Afghanistan / Art / International / Leaders & People

Art as a Peacemaker in Afghanistan?

Bird Dove BlueImpossible to imagine that art could possibly be a mechanism to bring peace and prosperity to the Afghan community.  However, in the midst of war, terror by local militia, food shortages, domestic violence, artisans are finding peace and hope by crafting silk scarves, jewelry and even modifying traditional tent lining felt into home interior products for the American market.

Rameen Javad, founder of the Afghan Communictor, is tirelessly reaching out to anyone who will listen to do business with the Afghan artisans.  On a visit to Washington, D.C., Rameen took the chance to introduce his products to the manager of the Freer Sackler Galleries of Art gift shop.  With the curator’s approval, Rameen received an order for hundreds of products made by Afghan artisans.  Rameen has created a successful link between Afghan artisans and the American market.  The Freer Sackler Galleries of Art shop hosted a trunk show and now is selling items on their web site. Luxurious silk, felt and jewelry items are for sale. Rameen urges people to know that by purchasing just one item they will make a difference in the life of an Afghan artisan and create a little bit of peace.

Often we may look at the label where a product may be made, but often how does one ask who made this product? Rameen described one artisan and how doing a fair business changed his life.  He wrote, “Whenever I remember a certain master artist who lost his young wife to a road accident but was able to save himself and one of his children from death through the sale of his works, it brings me satisfaction to continue my volunteer work for the artists. Still recovering, he moved me when he told me that my assistance has made him believe in his craft and he is eager to get back to work. After months of physical therapy, losing his home and counting on family to take care of him and his two children, he finally was able to buy a house, remarry and produce even better work that is still unrivalled in Afghanistan.”

Why is this important?  This relationship is direct, accountable and transparent.  If we could create more relationships like this perhaps our discussion on foreign aid would include more open market opportunities; job opportunities with a fair wage; and ultimately more human dignity and respect.

In the news today, the discussion is on whether the US should send more troops or not or what to do with foreign aid.  Are we really looking at the problem the right way?  The Afghans are outraged that the international community promises so much money to aid Afghanistan, knowing that most of the money never enters Afghanistan.  Most of the money is paid to donor country aid agencies, supplies, administration and security.  A mere fraction of the aid actually spurs the Afghan economy whether for jobs, products or infrastructure.  On the other side, the international community is demanding accountability, transparency and less corruption.  Perhaps foreign aid should be used to stimulate the local economy instead of the donor country economy.  Perhaps by successfully energizing the local economy there would not be the insecurity and desperate need for security.  I would be curious to know the cost benefit analysis on potential results if the available funding for the military and aid was used instead for boosting the local economy.

Rameen is passionate about his strategy to support the Afghan artisans and their families.  He wrote earlier, “With love for Afghanistan, understanding and respect for people’s needs and very limited resources, I have managed to revive an industry to a certain extent. I am not alone in this, but my work more then feeds people, it revives a lost prestige and a lost profession, it revives the culture of Afghanistan and it brings independence and dignity to people. To those who believe in more troops, more money and more experts, I say to come and see my example and see how easy it is to save Afghanistan. If you empower people who have done something in the past for Afghanistan and who care about Afghanistan and its future, then with limited resources they will change this country. Afghanistan was ran by Afghans for five thousand years, thus the only people who can save this country are those who care for it and have contributed positively for Afghans and Afghanistan in the past.”

In my opinion, Rameen and the Freer Sackler Galleries of Art are peacemakers and should be recognized as such.  In addition, anyone who makes a purchase of one or more of the items should be honored as well.  This cycle of fair business is what makes this world a better a place.

By Keri Douglas, writer/photographer, Washington, D.C.

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