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I’ve had enough of feeling helpless about the war in Afghanistan. It’s time to take action, and stand with one woman who is waging peace and prosperity for Afghan women.
I want you to meet Suraya Pakzad, one of the most inspiring women I know. She runs shelters for women who need a safe place to stay for a while. She’s not afraid to tell Afghan and foreign power-brokers where to stick their crappy policy ideas and let them know what really needs to happen in Afghanistan and – maybe best of all – she’s teaching Afghan women business skills so they can take care of themselves and their children. Free. Independent. Powerful.
I met Suraya when I was living and working in Herat, Afghanistan. She’s the founder and director of Voice of Women, an organisation dedicated to serving and supporting Afghan women.
Although I think everything she does is love-and-light-filled-genius, there are people who object strongly to Suraya’s work. The drug treatment centre for women she has established is unpopular with those who would rather deny the existence of drug-addiction among Afghan women. Her women’s shelters and support programs make it possible for Afghan women to leave violent homes or forced marriages. Conservative influences within the government have tried to prevent the women’s shelters from operating, and angry husbands and fathers have threatened her life.
Fortunately, Suraya doesn’t scare easily.
In 1998, against a landscape of oppressive Taliban rule under which women were not allowed to receive education, Suraya created an underground movement to teach women and girls how to read, violating the law in the interest of literacy. Many girls and women attended class despite the risk, because they realized the value of an education.
Since the fall of the Taliban, Suraya has operated Voice of Women openly in Afghanistan despite many challenges.She runs a range of projects that support some of the most disadvantaged women and girls in Afghanistan. Her shelter programme provides refuge to girls and women at risk and allows them to take part in literacy and income generation activities. She works with women in jail and children in conflict with law to protect the rights of victims of abuse. She also provides community paralegal and psychosocial support to marginalized women.
Suraya was the first woman in Afghanistan to train other women entrepreneurs to run a restaurant (a project close to my heart not only because I also now run a restaurant but because I used to enjoy eating in the Voice of Women restaurant in Herat).
Suraya has won numerous awards for her work, including being named by TIME magazine as one of the top 100 people in 2009 and awarded as a Woman of Courage by the US Government in 2008. But this recognition does not always translate into financial support. Funding the day-to-day operational costs of the shelter is a constant challenge. In 2010 the shelter had a funding shortfall of US$58,000.
This year I have personally committed to do everything I can to help raise the money Suraya needs to fund her work, particularly the shelters for women she runs in Herat, Badghis and Ghor – three of the provinces where I lived and worked in Afghanistan.
To Mama With Love is a social media campaign run by Stacey Monk of Epic Change. Last year, it appeared at the top of Mashable’s lists of “4 Innovative Social Good Campaigns for Education”, attracted over 13,000 visits from across the globe and raised nearly $17,000, which was invested to build a children’s home in Arusha, Tanzania.
Unlike some other fundraising campaigns, To Mama With Love is built on a celebration of equality and mutual support. Rather than motivating people with guilt and sad stories, we aim to motivate people with stories of women who are already doing great work.
Obviously, once again, I have lept before I looked. Those of you who know me know that my heart tends to lead the way. I trust my heart when it tells me “Marianne, you are going to raise $20,000 for Suraya”. I generally have NO idea how I’m going to do it when I sign on, and this is no exception. But I’ve learned to trust that if I do my part, and if I call in the support of passionate friends and generous strangers, amazing things can happen.
So whether you are a passionate friend or a generous stranger, I need your help. Here are some ideas of ways you can help:
Artists make the world a place worth living in. So it’s really, really important to give them props. These are the artists (musicians and photographers) whose creations made my first ever animated video a fabulous success.
‘Hope’ by Fat Freddy’s Drop (extremely cool Wellington dudes)
Jessica Tana Bankoff (Taken at Curtin University, Australia)
Kristen Yarmey, University of Scranton Weinberg Memorial Library
Mackenzie Lawrence, PeacexPeace
Patricia Melton Smith, PeacexPeace
NB: some of the photos in this video were given to me by Suraya and I am not sure who the photographer was. If it was you, thank you! The remaining photos are mine.