equipment, translators, drivers and crew salaries — most of whom are being recruited from the Afghan film and TV community. In support of this initiative, which will explore the advancements made by Afghan women in the media and their impact on profoundly conservative, patriarchal attitudes, EMA has agreed to issue charity receipts for donations that support the production of Mightier Than the Sword. 

Mubareka-Sahar-FetratThe main character in the documentary is 20-year-old Mubareka Sahar Fetrat (“Sahar”) of Kabul. Sahar is an outstanding example of Afghan youth — deeply committed to helping nurture women’s equality. Already a prolific documentarian as well as a scholarship student at Kabul University, Sahar has an impressive list of film credits, including Kabul Cards, which chronicles the lives of three young Afghan girls in Kabul, and Do Not Trust My Silence!, about Afghan women living with ubiquitous street harassment. Mightier Than the Sword will record the extraordinary challenges Sahar faces as she undertakes another documentary this summer, filming in the busy, dusty streets of Kabul. The documentary will also capture the lives of other female journalists and media professionals as well as civil and women’s rights activists and politicians. These include people like Mozhdah Jamalzadah, who has been called the “Oprah of Afghanistan” and whose show, Mozhdah, had a profound and positive impact on Afghan society during its two-year broadcast, addressing some of society’s most taboo and controversial topics.

If you have a question contact J2E Director Roberta Staley at rstaley@shaw.ca or 604.738.9251. Cheques should be made out to Entertainment Media Arts Society and can be mailed c/o Roberta Staley #108 – 975 West 13 Ave. Vancouver, BC V5Z 1P4. A tax receipt will be mailed to you within three weeks.

The documentary is expected to debut in Vancouver in 2016.  All donors will receive, in addition to a tax receipt, copies of the film and in invitation to the preview screening.

 Entertainment Media Arts Society is a registered charity No. 861280428RR0001. 

EMA President Jacqueline Feldman (604) 720-2174  steelnblues@telus.net Website: http://emasociety.blogspot.ca.




Return to Afghanistan inspires hope — and warning

Mellissa Fung

How does one pass the time while a chained captive in a dusty hole in Afghanistan? Journalist Mellissa Fung, who was on assignment in 2008 with CBC News when she was kidnapped while exiting a refugee camp, prayed—a lot. She also smoked—12 cigarettes a day, carefully meted out over a 24-hour period: half a cigarette at the top of the hour, the other half at the bottom of the hour. Fung also contemplated the lives of the many refugees and orphans she had met—children like Eid with the pink headscarf, who wailed with grief when she was forcibly separated from Fung. Even held captive, with her life hanging in the balance, Fung realized she was better off than many of the refugees she had encountered.

Fung’s captivity ended 28 days later when Afghan intelligence secured a prisoner swap. Afghanistan and its people, however, haunted Fung upon her return to Canada, and her book, Under an Afghan Sky: A Memoir of Captivity, was written in part to try to reconcile with the ordeal.

Fung spoke about her harrowing odyssey to a crowd of more than 200 on April 29 at the H.R. MacMillan Space Centre in Vancouver. The event—organized by Canadian Women for Women in Afghanistan—showcased Fung’s 15-minute documentary, “Return to Afghanistan,” which aired on CBC’s The National this past December. “A lot of people thought I was crazy to go back,” says Fung. However, dismayed at the negative coverage about Afghanistan dominating the Western media, Fung wanted to return to tell “good stories” about the country. Fung pointed to the remarkable statistics: more than 10 million children in school, with more than 40 percent of these girls, in comparison to rampant illiteracy under Taliban rule.

Fung related other stories about the people of Afghanistan, remarking upon one orphan Afghan boy whose face was severely disfigured by burns. At one time, such a boy would have been an ideal target for Taliban recruiters, but he was determined to focus upon getting an education. If educational opportunities had been available to her captors, Fung said, perhaps they “wouldn’t have been doing what they were doing.”

Education has become a powerful tool to improve the standard of living for Afghan families. NGOs like Canadian Women for Women in Afghanistan have implemented literacy and teacher-training programs that have significantly helped the Central Asia nation recover from a protracted civil war. However, said Fung, Afghanistan still needs support from Western nations to ensure that the tremendous gains that have been made aren’t lost, due to a still-precarious economy and security concerns about Taliban insurgency.



Afghan-Canadians Condemn the Taliban and Celebrate their Nation’s Election

7571Leila, a Langara College student, attended the anti-Taliban rally in Vancouver.

More than 75 Afghan-Canadians gathered in front of the Vancouver Art Gallery on April 6 to condemn Taliban terrorists who—despite threats of violence—were unable to derail Afghanistan’s historic national election, held April 5. “I felt like a kid on Christmas day,” said 22-year-old Hamid, one of Afghanistan’s diaspora who watched the elections on television with his mother. “It’s very, very cool.”
Small children sat on the grey, stone steps of the Vancouver gallery, holding signs directed at the Taliban such as, “Enough! Stop Killing!” while their mothers, fathers, sisters and brothers listened to members of Vancouver’s Afghan community condemn Taliban insurgencies.
In the run-up to the election, the Taliban stepped up its attacks in Afghanistan, targeting such landmarks as La Taverna du Liban, a famous Lebanese restaurant in the capital of Kabul. Two Canadians died in the attack that killed more than 20 people. Days before the April 5 election, another attack wounded Canadian AP journalist Kathy Gannon and left Pulitzer Prize-winning photographer Anja Niedringhaus dead. North Vancouver optometrist Roshan Thomas, who created the Sparks Academy in Afghanistan for girls and boys, was also killed, along with Calgary nurse Zeenab Kassam, in an earlier Taliban attack at Kubul’s luxury Serena Hotel.
“The recent killings were a shock to the world,” Afghan-Canadian Mustafa Delsoz told the Vancouver crowd. “We show solidarity with those who have passed away.”
Lauryn Oates, the projects director for Canadian Women for Women in Afghanistan, which has established schools, teacher-training and gender equality programs in the Central Asian nation, also spoke at the rally. The Taliban’s sole “goal is the surplus of violence. They are against modernity, civilization and human rights,” Oates said.
Oates declared the April 5 election “a triumph that is unparalleled.” Twelve million Afghans were eligible to vote, and the turn out was estimated at about 60 percent—double the number who voted in the last national election. Many millions of women cast their ballot, a momentous step forward in a nation where fundamentalist Islamic edicts set forth by the Taliban during their 1996-2001 reign stripped women of any rights. Mr. Parwani, who organized the anti-Taliban protest, added that the increase in women voters communicated a definitive “ ‘no’ to terrorism.”
Leila, a 26-year-old Afghan-Canadian nursing student, was thrilled by the elections. “It’s so exciting, I wish I was there to be a part of it.”
Pundits are saying that a clear winner will be unlikely to emerge from the April 5 elections, thus requiring a runoff election in the near future.
DSC_7584Children in Afghanistan are often the victims of Taliban violence, a tragic legacy that Afghan-Canadian youngsters are acutely aware of.
27634Lauryn Oates, projects director of Canadian Women for Women in Afghanistan, says that, for the Taliban, violence is an end in itself.
7619The Taliban are especially brutal towards Afghan women.
DSC_7563Afghan-Canadian children participated in the April 6 rally to protest widespread Taliban violence.
7603Sabit Mirzad (left) and Wali Sarwari are Afghan-Candadian students who have high hopes for Afghanistan’s future following the success of the democratic national elections April 5.

Nurturing a free press key to Afghanistan’s democratic future

Ariana TV (ATN) transmission towers above Kabul, Afghanistan. ATN, a private television network, was launched in 2005. It focuses on informative, cultural and entertainment programming.

Saad Mohseni, chairman of the Moby Media Group, the largest media organization in Afghanistan, recently penned an article about the importance of the media to the future of democracy in Afghanistan. Within five years of the 2001 fall of the Taliban, Mohseni writes, Afghanistan saw the growth of “the freest media sector in the region,” which allowed “civil society to flourish.” This development of a free press, Mosheni added, was “our greatest accomplishment since 2001.” As a result, gender inequality issues and violence towards women became part of the public discourse and awareness around such things as polio vaccinations and voter registration was disseminated. With the upcoming national election in April, it is vital that a new president and his government extend protections to the media. As a safety net, Mohseni adds, the international community must place conditions on aid to protect press freedoms in the years to come.
Mohseni’s position resonates profoundly with Journeys to the Edge. Nurturing, protecting and respecting a free media is something our organization is actively trying to support in Afghanistan by giving the J2E Emerging Journalist Award to Mubareka Sahar Fetrat of Kabul, Afghanistan’s capital city. Sahar, only 18, but already a prolific documentary filmmaker, has been accepted into Vancouver’s Langara Digital Film Production course, an intensive four-month program that will enhance her filmmaking skills, allowing her to become an even more significant figure in the Afghanistan media when she returns home. It will also help prepare her to realize her dream of running Afghanistan’s first female-headed production company.
Two months into 2014, Journeys to the Edge is still working with Sahar on obtaining a Temporary Resident Visa. She has made the initial trip to Islamabad, Pakistan, which is the closest Canadian visa office to Kabul (something that needs to be changed!) but must return for a second visit with additional documentation. It is a long and challenging process, but we remain highly optimistic that Sahar will be here in time to start the Langara College program this September.
The future of Afghanistan lies with its youth, of which Sahar is an excellent example. Like their counterparts in other parts of the world, they have “an insatiable appetite for entertainment, news, and current affairs,” writes Mosheni. They are the leaders and the peacemakers of tomorrow. It is important for the West to keep this in mind, and continue to support the nation in tangible ways.

Media Democracy Days Media Fair

Journeys to the Edge is attending this year’s Media Democracy Days Media Fair, Saturday, November 9th 2013.

Come visit our table and talk to us about our exciting plans for 2014. The Media Fair will run from noon to 5 p.m. at the Vancouver Public Library Promenade. http://mediademocracydays2013.ca/

Journeys to the Edge is thrilled to announce that Sahar Fetrat of Kabul, Afghanistan has been accepted into the Digital Film Production course at Langara College in Vancouver. We are now in the process of raising funds for her to pay for tuition and travel and living expenses.

Journeys to the Edge is also starting preliminary work on a documentary about the amazing work of Afghan-Canadian cardiologist Dr. Asmatullah Naekbhil of Windsor, Ont.. He has opened a cardiac centre and we are planning to return to Kabul, Afghanistan next year to create a documentary about his work helping the thousands of Afghans who suffer from heart disease.


Dr. Asmatullah Naebkhil and staff, Kabul, Afghanistan.

Afghanistan Rising

Journeys to the Edge is gearing up for the Thursday, 27 June 2013 multimedia event and fundraiser, Afghanistan Rising, documenting the resurgence of education, gender equality, culture, fashion and civil society in Afghanistan. By showing how far the country has come since the Taliban were ousted by United States and NATO forces in 2001, Afghanistan Rising will reveal how much could be lost should the Taliban regain power when the West withdraws in 2014.
Purchase tickets at: afghanistanrising-journeystotheedge.eventbrite.com
$20 admission · $15 seniors & students · $25 at the door. Chapel Arts, 304 Dunlevy Avenue, Vancouver. 7:00 pm – 9:00 pm (Doors open at 6:45). Door prizes and raffle. A portion of the funds raised will to to support Young Women For Change in Afghanistan.

Afghanistan Rising will introduce you to Dr Lauryn Oates, the Burnaby-based projects director of Canadian Women for Women in Afghanistan. You will visit the open-air markets of Kabul, a sensory overload of scents and sights like saffron, turmeric, dried rose petals, harvest vegetables and livestock. You will be introduced to world champion Qu’ran singer Ahmad Reshad Mamozai, and an Afghan rug designer whose wares sell as far afield as Vancouver. You will meet a female politician who is fighting for gender equality and rule of law, members of the Afghanistan women’s boxing team, the owners of Kabul’s famed Toofan Beauty Salon, an international fashion designer. jewelry makers, and an Afghan-Canadian cardiologist who treats everyone for free – even ex-Taliban.


Elay Ershad – MP


DSC_4998swAfghanistan MP Elay Ershad looks out upon the elegant gathering of men and women under starry skies on the open-air terrace of Kabul’s Park Star Hotel. Two years into her tenure, and the public is still focused on her public deportment rather than her politics. Tomorrow, Ershad predicts, she will be condemned for mingling in a crowd of men. “I don’t care,” she exclaims.

A 43-year-old single mother, Ershad is working to make Afghanistan a better place for her daughters, aged 21 and 16. The biggest challenge, says Ershad, stylish in jeweled sandals, white headscarf, embroidered black tunic and pink lipstick, is the absence of rule of law. The country has excellent legislation criminalizing child marriage, forced marriage, rape and beatings. But the laws are rarely enforced. Ershad also criticizes the treatment of women in divorce court. “The judge is usually a man who says, ‘shame on you, why are you applying for a divorce?’ ” Divorce often means losing custody of the children. “Why does Parliament accept this much pain?” Ershad demands.

Zarif Design – Zolaykha Sherzad

Many brave women have entered civil society in Afghanistan as businesspersons, educators and politicians since the Taliban were pushed out of Kabul by NATO-led forces. Few, however, have done it more beautifully than Zolaykha Sherzad, the founder of Zarif Design in Kabul. (Zarif means ‘precious’ in the Dari language.) Sherzad is part of a dynamic cohort that is showing what can be done when educated women are freed from an oppressive patriarchy.

Afghanistan-born Sherzad was a teenager when her family fled the country in the 1980s during the Soviet Union invasion. She became a professor of architecture in New York and attended New York City’s Fashion Institute of Technology. Sherzad returned to Afghanistan in 2000 to open School of Hope in Ghazni province, one of the few areas not under Taliban rule at the time. Smitten by the richness of Afghan culture, Sherzad began collecting fabrics and bought traditional pieces of clothing from the marketplace. “I recut, reshaped and recreated 20 pieces for a pilot fashion show,” says the slight, dark-haired 44-year-old. The positive response to that first exhibit led to the creation of Zarif Design in 2005. Soon, Sherzad’s clothes were being sold internationally at agnès b. stores in Paris, New York and London and worn by  people like Afghanistan President Hamid Karzai. Sherzad continues to use Afghanistan textiles and embroidery accessories like buttons cast from ancient Persian coins.

For Sherzad, Zarif Design is a way to connect the rich cultural past to Afghanistan’s dynamic future. While conservative forces in Afghanistan still oppose women’s independence, Sherzad bridges this vast gulf, showing that the past can be amalgamated with the present to create something new and beautiful that enriches the nation’s economy by providing good-paying work for women. Sherzad employs many Kabul housewives, educating them in the art of clothing design. They are like family, and create suits, jackets, evening gowns and wedding dresses on Singer sewing machines in the cozy cottages surrounding Sherzad’s main office, where she keeps sample racks for visitors. Sherzad has also created a ready-to-wear clothing line, introducing the Afghan public to the concept of sizes—a radical shift for a people who have always worn tailor-made garments.

Sherzad’s fashion house is sublime, and a subtle assertion that the new Afghanistan is a place of equality for women. One of her most creative designs is hand-woven silk dress with tiny, precise rows of accordion pleats that follow the body’s shape yet hides it, mimicking the burqa’s mystery. “The burqa is thought of as repressive,” yet, under Sherzad’s creative control, is transformed into a thing of beauty while remaining a symbol of female piety and modesty — a small but defiant act in Afghanistan’s gender wars.

Courage, Education & Hope

Our first story from Afghanistan, “Courage, Education & Hope,” will be available online at the University of British Columbia’s Trek Magazine: http://trekmagazine.alumni.ubc.ca. The story features Lauryn Oates, projects director for Canadian Women for Women in Afghanistan. The article articulates Oates’ position that literacy to key to helping Afghanistan achieve permanent stability and security, gender equality and rule of law.

If you want a PDF of the article, please contact us.


It Takes a Village

takes a village
Journeys to the Edge team Roberta Staley and Tallulah Photography are guests on the Vancouver co-op radio show “It Takes a Village” on CFRO 100.5 FM. Hosted by Varya and Molly, our interview will run from 4 p.m. to 4:30 p.m. on Thursday, Oct. 25. We’ll be sharing tales from our travels in Afghanistan as well as Colombia, Haiti and South Africa. The stories will focus on issues related to kids’ literacy, health and justice as well as baking na’an bread. Tune in!