July 26, 2010
Afghan Womens Writing Project
The Afghan Women’s Writing Project began as an idea during novelist Masha Hamilton’s last trip to Afghanistan in November 2008. Her interest in Afghanistan was sparked in the late 1990s during the Taliban period, when she understood it was one of the worst places in the world to be a woman. Masha first visited the country in 2004, and was awed and inspired by the resolute courage of the women she met. When she returned, she saw doors were closing and life was again becoming more difficult, especially for women. She began to fear we could lose access to the voices of Afghan women if we didn’t act soon.
The Afghan Women’s Writing Project is aimed at allowing Afghan women to have a direct voice in the world, not filtered through male relatives or members of the media. Many of these Afghan women have to make extreme efforts to gain computer access in order to submit their writings, in English, to the project.
Most of our Afghan writers participate in the project partially or entirely in secret from friends and family. We cannot provide details on how some women have been able to submit their stories in order to protect them from those who would not approve of their participation. Due to security concerns, we use the Afghan women writers’ first names only, generally editing out names of family and friends and removing locators. On rare occasions, security has required that the pieces be anonymous. In all cases, we or our liaisons in Afghanistan know these women well and can vouch for the authenticity of their stories.
The project reaches out to talented and generous women author/teachers here in the United States and engages them, on a volunteer, rotating basis, to teach Afghan women online from Afghanistan. We use women teachers due to cultural sensitivities in Afghanistan. The writing workshops are taught in three secure online classrooms.
Submissions are edited in a back-and-forth process for grammar and clarity, but remain the work of the original author. The goal of the project is to encourage the women to develop their voices and share their stories, something that was not permitted during the years when Afghanistan was Taliban-held.
The AWWP online magazine is a key part of the project. It is intended to instill a sense of pride in these women. It also aims to enlighten our readers about life in Afghanistan and to provide a positive link between Afghans and their readership.
Everyone involved in the project has donated their time and energy, from Jeff Lyons, the California-based blog master, to Rose Daniels in Brooklyn, NY, who contributed site design, to Terry Dougherty, the Indiana-based technical specialist who worked tirelessly to set up the online classrooms, to Tahmina Popal, our liaison in Afghanistan. The author/teachers themselves are teaching pro bono, making time in already very busy schedules.
In finding the writers in Afghanistan, Masha sought the guidance and advice primarily of American Ted Achilles, founder of SOLA (School of Leadership, Afghanistan), who has been living for more than five years in Kabul and Kandahar. She also sought advice from other American friends living there who have connections with young writers at Kabul University. Sally Goodrich, of the Peter M. Goodrich Memorial Foundation, provided the link to Ted Achilles and others. Mrs. Goodrich, along with her husband Don, supports Afghan students here in the U.S., and has spearheaded the building of a girls’ school in Afghanistan.