Issues & Analysis

Afghanistan: “Pakistan: Worse Than We Knew”

Book Review by Ahmed RashidJUNE 5, 2014

Alexandra Boulat/VII

A pro-Taliban rally in Quetta, the capital of Pakistan’s Balochistan province, circa 2002

During the Afghan elections in early April I was traveling in Central Asia, mainly in Kyrgyzstan. I wanted to inquire into the fears of the governments there as a result of the US withdrawal from Afghanistan. What did they think of the growth of Taliban and Islamic extremism in Afghanistan and Pakistan? Officials in each country cited two threats. First, the internal radicalizing of their young people by increasing numbers of preachers or proselytizing groups arriving from Pakistan, Bangladesh, and the Middle East. The second, more dangerous threat is external: they believe that extremist groups based in Pakistan and Afghanistan are trying to infiltrate Central Asia in order to launch terrorist attacks.

Islamic extremism is infecting the entire region and this will ultimately become the legacy of the US occupation of Afghanistan, as the so-called jihad by the Taliban against the US comes to an end. Iran, a Shia state, fears that the Sunni extremist groups that have installed themselves in Pakistan’s Balochistan province on the Iranian border will step up their attacks inside Iran. In February Iran threatened to send troops into Balochistan unless Pakistan helped free five Iranian border guards who had been kidnapped by militants. (The Pakistanis freed four of the guards; one was killed.)

Chinese officials say they are particularly concerned about terrorist groups coming out of Pakistan and Afghanistan that are undermining Chinese security. Although China is Pakistan’s closest ally, its officials have made it clear that they are closely monitoring the Uighur Muslims from Xinjiang province, who are training in Pakistan, fighting in Afghanistan, and have carried out several terrorist attacks in Xinjiang.

Terrorist assaults from Pakistan into Indian Kashmir have declined sharply since 2003, but India has a perennial fear that Islamic militant groups based in Pakistan’s Punjab province may mount attacks in India. Many Punjabi fighters have joined the Taliban forces based in Afghanistan and in Pakistan, and they have attacked Indian targets in Afghanistan. India is also wary of another terrorist attack resembling the one that took place in Mumbai in 2008.

Some five thousand Pakistani soldiers and policemen have been killed and some twenty thousand wounded, both as targets of terrorist attacks and during offensives against them. The economy has sharply declined, and there are widespread electricity shortages. The political elite is divided and at odds with the military over how to deal with terrorism, while many in the middle class are leaving the country.

Two years ago all the states in the region would have publicly or privately accused Pakistan’s military and Interservices Intelligence (ISI) of supporting, protecting, or at least tolerating almost every terrorist group based in Pakistan. The ISI had links with all of them and often collaborated with them. Recently those relations have changed. Governments in the region now accept that Pakistan is in some ways trying to fight terrorism on its soil. But those governments are also concerned that the Pakistani military and political elite have lost control of large parts of the country and cannot maintain law and order. The US and Western countries fear that Pakistan’s nuclear weapons arsenal is vulnerable and that terrorists in Pakistan may be planning an attack comparable to that of September 11.

There is still no overall political or military strategy to combat Islamic extremism. The Pakistani army tries to suppress some terrorist groups but not, for example, those that target India. Such a selective strategy cannot be maintained indefinitely and poses enormous risks to the entire world.

Since the mid-1970s the ISI has supported extremist Islamic groups in Afghanistan including the Taliban, but that policy may now be changing. Contrary to many predictions, the situation in Afghanistan may be taking a turn for the better. Despite the threat of Taliban reprisals, seven million Afghans turned out on April 5 to vote in the first presidential election in which President Hamid Karzai was not a candidate. This was also the first genuine attempt in Afghan history to transfer power democratically. A remarkable 58 percent of the 12 million eligible voters turned out—35 percent of them women. Although the Taliban did not make a show of force to stop the vote, relatively few people voted in many Taliban-controlled areas in the south and east. Preliminary results released on April 26 show the Tajik leader Abdullah Abdullah in the lead with 45 percent of the vote and his Pashtun rival Ashraf Ghani trailing with 32 percent. Over three thousand cases of fraud still have to be investigated before the count is final.

Since neither candidate had a majority of 50 percent, there will be a runoff election between the two by the end of May. A new government will not be in place before July, which means that a security agreement with the US, which all the candidates have agreed to, will be delayed. The US and NATO want a military force of some ten thousand to stay in the country in order to train the Afghan army and gather intelligence. Such an agreement will be necessary if the US Congress and Europe are to be persuaded to keep the Kabul government financially afloat. Afghanistan needs a minimum of $7 billion a year to pay for its budget and army. In January the US Congress cut by half the $2 billion earmarked for US aid to Afghanistan.

To bring the civil war to an end the new president will try to open talks with the Pashtun Taliban in Afghanistan. Pakistan is now also keen on such talks because two thirds of Pashtuns live in Pakistan, including members of the Taliban, and there has been talk by Islamists of carving out a separate Pashtun state. Will the Pakistan military put pressure on the Afghan Taliban leaders who live in Pakistan to talk to the new government in Kabul while Pakistan deals with its own Pashtun problem? A lot will depend on whether a much weakened Pakistan still has the power to force the Afghan Taliban to engage in negotiations.

All the recent books I have seen on the Afghan wars have recounted how the Pakistani military backed the Taliban when they first emerged in 1993, but lost its influence by 2000. Then, after a brief respite following September 11, 2001, Pakistan’s military helped to resurrect the Taliban resistance to fight the Americans. My own three books on Afghanistan describe the actions of the Pakistani military as one factor in keeping the civil war going and contributing to the American failure to win decisively in Afghanistan.*

Now in The Wrong Enemy: America in Afghanistan, 2001–2014, Carlotta Gall, theNew York Times reporter in Afghanistan and Pakistan for more than a decade, has gone one step further. She places the entire onus of the West’s failure in Afghanistan and the Taliban’s successes on the Pakistani military and the Taliban groups associated with it. Her book has aroused considerable controversy, not least in Pakistan. Its thesis is quite simple:

The [Afghan] war has been a tragedy costing untold thousands of lives and lasting far too long. The Afghans were never advocates of terrorism yet they bore the brunt of the punishment for 9/11. Pakistan, supposedly an ally, has proved to be perfidious, driving the violence in Afghanistan for its own cynical, hegemonic reasons. Pakistan’s generals and mullahs have done great harm to their own people as well as their Afghan neighbors and NATO allies. Pakistan, not Afghanistan, has been the true enemy.

Dogged, curious, insistent on uncovering hidden facts, Gall’s reporting over the years has been a nightmare for the American, Pakistani, and other foreign powers involved in Afghanistan, while it has been welcomed by many Afghans. She quickly emerged as the leading Western reporter living in Kabul. She made her reputation by reporting on the terrible loss of innocent Afghan lives as American aircraft continued to bomb the Pashtun areas in southern Afghanistan even after the war of 2001 had ended. The bombing of civilians was said to be accidental, supposedly based on faulty intelligence; but it continued for years and helped the Taliban turn the population against the Americans.

Before human rights groups or police arrived in remote, bombed villages, Gall was often there first. Thus in July 2002, she writes of driving “for three days over dusty and rutted roads” to reach a village in Uruzgan province that had been bombed during a wedding. Fifty-four wedding guests were killed, including thirteen children from one household, and over one hundred people were wounded. The survivors of this massacre “were collecting body parts in a bucket”—Gall’s quote of the provincial governor that haunted reporters and other observers in Kabul. She continued:

Sahib Jan, a twenty-five-year-old neighbor, was one of the first to reach the groom’s house after the bombardment. Bodies were lying all over the two courtyards and in the adjoining orchard, some of them in pieces. Human flesh hung in the trees. A woman’s torso was lodged in an almond sapling…. Bodies lay in the dust and rubble of the rooms below.

Some of those killed were friends of President Karzai and these bombings infuriated him and caused his relations with the US to deteriorate. As late as 2009 Gall was still covering such disasters, as when US planes bombed the village of Granai, killing 147 people—“the worst single incident of civilian casualties of the war.”

Carlotta Gall was, in effect, a one-woman human rights agency. She spent much time and effort exposing the torture and killing of Afghans taken prisoner by the Americans. This was a highly sensitive issue—the American victors did not expect American media to expose their wrongdoings. But Gall went ahead. She told the heartbreaking story of Dilawar, a naive taxi driver who was wrongly arrested in Khost in eastern Afghanistan, incarcerated in an isolation ward at the US airbase at Bagram, and then beaten to death by his American jailors. She spent many weeks tracking down Dilawar’s family and obtained the death certificate issued by the US Army:

I gasped as I read it. I had been looking to learn more about the Afghans being detained. I had not expected to find a homicide committed by American soldiers.

Nobody was ever charged and the same US team of interrogators was deployed to Abu Ghraib in Iraq—the other site of grisly US treatment of prisoners. Gall’s modesty does not allow her to mention that it was this story that led to the making of the 2007 Oscar-winning documentary Taxi to the Dark Side.

Robert Nickelsberg

Prayer flags at a Taliban graveyard on the outskirts of Kandahar city, Afghanistan, February 2005; photograph by Robert Nickelsberg from his book Afghanistan: A Distant War, just published by Prestel

All her skills were put to the test when she reported on the death of Osama bin Laden in Abbottabad and tried to discover whether senior Pakistanis had been hiding him all along. Methodically adding one fact to another, she concludes not only that some were, which is convincing, but that all the top officials in the military and the ISI knew of his whereabouts, although the evidence she offers for such widespread knowledge is not wholly plausible; and her assertion that there was a specific “bin Laden desk” at the ISIappears, from my own inquiries, to be flimsy.

For many Pakistanis the main failure of the government is that nobody has ever been punished or held responsible either for hiding bin Laden or not discovering him earlier. Gall surmises that the ISI had let it be known that bin Laden’s hideaway was an ISI safe house. That is why nobody ever knocked on the door—a reasonable assumption.

However, the fiercest opposition to her views comes from American officials themselves. They insist, as they are obliged to do, that none of the top Pakistani leaders knew of bin Laden’s whereabouts. Gall’s conclusion that the Obama administration deliberately kept the ISI’s role in harboring bin Laden secret in order to save the US–Pakistan relationship is difficult to accept for two reasons. The first is simply the propensity of officials in Washington to leak to journalists. The second is that US–Pakistani relations would collapse a few months after the killing of bin Laden over different issues, notably Pakistan’s support of the Taliban. The US therefore would not have been so concerned to protect its relations with Pakistan.

Most states today, including the US and NATO countries, believe that the Pakistani military is no longer in control of the Taliban in Afghanistan or capable of putting decisive pressure on them. The army leaders have too much of a problem at home with their own Pakistani Taliban. Their ability to persuade the Afghan Taliban to make peace with Kabul is very limited. Moreover, the Pakistani military has shown no willingness to kick the Afghan Taliban out of Pakistan and back to Afghanistan. The civilian government is trying to negotiate with the Pakistani Taliban but the military is against such talks and would rather use force, a major division in policymaking in Islamabad. There are enormous risks involved, such as the two Talibans merging to fight the Pakistani army.

The Pakistani military belatedly understands that a Taliban conquest in Afghanistan would eventually ensure that Pakistan would find itself with a Taliban government in Islamabad. As Gall recounts, the Pakistani army has spent years propping up the Afghan Taliban, training their fighters, allowing them to import arms and money from the Arabian Gulf and to recruit among Pakistani youth. As Gall shows, the army even decided which tactics the Afghan Taliban should use. The army is now desperate to find a political solution that would send the Afghan Taliban home.

Many army and police officers find themselves confused as they are ordered to protect some Taliban and other extremists and kill others. Pakistani officials are supposed to be loyal allies of the US and they take its money but they also are encouraged by powerful Pakistanis to promote anti-Americanism in society and the army. There has been no adequate explanation for these dual-track policies, which have ravaged state and society and undermined the army internally. Moreover the army is still not prepared to give up its militant stand against India.

Gall writes that Pakistani soldiers “were fighting, and dying, in campaigns against Islamist militants, apparently at the request of America, but at the same time they were being fed a constant flow of anti-American and pro-Taliban propaganda.” Unfortunately she does not acknowledge that there have been shifts in the military’s thinking and that it faces the more open kind of confusion over its strategy and its loyalties that I have described. Her book starts and ends on the same note even though thirteen years have elapsed.

Afghans have observed that the ISI has not interfered in the Afghan elections. Contrary to its policy since the 1970s, it has avoided favoring Pashtun candidates. It has also tried to improve relations with the former anti- Taliban Northern Alliance (NA) warlords it once opposed by meeting with the leaders of Tajik, Hazara, and Uzbek groups that were the major components of the alliance. Consequently all the Afghan presidential candidates have softened their comments on Pakistan, avoiding the harsh rhetoric of Hamid Karzai.

Yet for the reasons described by Gall, the Pakistani military still does not comprehend how deeply Pakistan is hated by most Afghans. Even today the worst atrocities and suicide bombings causing civilian deaths are often blamed on the Taliban elements “trained by Pakistanis.” Hatred for Pakistan is possibly even stronger among the Afghan Pashtuns who have been Pakistan’s traditional allies. The Pakistani army must undergo deep self-examination and show considerable humility in dealing with the Afghans if it is to genuinely create an opportunity for peace.

However there are large gaps in Gall’s analysis that cannot be ignored. Pakistan was not the only cause of the failure to control the Afghan Taliban; the failure in Afghanistan has been an American failure as well. The lack of a US political strategy stretched over four administrations. Two Presidents—Bush and Obama—were unable to make up their minds about what to do in Afghanistan or how many troops should carry out which tasks. The overwhelming militarization of US decision-making and the hubris of American generals undermined diplomacy and nation-building; the US failed to curb open production of opium and other drugs. There was constant infighting between the White House, Defense, and State Departments over policy. There was also widespread corruption and waste both in the private contracting system used by the US military and in some of the operations of the US Agency for International Development. The list of such American failures is indeed long, and assigning responsibility for the losses in Afghanistan will occupy US historians for decades.

Gall’s second omission is not to recognize the negative effects caused by the neighboring countries, apart from Pakistan, and their constant interference in Afghanistan. She ignores the Afghan civil war after 1989 when all the Afghan warlords had international backers. She fails to mention that Pakistan and Saudi Arabia backed the Taliban while Russia, Iran, India, Turkey, and the Central Asian republics supported the Northern Alliance.

More recently Iran has given sanctuary to the Taliban and al-Qaeda, India is funding the Baloch separatist insurgency in Pakistan, and Afghanistan has provided a refuge to the leader of the Pakistani Taliban. The US presence has failed to provide protection for people in the region. Most Afghans will tell you today that what they fear most about the Americans leaving is that intervention from all the country’s neighbors will start again. Gall doesn’t blame neighbors other than Pakistan.

Why did Pakistan adopt policies of intervention in Afghanistan, especially after September 11, when it had essentially lost the game in Afghanistan? There has been a disastrous logic to the military’s policies—which more thoughtful Pakistanis have always resisted.

Here some history is useful. The Pakistan military has used militant political groups as an arm of its foreign policy in India and Afghanistan since the 1970s. This was allowed by the West as part of the cold war. During the 1980s the CIA funded the Afghan Mujahideen and Islamic extremists from forty countries when they were fighting the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan. It was not until September 11 that Pakistan’s use of Islamic extremists as a tool of its foreign policy became unacceptable.

After September 11 General Pervez Musharraf and the military regime believed that they could, for a time, appear to meet US demands by capturing al-Qaeda leaders while avoiding harm to the Afghan Taliban. Musharraf was always treated as a messiah by the Bush administration; but a year after September 11 well-informed Pakistanis knew that Musharraf had started playing a double game with the Americans by covertly supporting a Taliban resurgence.

What was the Pakistan military’s logic in doing so? After the war to oust the Taliban was over in 2001 the military faced the defeat of its Taliban allies and had to suffer the Northern Alliance and its backers—including India and Iran—as victors in Kabul. Musharraf felt he had to preserve some self-respect; and Bush appeared to acknowledge this when he allowed ISI agents to be airlifted out of Kunduz before the city fell to the Northern Alliance and its backers—a series of events well described by Gall. Bush had also promised Musharraf that the NA would not enter Kabul before a neutral Afghan body under the UN took over the city. But as the Taliban fled, the NA walked into Kabul without a fight and took over the government.

The Pakistani military was further angered at Bonn in December 2001, when the new Afghan government was unveiled and all the provincial security ministries were handed over to the Northern Alliance, with Pashtun representation at a minimum. This was the usual outcome by which the spoils of war went to the victors, but for Pakistan’s generals it was further humiliation that bred resentment and a desire for revenge.

The military was equally perplexed about why the US did not commit more ground troops to hunt down al-Qaeda instead of leaving that task to Northern Alliance warlords. The military was convinced that the Americans would soon abandon Afghanistan for the war in Iraq and leave the NA, backed by India, in charge in Kabul.

Bush’s refusal to commit even one thousand US troops to the mountains of Tora Bora where bin Laden was trapped sent a powerful message to Pakistan. By 2003 US forces in Afghanistan still amounted to only 11,500 men—insufficient to hold the country. Five years later in 2008 there were only 35,000 US troops in Afghanistan, compared to five times that number in Iraq.

The Pakistani military’s insecurity about American intentions and the growing power of the NA, India, and Iran led to its fateful decision to rearm the Taliban. It believed that the Taliban would provide a form of protection for the Pakistani military against its enemies. Instead the revamped Afghan Taliban helped create the Pakistani Taliban and the worst blowback of terrorism in Pakistan’s history. It is the Taliban’s terrorism within Pakistan rather than US pressure that altered the military’s position from backing the Afghan Taliban to its now seeking a peaceful Afghanistan.

Gall’s account of the rise of the Taliban is also open to question. She writes that three commanders in Kandahar and Kabul—two of them drug smugglers and one of them a landlord—initiated the Taliban movement. Between 1994 and 1998, in Kandahar and Kabul, I interviewed nearly all the students who were the founding members of the Taliban and the three men she names were never mentioned, except as intermittent financiers. The founders of the Taliban were pious, conservative, simple young villagers who had fought the Soviets as foot soldiers and were now deeply disillusioned with their former leaders for fighting a civil war. They came together to rid Kandahar of criminal gangs. They then traveled around the country asking warlords to help end the civil war and bring peace. When that failed they decided to launch their own movement.

Contrary to Gall’s account that they wanted power over Afghanistan from the first, the Taliban founders initially had only three aims—to end the civil war, disarm the population, and introduce an Islamic system. Until they reached the gates of Kabul in late 1995, they had no intentions of ruling the country. Instead they were demanding a Loya Jirga, or meeting of tribal elders, to decide who should rule. Some, like Mullah Borjan, were actually royalists who wanted to call back the former King Zahir Shah from exile. Gall says Borjan was killed at the behest of the ISI in 1996, although it is widely accepted that he died a year earlier in the first attack on Kabul.

All the founding members of the Taliban I interviewed gave a different account from Gall’s of the rise of their leader Mullah Mohammed Omar. They all had equal status, the requisite piety, and a strong record of fighting the Soviets. There was no natural commander among them. After much debate they picked Omar as the first among equals, the most pious and apparently the most humble. His status rose only after he insisted that his colleagues swear an oath of allegiance to him. He continues to be powerful. Too much of Gall’s information and analysis on the history of the Taliban seems to reflect the views of the Afghan intelligence service, whose own interpretation is flawed and one-sided.

Today, with Pakistan torn apart by unprecedented violence and the situation in Afghanistan still precarious, the Pakistani military has strong reasons to change its past policies of sponsoring wars fought by nonstate organizations. Some changes are happening, but only at a glacial pace. Serious reform needs to start at the lowest level of the military, at the schools and colleges from which the army is drawn, where drastic curriculum changes are needed. The ISI needs to be brought under a code of conduct and accountability, particularly with respect to its dealings with violent organizations. Its personnel should be trained in political realism rather than in ideological prejudices. Unless changes in the army can be made more quickly, there is still the danger that this nuclear power could slip into chaos.

  1. *The trilogy is: Taliban (I.B. Tauris, 2000); Descent into Chaos: The US and the Failure of Nation Building in Pakistan, Afghanistan, and Central Asia (Viking, 2008); Pakistan on the Brink: The Future of America, Pakistan, and Afghanistan(Viking, 2012). 

Afghanistan: Afghanistan’s Fragile Gains for Women, May 9, 2014
Parnian Nazary, a representative of Women for Afghan Women, a grassroots civil society organization, recently told the Senate Foreign Relations Committee how far both she and the women of Afghanistan have come in just over a decade by recounting a harrowing story of the challenges she faced and the barriers she scaled in order to gain an education under the rule of the Taliban. While expressing her elation that Afghan women no longer have to attend secret schools and surreptitiously teach themselves English like she did, she also emphasized that these successes are fragile and at risk without the sustained support of the international community.

Nazary’s words square with my own experience in Afghanistan. When I first moved there in 2003, land mines were scattered across the once fertile farm land, women were hardly ever seen in public, and less than a million boys and only a handful of girls attended school. After a decade of persistent effort by Afghans and support from the United States and the international community, Afghanistan has changed dramatically. Pomegranates growing in orchards once littered with land mines are being packaged and exported, women actively participate in the Afghan government and civil society, and more than 8 million boys and girls are enrolled in school.

According to the United Nations, Afghanistan has experienced greater improvement in human development — a measure of health, education, and standard of living — than any other country in the world since 2000. Life expectancy alone has increased by 20 years, from 42 years to 62, and maternal mortality has decreased by 75 percent. All this progress came at less than 3 percent of the total cost of the civilian and military effort in Afghanistan.

While these achievements are substantial, Afghanistan still needs our support and attention. It remains a poor country deeply affected by 30 years of war: Half of Afghan families are surviving on less than $1.25 per day. To address this, the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) is continuing its work with the Afghan government to combat corruption, strengthen Afghan institutions, and encourage business growth and entrepreneurship. At the same time, USAID applies strict safeguards to ensure U.S. dollars are utilized for maximum results as we work with the Afghan government.

But if Afghanistan is to successfully navigate its way out of a cycle of extreme poverty, it will need its women, youth, and civil society to play an essential role. To this end, USAID has made it a priority to focus on these three groups. As such, we will be launching our largest gender program in the world in Afghanistan. The program, known as “Promote,” will help educate Afghan women and turn them into the country’s future business, political, and civil society leaders. At the same time, USAID is working with the Afghan government to bolster institutions of basic and higher education and to increase opportunities for youth to receive the kinds of technical and vocational training necessary to find jobs in the expanding economy. We are also helping to provide civil society groups with new skills needed to effectively address the issues facing their communities with programs such as Promote, which will enable women’s rights organizations and coalitions to influence public policy and social practices.

With an active and engaged citizenry, the many fragile gains Afghans have made can be transformed into lasting successes.

Nazary concluded her testimony by voicing a concern that many Afghan women share: that the international community will abandon Afghanistan. While Afghans are ready to take on the challenges ahead, as demonstrated by the high number of voters who turned out for the April 5 presidential election, she underscored that they cannot tackle them alone. Together with the Afghan people, the United States can help ensure that the remarkable development progress in Afghanistan is maintained and made durable, and that Afghan women like Nazary do not have to study in secret ever again. The risks and sacrifices that the people of the United States have made in Afghanistan in support of our national security interests, and the determination that the Afghan people, particularly women, have shown, demand no less.

Kathleen Campbell is the Acting Deputy Assistant to the Administrator in the Office of Afghanistan and Pakistan Affairs at the U.S. Agency for International Development. She recently testified before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.

Noorullah Shirzada/AFP/Getty Images


Greetings from Haiti!


Spring is eternal in Haiti, where I’ve been for the last week. Often quite hot and humid, there is a cool breeze right now as the rain clouds come down over the hills surrounding Port-au-Prince. Steep hills covered in shacks of mostly cement clinging to every nook and cranny. As usual in a country as poor as Haiti, the poorest are pushed into the most inhospitable locations to try and scratch out a living space.

Too often I am surprised at how easily I could get confused and think I am in Afghanistan. With roads and homes in disrepair the look of rebuilding Kabul after 30 years of war does not feel that different than the rebuilding of Port-au-Prince after the earthquake of 2010.

Port-Au-Prince, Haiti

Port-Au-Prince, Haiti

But of course the cultural differences are dramatic, for one the call to prayer and sermons of the Muslim tradition have been replaced by the sounds I hear now, coming from a tin roofed building across the street – the music and orations of a Christian service.

I came 8 days ago with the usual mixture of anticipation and anxiety about the development of our new program in Haiti. After months of research, spreadsheets full of contacts and a new assistant meeting me at the airport, we began the adventure of knocking on doors at Haitian community media groups and development organizations, international aid groups, local and international journalists and filmmakers and embassies and funding agencies. It has been a whirlwind tour up and down the steep, steep streets of Port-au-Prince, hunting for addresses defined by the color of their door, a number of speed bumps from a corner or the shop nearby.


Ralph Thomassaint JosephRalph Thomassaint Joseph has been my guide and partner and how lucky I am to have him. CSFilm posted a job description for a Haitian program assistant to help with translation and logistics as we initially developed the project in the US. Ralph, living in Port-au-Prince, heard about it and applied. As he said to me, “I hesitated, I know it was a bit crazy, you in Boston and me here, and my English is completely self-taught and not very good, but then I decided, why not.” Why not indeed. Ralph’s English is very good and he is a very sharp, sensitive, committed young Haitian. I’d say young Haitian journalist, but as Ralph would tell you, he’s studying law because it is nearly impossible for a journalist to make a living in Haiti – the quality and demand has to be increased. None-the-less he has done years of remarkable reporting – a lot of it without pay – from the camp that has housed 1.5 million people since the earthquake.

There are still over 140,000 in makeshift camps. While in the western media, if we hear anything about Haiti, we often hear about the 7-8,000 houses the international aid effort has built in Port-au-Prince, the figure that we don’t typically hear is that some 80,000 homes have been rebuilt by Haitians themselves without any aid. But, I was introducing Ralph… Take a look at the multi-media piece about the camps that just won Ralph the Maison de la Radio in Paris, the Prix Chaffanjon.

Visiting Medialternatif, Port-au-Prince, Haiti

Visiting Medialternatif, Port-au-Prince, Haiti

Putting together my research and outreach with Ralph’s local knowledge about the media and development world, we have organized some 30 meetings. Check out the work of some of the journalism and media making groups that are among some of our potential training and distribution partners: Groupe Medialternatif, Cine Institute and SAKS. Our objective with this trip is to learn what is already happening and needed in the documentary media making and journalism sectors and how CSFilm’s program can contribute constructively.

Night has fallen and the thunder has started and soon I expect there will be the uproarious sound of heavy rain pounding on the tin roofs around. I look forward to sending further updates in the near future. Check out the first photos from this trip in the gallery.


Haiti Photo Gallery

Haiti: Research and Development

Haiti: Training Prep and Candidate Selection

Haiti: The Training Starts

Haiti: Training Challenges and Accomplishments

Haiti: Port-au-Prince Premiere Screening of Owning Our Future

Haiti: Landscapes


Haiti, Development: Four Years after Earthquake, Housing, Sanitation, Health Care are Still Pressing Needs in Haiti

Center for Economic and Policy Research

“International community’s response remains misplaced,” CEPR Co-Director Says

Washington, D.C., January 9, 2014 – Four years after an earthquake devastated Haiti and killed some 220,000 people and displaced 1.5 million, housing, sanitation and health care remain woefully inadequate, Center for Economic and Policy Research (CEPR) Co-DirectorMark Weisbrot said today. Weisbrot noted that while some 200,000 people are still stuck in internally displaced person (IDP) camps, and many others have beenforcibly evicted onto the streets – and while under-funded sanitation and health care allow a cholera epidemic to continue to ravage the country — many of the urgently-needed funds meant to assist the people of Haiti have gone instead into the pockets of contractors, or have been used to fund projects that benefit foreign corporations far more than they do Haitians.

“The lasting legacy of the earthquake is the international community’s profound failure to set aside its own interests and respond to the most pressing needs of the Haitian people,” Weisbrot said. “Four years of exposés in the international media, appeals from the U.N. and international aid groups, and pleas from the Haitian government, Haitian grassroots groups and many others have failed to change the misplaced priorities of the international response to the earthquake and the cholera epidemic.”

Weisbrot applauded the Assessing Progress in Haiti Act, introduced by Rep. Barbara Lee and cosponsored by 34 other legislators, which passed the U.S. House of Representatives last month. The Act is meant to foster greater transparency in U.S. government contracting in Haiti through regular progress reports to Congress.

Much of the U.S. government aid earmarked for Haiti following the quake has gone to foreign contractors, providing little benefit to Haitian businesses, organizations or workers. 67.1 percent of USAID contracts has gone to Beltway-based firms, while just 1.3 percent has gone to Haitian companies. The Haitian government has also largely been bypassed as aid funds have gone to foreign contractors, international agencies and the many groups that populate what is known as the “republic of NGOs.” Of the $6.43 billion disbursed by bilateral and multilateral donors to Haiti from 2010-2012, just 9 percent went through the Haitian government.

Weisbrot noted that although the massive displacement of people from their homes was one of the most visible and damaging aspects of the earthquake, four years lateronly 7,515 new houses had been built. A U.S. government plan to build 15,000 new houses has reduced its goals by over 80 percent.

The cholera epidemic, brought to Haiti by U.N. troops, has killed 8,500 people and sickened over 695,000. While the U.N., the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Haitian and Dominican governments launched a $2.2 billion plan to eradicate cholera over a year ago, it remains woefully underfunded, and the U.N. itself has pledged just 1 percent of the funding needed, even as the U.N.’s mostly military and police mission in Haiti costs over $572 million a year.

Projects such as the Caracol industrial park, meanwhile, continue to receive additional funding, with the Inter-American Development Bank announcing last week that it would commit another $40.5 million for the facility’s expansion. The project has come under scrutiny over poor working conditions and low pay for garment workers; theWorkers Rights Consortium [PDF] found that “On average, workers were paid 34% less than the law requires” at Caracol.

“The least that the U.N. and international community could do is to clean up the mess that they themselves made,” Weisbrot said. “This means providing the infrastructure for clean water, as quickly as possible, to get rid of the deadly cholera bacteria that U.N. troops – who did not come to Haiti for earthquake relief – brought to the country.

“The millions of dollars brought to contractors and big NGOs have often not been used to meet the urgent needs of the Haitian people.”

For more background on the state of reconstruction in Haiti four years after the quake, see CEPR’s “Haiti: Relief and Reconstruction Watch” blog.


Afghanistan: Afghanistan’s Insurgency after the Transition

International Crisis Group Report
Asia Report N°25612 May 2014
The Executive Summary is also available in Dari.


The war in Afghanistan entered a new phase in 2013. It now is increasingly a contest between the insurgents and the Afghan National Security Forces (ANSF). Many within and outside the government are more optimistic about stability in the wake of a relatively successful first round of presidential elections on 5 April 2014. However, any euphoria should be tempered by a realistic assessment of the security challenges that President Karzai’s successor will face in the transitional period of 2014-2015. Kabul may find these challenges difficult to overcome without significant and sustained international security, political and economic support.

The overall trend is one of escalating violence and insurgent attacks. Ongoing withdrawals of international soldiers have generally coincided with a deterioration of Kabul’s reach in outlying districts. The insurgents have failed to capture major towns and cities, and some areas have experienced more peace and stability in the absence of international troops. Yet, the increasing confidence of the insurgents, as evidenced by their ability to assemble bigger formations for assaults, reduces the chances for meaningful national-level peace talks in 2014-2015.

A close examination of four provinces – Faryab, Kunar, Paktia and Kandahar – reveals underlying factors that may aggravate the conflict in the short term. Historical feuds and unresolved grievances are worsening after having been, in some cases, temporarily contained by the presence of international troops. In Faryab, these are largely ethnic tensions; in Kandahar they are mostly tribal; but in all transitional areas there is a variety of unfinished business that may result in further violence post-2014. Similarly, clashes among pro-government actors may become more frequent, as predicted by local interlocutors after recent skirmishing between government forces in Paktia. The situation in Kandahar also illustrates the way mistreatment of Afghans at the hands of their own security forces, operating with less supervision from foreign troops, breeds resentment that feeds the insurgency. Finally, despite its rhetoric, Pakistan has not reduced safe havens and other support for the insurgency, while Afghanistan’s hostile responses – especially in Kandahar and Kunar – risk worsening cross-border relations.

None of these trends mean that Afghanistan is doomed to repeat the post-Soviet state collapse of the early 1990s, particularly if there is continued and robust international support. In fact, Afghan forces suffered record casualties in 2013 and retreated from some locations in the face of rising insurgency but maintained the tempo of their operations in most parts of the country. Afghanistan still has no shortage of young men joining the ANSF, offsetting the rising number of those who opt to leave them or abandon their posts. The government remains capable of moving supplies along highways to urban centres. ANSF cohesiveness, or lack of it, may prove decisive in the coming years, and Paktia notwithstanding, only minor reports emerged in 2013 of Afghan units fighting each other. As long as donors remain willing to pay their salaries, the sheer numbers of Afghan security personnel – possibly in the 370,000 range today – are a formidable obstacle to large-scale strategic gains by the insurgents.

That will not stop the Taliban and other insurgent groups from pushing for such gains, however. Despite a short-lived gesture toward peace negotiations in Doha, the insurgents’ behaviour in places where the foreign troops have withdrawn shows no inclination to slow the pace of fighting. They are blocking roads, capturing rural territory and trying to overwhelm district administration centres. With less risk of attack from international forces, they are massing bigger groups of fighters and getting into an increasing number of face-to-face ground engagements with Afghan security personnel, some of which drag on for weeks. The rising attacks show that the insurgents are able to motivate their fighters in the absence of foreign troops, shifting their rhetoric from calls to resist infidel occupation to a new emphasis on confronting the “puppets” or “betrayers of Islam” in the government. The emerging prominence of splinter groups such as Mahaz-e-Fedayeen is a further indication the insurgency will not lack ferocity in the coming years.

For the first time, the insurgents inflicted almost as many casualties on Afghan security forces in 2013 as they suffered themselves, and several accounts of battles in remote districts suggested the sides were nearly matched in strength. There are concerns that the balance could tip in favour of the insurgency, particularly in some rural locations, as foreign troops continue leaving. President Karzai has refused to conclude agreements with the U.S. and NATO that would keep a relatively modest presence of international troops after December 2014. The two presidential runoff candidates have vowed to sign the Bilateral Security Agreement (BSA) with the U.S., which would in turn allow for a NATO Status of Forces Agreement (SOFA). While retaining a contingent of foreign soldiers would not be sufficient on its own to keep the insurgency at bay, its absence could prove extremely problematic. The ANSF still needs support from international forces, and signing a BSA and a SOFA would likely have knock-on effects, sending an important signal of commitment at a fragile time, thus encouraging ongoing financial, developmental and diplomatic support.

With or without backup from international forces, the Afghan government will need more helicopters, armoured vehicles, and logistical support to accomplish that limited objective. Such additional military tools would also permit the government to rely increasingly on the relatively well-disciplined Afghan army rather than forcing it to turn to irregular forces that have a dismal record of harming civilians.

Certainly, the future of the Afghan government depends primarily on its own behaviour: its commitment to the rule of law, anti-corruption measures and other aspects of governance must demonstrate its concern for the well-being of all Afghans. However, responsibility also rests with the international community; its patchy efforts over a dozen years to bring peace and stability must now be followed not with apathy, but with renewed commitment.


To help Afghan security forces withstand a rising insurgency

To the government of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan:

1. Sign a Bilateral Security Agreement (BSA) with the U.S. and a Status of Forces Agreement (SOFA) with NATO.

2. Take urgent steps to reduce casualties among Afghan forces, including a large-scale effort to train police and soldiers in the basics of emergency medical care.

3. Strengthen anti-corruption measures to ensure that security personnel receive their salaries and other benefits, and confirm that ammunition, diesel and other logistical supplies reach Afghan National Security Forces (ANSF) units.

To the government of the United States:

4. Significantly increase the size of the Mobile Strike Force (MSF) program, so that sufficient ANSF quick-reaction units are available to handle many of the worsening security trends of 2014-2015 and beyond.

5. Find a way, possibly by working with other donors, to expand Afghan capacity for tactical air support, including more helicopters in support of government efforts to retain control over remote district centres.

To all donor countries:

6. Convene a meeting of donor countries as a follow-up to the 2012 NATO summit in Chicago, with a view to expanding annual pledges of support, realising them on schedule and allowing the ANSF to maintain for the time being personnel rosters approximately equal to their current levels. Those ANSF levels are not indefinitely sustainable or desirable, but reductions should progress in tandem with stabilisation.

7. Support anti-corruption measures by the Afghan government to ensure, inter alia, that salaries are distributed to all ANSF members and logistical supply chains function as required.

To reduce tensions between Afghanistan and Pakistan

To the government of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan:

8. Increase diplomatic outreach to regional governments, including Pakistan, to find ways of reviving peace talks with the insurgents; maintain, at a minimum, lines of communication between Afghan and Pakistani civilian and military leaders; and explore ways to increase bilateral economic cooperation as a way to ease tensions with Pakistan.

9. Refrain from taking direct military action inside Pakistan or supporting anti-Pakistan militants.

To strengthen the rule of law

To the government of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan:

10. Reduce reliance on and ultimately phase out the controversial Afghan Local Police (ALP) program, given the ALP’s abuse of power and destabilising effect in most parts of the country.

11. Respond with transparent investigation and disciplinary measures as appropriate to any report of ANSF failure to protect or deliberate targeting of civilians, in violation of obligations under Afghan and international law.

To all donor countries:

12. Assist with programs aimed at encouraging the ANSF to respect the constitution and the country’s obligations with regard to human rights and the laws of armed conflict.

To improve political legitimacy and state viability:

To the government of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan:

13. Encourage open public and media discussion and debate of security problems so as to find solutions and keep policymakers informed; and acknowledge that, aside from the conflict’s external factors, internal Afghan dynamics such as corruption, disenfranchisement and impunity also deserve attention.

14. Strengthen efforts to make the Afghan government more politically inclusive, particularly at the provincial and district level.

15. Refrain from interfering in the Independent Electoral Commission (IEC) and the Independent Complaints Commission (IECC) processes of disqualifying voters and adjudicating complaints in connection with the 2014 and subsequent elections.

16. Direct propaganda messages toward front-line insurgents that publicise the absence of international forces in their areas of operation in order to undermine the logic of jihad after the departure of foreign troops.

To all donor countries:

17. Sustain economic assistance for the Afghan government and work with the finance ministry to encourage growth in customs and other forms of government revenue.

18. Encourage the IEC and the IECC to comply strictly with electoral laws, including requirements to conduct their work in a transparent manner, in the processes of disqualifying voters and adjudicating complaints.

19. Provide diplomatic support for the Afghan government’s efforts to improve relations with Pakistan and revive peace talks, when feasible, with insurgent factions.

Kabul/Brussels, 12 May 2014


ACME Journal Review of The Fruit of Our Labor

The Anthropology of the Contemporary Middle East and Central Eurasia, or ACME Journal reviewed CSFilm’s The Fruit of Our Labor: Afghan Perspectives in Film in their last issue. Below you can read an excerpt from the review:


coverissue2Rather than being a single, comprehensive film, this production comprises ten separate short documentaries, each filmed by a different Afghani trained by Community Supported Film. They range in length from 6 to 20 minutes and focus on Afghani citizens going about their everyday affairs. They ‘bring to life Afghans’ efforts to address their challenging social and economic conditions’, in the words of an accompanying brochure. These slice-of-life vignettes accomplish this goal and give some insight into the problems facing poor and working class Afghanis as they go about their daily routines. Most of the subjects are women, although six of the filmmakers are men. The subject of the war rarely comes up, but it is still a presence in several of the pieces.

‘L’ is for Light, ‘D’ is for Darkness (dir. Hasibullah Asmati, ed. Hamed Alizada, 12 mns) tracks a female teacher in a remote village as she goes house to house trying to persuade villagers to send their daughters to a newly established school in the wake of the Taliban’s departure. She wears a burqa that she takes off at some houses and at others leaves in place. She is welcomed at most houses, at others she is given excuses (‘her brother will not allow her to go to school’) and at one there is no answer at all to her persistent knocking. The local mulla supports the school, but has no power to compel the girls to attend. A final scene shows the school operating in a damaged building with no roof. Searching for a Path (dir. Reza Sahel, ed. Rahmatullah Jafari, 13 mns) focuses on a pushcart vendor in Kabul. A young man who peddles bananas from a wheelbarrow narrates this piece, explaining how he had tried other jobs, but could not make enough money. As he wheels his car through the streets of Kabul he talks about harassment by the police, his wedding debts, his hopes for his children (that they become doctors), and his aspiration to open a small shop. It is a hard life, but the vendor speaks without bitterness, just a sense of hope for something better.

In another remote village, pregnant women have to make a long trip to Kabul for maternity consultations because there is no local maternity clinic. Hands of Health (dir. Zahra Sadat, ed. Jawed Taiman,14 mns) has scenes of women baking bread, men constructing a stone wall and picking fruit, all the while talking about women’s health and the number of children a family should have. They also lament the fact that there are no local medical facilities, but even after the villagers have built a small clinic, the national government has not staffed or equipped it, leaving the women no better off than before.

Heroin addiction is a serious problem in Afghanistan. In The Road Above (dir. Aqeela Rezai, ed. Jawed Taiman, 6 mns) a woman named Mona is shown doing heavy manual labor (puddling concrete, shoveling gravel etc. for the construction of a road). Her husband is an addict and she has not seen him for months, thus she is forced to work to support herself and her family. Accompanied by a policeman, she goes searching for her husband at a site under a highway, where addicts congregate to shoot up. She has no luck in her quest, and concludes that he is probably dead and that it is better that way, as he was already lost.

Knocking on Time’s Door (also known as Opening the Door of Time, dir. Ahmad Wahid Zaman, ed. Hamed Alizada, 6 mns) profiles a former mujahidin fighter who has come back to his village and become a teacher. The former warrior is shown discussing with two comrades their time fighting the Taliban; then there are scenes of the construction of a school, followed by shots of students and teachers in the school and classroom. A vision of hope is projected, as the aging teacher plays volleyball with some young pupils.

Bearing the Weight (dir. Mona Haidari, ed. Hamid Arshia, 13 mns) also references the war, in that the protagonist, Shafiqa, lost her husband, newborn daughter and her leg in a rocket attack. But this is a story of redemption, as Shafiqa has been able to care for herself, her two sons and be a vital member of her community. She is shown teaching other disabled women how to sew and make garments. There is testimony about how she was inspired by other disabled women who strived to overcome their injuries and scenes of her counselling others. Nevertheless, things are difficult for the disabled in Afghanistan; Shafiqa remains very poor and suffers discrimination, not even able to hail a taxi. The piece ends with Shafiqa stating her ambitions for her two remaining children – to become educated and get a university degree.

Water is essential to life everywhere, but in parts of Afghanistan there is very little water to be had. Water Ways (dir. Majeed Zarand, ed. Jawed Taiman, 11 mns) chronicles the quest for water in a rural area of Afghanistan, where government programmes have helped some farmers tap the water-table dozens of meters below the surface, while other farmers are forced to rely on undependable rains and occasional good luck. Much of the farming is still done without the benefit of tractors or other modern technology. The film ends with scenes of a minor construction project financed by the government’s National Solidarity Programme. Afghanis are doing all they can to survive under difficult circumstances. Life is hardest for the poor. Beyond Fatigue (dir. Baqir Tawakoli, ed. Hamid Arshia, 9 mns) follows a woman who, in one day, visits her sick mother-in-law in a distant village, teaches small children at a mosque school, and works at a vocational training center operating a foot-treadle sewing machine. All this time she is accompanied by her young child for whom she cannot afford day care. Her dream is to get a loan that would enable her to buy her own sewing machine.

Treasure Trove (dir. Fakhria Ibrahimi, ed. Rahmatullah Jafari, 11 mns) is set in a very rustic bakery, where the women who operate it are showing splitting wood for the oven fires, kneading the dough, and baking the loaves in a tandoor. These are very poor women, who converse in a lively fashion amongst themselves and with other women who come to buy bread. The banter is often sexual in nature, and none of the women are veiled. It is a rare behind-the-scenes view of Afghan women at ease among themselves.

The final film, Death to the Camera (dir. Sayed Qasem Hossaini, ed. Hamed Alizada, 20 mns) is set at a work site where women, supervised by men, are making The Fruit of Our Labor: Afghan Perspectives in Film 195 some kind of mud bricks. A few are wearing burqas, others not. Some of the women are interviewed and the film captures their responses, which reveal the tensions that define their situation. None of the women are very happy; it is hard, dirty work that some find shameful. They state that they are just ‘trying to make a living’. ‘Ignore our shame,’ says one. They complain about hiring practices (women from certain ethnic groups are hired last or not at all), the government of Hamid Karzai, unpaid wages and the like. Their comments are not without some humor, but it is a dark humor that reinforces the unfortunate plight of these marginalized women.

The mission of Community Supported Film is to produce films that show ‘realities often unrepresented in the media’ to ‘influence local and international perspectives on sustainable solutions for a more peaceful and equitable world’. The Fruit of Our Labor does a good job of conveying the plight of everyday Afghani citizens struggling to make ends meet in a very challenging environment. Thus, it fulfills the first part of the mission. Whether it can exert any influence depends on whether it is seen by those with the power to effect the changes needed to improve such people’s lives. Probably not. But it can be seen by students who may eventually be in positions to find solutions to the world’s problems, and thus it should be used in the classroom. It can educate students about the plight of women and the poor in countries like Afghanistan and can help them see where improvements can be made.

Peter S. Allen

Rhode Island College


Haiti: Mosquito-borne virus spreads rapidly in Haiti

PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti — A mosquito-borne virus that was detected for the first time in Haiti last week has quickly spread throughout the Caribbean nation, a health official said Tuesday.

Some 1,529 cases of the chikungunya virus have been confirmed, said Ronald Singer, a spokesman for Haiti’s health ministry. The bulk of the cases, about 900 of them, were found in the west department, where the capital of Port-au-Prince is located. Another 300 cases were confirmed in northwestern Haiti.

The new numbers seem to represent a startling jump over the past week. The health ministry said last Tuesday that lab results confirmed a mere 14 cases.

Since then, Port-au-Prince has been abuzz with people complaining about a sudden and debilitating illness that’s been referred to as “the fever.”

The symptoms of chikungunya include not just a sharp fever but also headache, full-body rash and joint pain. The illness is rarely fatal but recovery usually takes about a week. Some people experience joint pain for months to years.

The illness, which is most commonly found in Asia and Africa, was first detected in the Caribbean in December on tiny St. Martin.

It was the first time that local transmission of chikungunya had been reported in the Americas. Since then, it has spread to nearly a dozen other islands and French Guiana.

Its arrival in Haiti was expected. In neighboring Dominican Republic, authorities have confirmed at least 150 to 200 cases.

There is no vaccine for chikungunya and it is spread by the pervasive Aedes aegypti mosquito, which also transmits dengue fever in the region.

Read more here:


Afghanistan: Afghan Elections Through a Gender Lens

From: Network for Afghan Women LISTSERV <>

Watch “Afghan Elections Through a Gender Lens.” Recorded last week at the New America Foundation, see what Afghan women thought about the April 5 election.
Despite the Taliban’s effort to disrupt the recent Afghan presidential elections, seven million Afghan citizens voted (out of an electorate of 12 million), 36% of whom were women. With the preliminary results of the elections announced on Saturday April 26th, this timely event will take stock of the situation in Afghanistan a month after the elections occurred, with particular focus on women, peace and security.

The progress made by Afghan women over the last 13 years is irrefutable and stands as a testament to the pride, focus and commitment of leaders such as Sima Samar and Belquis Ahmadi. However, the drawdown of U.S. and NATO troops, uncertainty regarding future international funding, and continued domestic challenges to women’s progress combine to create an unstable situation in which tenuous gains made by Afghan women could be walked backwards.

The discussion addressed a number of questions, including the leading Afghan presidential candidates’ stances on women’s issues, expectations of Afghan women from the new Afghan government, and examining how the international community should support Afghan women beyond 2014.

Join the conversation online using #Afghanlens and following @NatSecNAF.

Watch the event here:


Field Trip to the Carroll School

Eliz Thank You Card

Eliz Thank You Card (Click on images for larger view)

Last month, Michael made a special trip to the Carroll School in Lincoln, Massachusetts to discuss the work of CSFilm with an elementary school class.  The students are reading the Afghan book The Breadwinner, which takes place during the Taliban regime and was the impetus for inviting Michael to provide a more contemporary perspective.   Below are some of the thank you cards and drawings sent to Michael from the kids.

It was a completely new experience communicating with this age group. We don’t usually try and engage kids under High School age and even older students can be a reach without a specific focus on issues such as the role of the media in society, poverty reduction, governance or geography.

Lessons learned from elementary school students:

1. Be prepared to role with a nonlinear conversation and questions coming at you mid-thought and sentence – unless you lay down different rules and try and stick to them – as Dinan, their teacher, quickly implemented for Michael.

2. No matter how much you try and expand the conversation beyond “the war,” some boys at this age are only going to ask you about your experience of guns and bombs.

3.  Youth have remarkable memories and will latch on to everything you  say – even side comments – as can be seen in the inclusion of some repeated oddities in their comments and pictures, such as:

Tom Thank You Card

Tom’s Thank You Card (Click on the images for a larger view)

“I learned that Afghans drink Coke.”  I asked them what was unusual in one one  picture  I showed.  I was expecting them to note that the women were not wearing burkas and were dressed in western clothes.  A few of them instead rightly noted the Coke can on a table and expressed surprise that soda is available in Afghanistan.

Nelson Thank You CardIn a few of their comments they noticed that all the cars were Toyota Corollas, an amazing truth – almost all cars in Afghanistan are Corollas – an oddity that occurred since the return of cars post Taliban.  Hence a number of drawings with Toyota logos!

You’ll also notice that many got the theme of the presentation – that Afghanistan is much more than a war zone as commonly depicted in our media.

Violet Thank You Card

Violet’s Thank You Card

Natalie Thank You Card

Natalie’s Thank You Card

Eliz Inside of Thank You Card

Eliz’s Thank You Card




Haiti Project Overview

Community Supported Film trained Haitian storytellers to make documentary films about the causes of and solutions to the economic and social development challenges their communities have faced since the devastating 7.0 earthquake that struck Haiti in January 2010.  This project is a partnership between Community Supported Film, Groupe Medialternatif, concerned citizens and the Swiss Development Cooperation.  The objectives of this project are:

  1. To strengthen Haitian governance and economic development by empowering local video-journalists and documentary filmmakers;
  2. The production of 10 Haitian-made high-quality short films that uniquely present Haitian issues and needs from the local perspective;
  3. To use these films to influence opinion and policy regarding effective aid and sustainable development.

Training and Production

The intimate lived-reality stories produced by the Haitian storytellers go beyond the mainstream media’s focus on disasters, conflicts and crises which leave core-causes and long-term development issues unaddressed or misunderstood.  In addition to producing 10 high-quality short films, the training equiped the storytellers with employable skills.

Public Engagement

In collaboration with Haitian and international partner organizations, the Haitian stories are being used to engage people in local and international communities and institutions in dialogue and actions. Broadcasts, press coverage, and the outreach capacity of the NGO collaborators are bieng used to expand the public’s knowledge of effective aid and disaster response.

The screening and dialogue strategy is expanding on the model piloted during CSFilm’s Afghan project.  The Afghan-made films were the centerpiece of congressional briefings in collaboration with organizations such as the American Friends Service Committee and were shown to legislators, congressional committees and government departments.  The films were used to stimulate dialogue at venues including the US Institute of Peace, the World Bank and the Asia Society and at 148 community, university and film events across the country.

Screenings: We are looking for partner organizations in Haiti and the US to use the films for education and advocacy;

See the films at Haitian Perspectives in Film


Heading to Haiti!

CSFilm’s project in Haiti is well underway. We are currently talking with several potential collaborators in the U.S and in Haiti, and we are planning a trip to Haiti for this month. Here’s a quick introduction to our plans for the project in Haiti:

This year Community Supported Film will train Haitian storytellers to make documentary films about the causes of and solutions to the economic and social development challenges their communities have faced since the 2010 earthquake. Their short films will be released in advance of the 5th anniversary of the earthquake in January 2015.

This project will be a partnership between Haitian community media and development organizations, Community Supported Film and international NGOs.  The intimate lived-reality stories produced by the Haitian storytellers will counter the mainstream media’s focus on disasters, conflicts and crises which leave core-causes and long-term development issues unaddressed or misunderstood.

Photo by: Action Aid

Photo by: Action Aid

While Michael is in Haiti he will meet with Haitian community media groups and local and international development organizations.  The community media groups will help us define the project so that it contributes to their needs and plans.   The development organizations will identify the specific issues in Haiti that the films could most effectively focus on.  In more recent talks with the American Jewish World Service (AJWS) and Action Aid, we have learned a lot about their work around land grabs in Haiti, and the importance of helping Haitians protect their natural resource and land rights, especially for women and in areas where mining and tourism are being developed. Check out AJWS’s special report on Human Rights in Haiti.

ile a vache

Photo by: News Junkie Post

Land grabbing is currently a vital issue in Haiti. This article discusses the issue of land grabs on the island of Ile a Vache in Haiti, and how peasants are fighting back against the construction of an international airport being built to promote tourism. Read more about it here.

This spring is an exciting time for CSFilm with our Haiti project underway! Remember to check our Facebook and Twitter pages for news and updates!


CSFilm Visits D.C. For Haitian Partner Meetings

Trip to D.C. April 2014

Trip to D.C. April 2014

Happy Spring!

This past week CSFilm director Michael Sheridan traveled to Washington D.C. to present the mission of CSFilm to international development and advocacy leaders, to learn about their work and to explore opportunities for collaboration on our current and future projects.  Keep reading to learn more about the process of developing our project in Haiti and about a few of the organizations Michael met with this week.

CSFilm’s mission is driven by collaboration.  We collaborate with local community media groups in the countries where we work to implement trainings in documentary filmmaking and video-journalism. The trainees are our ongoing collaborators in the work to develop and distribute locally produced stories. These stories are a paradigm shift away from external reports focused on external interests to local reporting and perspective that help us better understand how to effectively and sustainably respond to humanitarian and development needs.  Local and international civil society and non-governmental organizations are our essential collaborators for understanding the issues and using the films for comprehensive, robust and far reaching public education and advocacy campaigns.  These organizations have the networks to support large-scale distribution and public engagement.

This trip to DC was focused on learning from organizations working in Haiti and exploring options to collaborate on the initiative to produce  Haitian-made films and use them to influence the conversation around effective aid and governance during the 5th anniversary of the earthquake in January 2015.

Michael’s trip was motivated by an opportunity to meet with the Haiti Advocacy Working Group (HAWG ), a network of international development, faith-based, human rights and social justice organizations that formed after the Haiti earthquake in 2010 to advocate on issues related to United States-Haiti Policy.  These networks are driven by the oft unheralded individuals and organizations that are committed to monitoring Haitian needs and promoting a dialogue about Haitian aid and development long after policy-makers, the press and the general public have moved on.

HAWG is made up of many of the best and most experienced minds on Haitian development.  CSFilm’s first order of business is to begin to establish relationships and trust.  Understandably members need to examine the intentions and sincerity of new arrivals like CSFilm.  Michael was thankful for the frankness of the conversation in terms of what is already being done and the opportunities for further exploration either with the group or with individual members.


The American Jewish World Service (AJWS) hosts the HAWG meeting, and being there provided Michael with an opportunity to also meet with their campaign director about the potential for future collaborations.  AJWS has developed the  “We Believe” advocacy platform which is currently promoting an end to violence against women and girls, an end to hate crimes against LGBT people, and an end to child marriage.  CSFilm dreams of a future where campaigns like this include the training of people at the center of the issue in documentary filmmaking and their making of films that bring home the impact of the problem and the potential of the intended actions and solutions.


Michael also met with OXFAM America, which is where his career in documentary filmmaking began.  Oxfam America is focused on fighting poverty, hunger and injustice.   They are a leader in producing impactful campaigns on issues such as Effective Aid and Sustainable Agriculture.

We are excited about the many new conversations started during this trip and we look forward to keeping you informed about the actions that come out of them!  In the meantime please check out our Facebook and Twitter pages today!


We did it, and now… Haitians, Afghans, New Immigrants and Refugees

Dear Friend of Community Supported Film,

I hope your year is off to a good start and you are not badly affected by the season’s challenging weather.

training production engagement graphic - screen shot

I wanted to give you a quick update on our activities since December. First of all, our 2013 year-end fundraiser was a great success, raising $26,561, surpassing our $20,000 goal!

This good news is allowing us to:

1. Move forward with our plans to train new immigrants and refugees in documentary filmmaking. At meetings over the last few weeks with local immigrant and refugee organizations, we have heard that immigration reform, while stalled, will likely move forward after the November mid-term elections but probably not until the 2015 congressional session. In any case, community activists are suggesting that our joint storytelling and public engagement work will be most effective if it calls attention to issues that new immigrants and refugees will face after reform is passed.

What no one is talking about is that immigration reform is just the beginning of the process of fully integrating our new immigrants and refugees. With this in mind, we are organizing a local summit meeting, to finalize story focus, engagement strategies, and timing.

2. Train Haitians to tell their stories about effective and ineffective aid after the earthquake in 2010. This initiative is gaining traction with Haitians and organizations concerned with disaster management and sustainable economic development. All agree that the films will have most impact if released in advance of the fifth anniversary of the earthquake in January 2015.

We are very motivated by the potential impact of this project, but know that it is a huge undertaking for the coming year. To fully fund it, we plan to launch a Kickstarter campaign in May, in addition to seeking ongoing foundation support.

3. Continue our work with volunteers from Harvard Business School’s Social Enterprise Consulting Program. Since last fall, these volunteers have generously offered their time and expertise to develop CSFilm’s strategic plan. This has been enormously helpful as we solidify the vision and mission of our young but determined organization.

4. In Afghanistan the only certainty is uncertainty. In light of this we have decided to wait until after the elections, which will likely not end until mid-year, and the summer “fighting season,” to access how we can most effectively continue our work.

As you can see we have big plans to expand and deepen our mission. We hope to earn your continued intellectual and moral support as we forge ahead.

Many thanks and best wishes,

Michael Signature





Michael Sheridan, Founder and Director
Community Supported Film

P.S. Please help us spread the word about the work of Community Supported Film by letting us know if there is an individual, organization or foundation you could introduce us to.


Digital Communications Workshop with Michael Sheridan

Community Supported Filmmaking: From Afghanistan to Boston’s Immigrant Community, a Digital Communications Workshop with Michael Sheridan

Date: Friday, February 14th, 2014
Time: 2:10 – 4 pm
Location: RG 20, Rubenstein Building, Ground Floor, Harvard Kennedy School, 79 John F. Kennedy Street
Cambridge, MA 02138

Illustrating principles of video storytelling, filmmaker Michael Sheridan will present highlights of his work in Afghanistan and Indonesia training activists, journalists and storytellers to make their own documentary films. Against that background he will discuss his current project similarly to empower recent immigrants to Boston to tell their stories with video. Catherine Rielly will Harvard talkshare insights on how she uses DevCom films in her work with Rubia and immigrant groups in New Hampshire. Michael Sheridan, DevCom Mentor since 2001, Michael is an independent producer of film and video with a special interest in international issues of social and economic development in Africa and Asia. As a Fullbright Fellow, he spent a year in Indonesia teaching filmmaking, subsequently trained 10 Afghan filmmakers to make documentaries about issues in their communities. Michael is the founder of Community Supported Film:

Charles Mann, following his retirement from a career as a development economist with the Harvard Institute for International Development and The Rockefeller Foundation, founded the Development Communications Workshop, a collaboration with filmmakers to help students use video effectively for development and to produce documentaries about development issues.

Catherine Rielly, experienced development economist, teacher, DevCom Executive Producer, is the Executive Director of Rubia, a non-profit organization that promotes empowerment of Afghan women and immigrants in Manchester, New Hampshire: See her TEDx talk, “Empowerment by Stealth: Sewing Confidence, Literacy and Unexpected Power” :


The Messenger is the Message: Lecture at Mass Art

This March, Michael Sheridan of CSFilm will be giving a lecture entitled: “The Messenger is the Message: Why I Worked with Afghans to Tell Their Own Stories” at the Massachusetts School of Art and Design.

Below is a brief description of the lecture: CSF_DVD_image_small

Frustrated by the American media’s self-centered battlefront depiction  of Afghanistan, Michael went in 2009 to make a documentary from the  perspective of Afghan villagers. To match the method to the message, he  trained Afghan women and men in lived-reality documentary  filmmaking. The intensive 5-week training resulted in a compilation of  ten short films that provide a unique view of Afghans’ daily efforts to  address their challenging social and economic conditions.

CSFilm Training Afghanistan

As Robin Young, host of NPR’s Here and Now, reported, “Michael put cameras in the hands of Afghans and gave them training to make films about their lives. The result is an unprecedented intimate look at Afghan life with exchanges no outsider has been privy to before.” From Michael’s work in Afghanistan, he developed Community Supported Film an organization dedicated to strengthening documentary storytelling from the local perspective.

Michael will talk about the process, show excerpts from the films made by the Afghan trainees and compare them to the stories and images provided by the mainstream media. You can watch excerpts of the films here.

The lecture will be held on Thursday, March 20th, 2014 at Massachusetts College of Art and Design, in the Trustees Room (11th Floor, Tower Building) Boston, MA. Light refreshments will be served at 6:00pm, lecture begins at 6:30 pm.


Afghanistan’s Fight for Democracy, a presentation by High School student Nick Degug


This winter Michael Sheridan, director of Community Supported Film was contacted by high school student Nick Degug to answer some questions about Afghanistan. Below is a sample of the interview and a photograph of Nick’s final presentation.

 Dear Michael,IMG_07691

One of the toughest things about doing this project is that there is a lot of information available but the more I read about Afghanistan, the more I question what to believe and what is erroneous.

ND:What time frame were you in Afghanistan?

MS: I began research for my work in Afghanistan in 2008.  In 2009 I went on my first production trip during which I produced the trailer for a film in development-Brewing Tea in a Kettle of War. During this trip I decided to concentrate on training Afghans in documentary filmmaking.  In 2010 I returned in June for fundraising, partnership development and pre-training work.  October through December 2010 the training, production and screenings of The Fruit of Our Labor occurred.  In 2011 and 2012 I made multiple trips to mentor trainees through commissioned projects and to develop a sustainable program in Afghanistan.   The work continues.

ND: How does the violence in Afghanistan today compare to that of 2001?

MS: I did not experience Afghanistan in 2001, but generally speaking after the NATO invasion in 2002, during which there were substantial civilian casualties, the violence rose from 2002 to 2011 and has since leveled off to 2009 levels.  There was little battle front war activity during the Taliban regime 1996-2001 – although it was a brutal regime in terms of its implementation of Sharia Law and a harsh justice system.

ND:How have Afghans’ lives improved since you have been there and provided this opportunity to express themselves?

MS: For the long view, most Afghans were either survivors of the long civil war, the Taliban, or refugees before 2001.  Afghanistan has seen the largest repatriation of refugees of any country in the world.  These people are settling back into a country that has not had a stable government, except for the Taliban, since the late 1970s.  Afghans for the most part do not refer to their country being at war since 2002.  When they talk about the war they are typically referring to the very violent, bloody and country-wide civil war from the 80s through the 90s.  The American ‘war’ of the last decade is an insurgency.  Most of the country does not experience war, but is at risk of intermittent insurgent or NATO/Afghan National Army attacks and skirmishes.

For Afghans the last 10 years has been primarily about recovering from the civil war and Taliban extreemism.  This is most important in terms of clearing landmines from agricultural lands, rebuilding basic infrastructure, electricity, water systems, sanitation and roads.  Slowly, produce and products are coming back on line and people are starting to be able to buy staples produced in Afghanistan.  Until recently most everything consumed in Afghanistan was being imported – primarily from Pakistan.

From the perspective of the media and journalism sectors, there were no media outlets/TV stations allowed during the Taliban – for cultural and political reasons. Now the country has hundreds of radio stations – mostly province based – through which most Afghans get their news and information (the country has ~80% illiteracy).  TV stations in Kabul alone now number in the 40-50 range.  The lack of electricity in most of the country prohibits rural penetration of TV. Journalism is getting back on its feet but there is a lot of work to be done to strengthen this important sector and thereby the democratic, social and economic development of Afghanistan.

ND: Will the Afghans be able to sustain or even expand the skills we taught them if NATO leaves?

MS: If you are referring to military skills, then yes, this is the most important and primary area of skill that NATO could and should have concentrated on providing since 2002.  Unfortunately, training of the Afghan National Army and Police did not get real attention by NATO until 2010.  The defense and policing capacity of the Afghan government still has many years of training and provisioning required.   There is effectively no Afghan air force which is essential – particularly in such a rugged mountainous terrain.

ND: In my research, it seems that the majority of improvements have been in women’s rights.  What else has improved since America began assisting the people of Afghanistan?

MS: The international community has supported Afghan social and economic development extensively since 2002.  Japan and India are among the largest donors.  India has provided Afghanistan with its main highway, the capital city with electricity and is now building the parliament – among many other initiatives.  The Japanese and many other northern European countries have supported infrastructure, education and rural development.  Rural development is the most important in Afghanistan since it is still primarily a society dependent on subsistence agriculture.  The most important and successful development work has been conducted by the Afghan government’s National Solidarity Program (NSP) – a nationwide, grassroots, community and economic development program.  Since 2001 the US government has increased the amount of foreign aid controlled and implemented by the US military from 3% to 28%.  This has led to an ineffective program that implements the majority of our aid work through military units called Provincial Reconstruction Teams (PRTs)  (You can see a brief introductory film that I made comparing the PRTs and NSP on the CSFilm website).

ND: Do you think it is necessary to continue our efforts in Afghanistan? image with nick

MS: I was against a military approach to helping Afghanistan in 2001 and subsequently to our dominantly militarized approach over the last decade.  But now that the international community has taken a leading military role in the stabilization/destabilization of the country over the last 10 years, it has a moral obligation not to abandon the country.  In 2002 the UN had a peace and economic stabilization plan ready to implement but the US said it was going to stay and do the job.  What Afghans need is not a 5 or 10 year plan, dominated by a few self-interested powers, but an international plan that will commit to regional and national stabilization for decades to come.  As in Central Africa and other regions destabilized by hundreds of years of colonialism, Central Asia, with Afghanistan lost in the middle, needs long term stabilization and development assistance.

ND: In your opinion, what is the majority of the Afghans’ feelings about U.S. involvement/assistance in Afghanistan?

MS: Most Afghans are very thankful for the international community’s assistance.  Their biggest concern is whether they will be abandoned by the international community as they were in the 80s – which lead to the devastating civil war.   Most Afghans appreciate NATO’s military role in Afghanistan – primarily eager to see Pakistan’s role diminished and the insurgent extremists such as the Taliban weakened.  They are dismayed however by how much money NATO has spent and how strong the insurgents still are.  Afghans are easily swayed by conspiracy theories and many believe that the Americans are too strong to have not easily defeated the insurgents and therefore must secretly be supporting them and the Pakistanis.

ND: Similarly, do you believe the majority of the Afghan citizens favor a democratic government?

MS: Yes, most Afghans support notions of democracy and are eager for transparency and equitable justice – but democracy is defined differently by all people.  For the majority of Afghans, Islam is dominant in their lives, and they cannot conceive of anything, including democracy, playing a more determinant role than God and Islam.  Therefore, many Afghans do not look to a western concept of secular democratic government as being appropriate for their social, judicial or economic well-being.


Why do African media get Africa wrong?

Most African media only broadcast to home viewers and use wire services for their broader audience.
Last updated: 08 Jan 2014 11:32

Patrick Gathara is a strategic communications consultant, writer, and award-winning political cartoonist based in Nairobi.

Due to shrinking budgets, journalists ‘parachute’ in for a few days to cover crisis spots [Reuters]
Nanjala Nabola recently caused a bit of a stir with her Al Jazeera article asking, “Why do Western media get Africa wrong?” Reading through the piece, which was both interesting and informative, I couldn’t help but wonder: Just who does get Africa right? Is there even such a thing as getting Africa right?

From the outset, let me state that I agree with many of Nanjala’s criticisms of media coverage of events on the continent. As she says, much of it is devoid of nuance and context and seem oblivious to what Nigerian author Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie describes as the “danger of a single story” – the reductio ad absurdum of the tale of a continent of over a billion people and 54 countries, their existence, history and stories compressed into one simple, superficial, easily regurgitated cliche: “The hopeless continent.” “Africa rising.” “Magical Africa.”

However, it is not just Western media (itself a rather obtuse concept) that are guilty of reporting in this manner. African media commit many of the same sins though, given the fact that most only broadcast to discrete home audiences, it is easy for them to escape censure. While Africans in almost every country on the continent have the opportunity to be regularly appalled by their portrayal on CNN, Al Jazeera and BBC, it is rare that Kenyans will flip the channel to check what Nigerian journalists are reporting about them.

This is because few African media houses are actually trying to cover the continent for the continent. Many have their hands full reporting (or not reporting) news at home and do not think of Africa so much as a story that needs to be covered, but as part of the rest of the world and take their cue on reporting it from the Western outlets. As South African photojournalist and film-maker Greg Marinovich notes, “Most African media stories on Africa are from international wires.” Few have bureaus or send reporters outside their home countries, choosing to rely on the same Western reporters they delight in bashing.

Look at South Sudan, CAR, Congo or even Somalia, for instance. Most media on the continent remain supremely oblivious to the happenings there. Even in neighbouring nations such as Kenya, which has paid a huge price for Somalia’s instability, media only seem able to regurgitate the Western tropes about fighting terror and Islamic extremists. Few journalists bother to understand the genesis of the two-decade long anarchy or to explain the reasons and wisdom of Kenya’s intervention. In October 2011, many were busy beating the patriotic drum of war and most have since lost interest in what Kenyan troops are doing across the border.

Nanjala also points out that in most Western reporting of Africa, “The Rest is necessarily set up in opposition to the West,” resulting in coverage where “issues or situations are rarely, if ever, analysed for their intrinsic impact or worth. Events or situations are analysed as what the West is not.” But that, too, cuts both ways. Sometimes, African media will mirror this and set up the Rest in opposition to the perceptions of the Western press.

Another example from Kenya: As the elections last year approached, the country was inundated by Western journalists, many undoubtedly there in anticipation of a repeat of the 2007/8 post-election bloodshed. Most Kenyan media-folk were appalled, having themselves determined to practice something called peace journalism. In any case, their resultant, overly uncritical reporting of the election seemed at least partly motivated by the desire to prove to their Western counterparts that Kenya was not another African basket case.

Maybe media, whether Western or African should just cover stories in Africa, as opposed to seeking African stories.

Shrinking budgets

To be fair, when gauging their performance, one has to also consider the environment in which African media operate. Many operate under severe government restrictions, with limited resources. Shrinking budgets are, however, a worldwide phenomena. Much has been made about the phenomenon of journalists parachuting (not literally) to crisis spots for a few days and filing reports with neither context nor understanding. However, as Suzanne Franks noted nearly a decade ago:

“An important gap in the way that Africa is reported is not just the disappearance of regular correspondents, but also of longer more considered television documentaries.As current affairs coverage has declined, the only television outlet left for factual programming about Africa is on the news. So the kind of explanations and background context that would once have been contained in a thirty or forty minute programme, if they happen at all, now have to be compressed into a two or three minute package. It also means that the nature of what is covered will be dictated by news priorities. TV news, which is how most people find out about the world, is an event driven operation. Contemporary news reporting in Africa is invariably of the ‘fire fighting’ tendency. In the absence of resident correspondents, a highly professional reporter – well attuned to the needs and expectations of the various outlets- is flown in when disaster occurs and expected to deliver something within days if not hours.”

Remember that African news outlets are dependent on Western-based international wires to tell Africa’s story. Also recall that they take their cue on what their audiences need to hear from Western news outlets. That means they are in no position to pick up the slack. In fact, they are part of the problem, perpetuating and disseminating as they do Western perspectives, biases and stereotypes. (Let me hasten to add that by no means are all Western journalists or all journalists working for Western-based outlets guilty of this.)

Perhaps the answer lies in an approach that does away with the idea of covering Africa. Since, like Chimamanda, most people on the continent do not primarily identify themselves as Africans except in opposition to those who aren’t. As Mwalimu Julius Nyerere observed, “Africans all over the continent, without a word being spoken either from one individual to another, or from one country to another, looked at the European, looked at one another, and knew that in relation to the European they were one.”

To cover Africa is necessarily to step outside of it, to see it in relation to “the European”. Such a perspective is hardly going to reflect how Africans see themselves. It is not an invalid perspective though. Just, again to borrow from Chimamanda, an incomplete one.

Maybe media, whether Western or African should just cover stories in Africa, as opposed to seeking African stories.


Bringing the Teaching Home – Doc Bootcamp Course at MassArt, Boston

AAM pigeon shoot - 12

Michael Sheridan working with students in Afghanistan

Michael Sheridan will teach the Documentary Bootcamp course at the Massachusetts College of Art and Design in Boston.  The course is a one week intensive, January 13-17, 2014, covering  the full production experience in fast motion: project definition, project planning, camera, editing, and presentation. It’s open to the public and to 10 students  of all levels of experience.  To learn more please go to MassArt’s registration page.

Students are welcome to use their own digital video camcorder during the course if it accepts an external microphone, allows for audio monitoring and has manual focus and exposure controls.


Changing of the Guard

Another moment in life of mixed emotions:  We are very sorry to see Ali Pinschmidt, Program Coordinator, moving on after two and a half years at CSFilm, and very happy that Kate Bamberg has agreed to join us.

Ali and Rakan

Ali presenting the work of CSFilm

Ali started when the operation was still working out of my living room.  She brought a unique knowledge of participatory filmmaking and community development. During her time at CSFilm, she lead the outreach and distribution work of the Afghan-made Fruit of Our Labor films, including the organizing of an impressive Congressional briefing in DC.  More recently she has taken primary responsibility for reaching out to potential partners for our intended training and production work with new immigrants and refugees in the Boston area.  Each of these efforts has been accomplished with great energy and spirit and within the constraints of a very young and underfunded organization.  To grow CSFilm, Ali has written grant applications, donor appeals, newsletters and developed the vast amount of administrative infrastructure that a young organization depends on.  As is Ali’s nature, during our farewell meeting and dinner with advisers Laura Roper and Anuradha Desai, Ali brought a detailed two page analysis of organizational strengths and weaknesses that will continue to inform our next steps even in her absence.  I’m sure that all of you who have met or communicated with Ali over the last years join me in thanking her for her work and wishing her the very best in her new filmmaking, teaching and organizing ventures.


Kate during her semester abroad in England

Another area that Ali managed astutely was our need for interns.  Interns are the life blood of the organization and one intern that worked very hard for us last year was Kate Bamberg.   If I remember correctly, the intern interview with Kate took place via skype, with me in Afghanistan, Kate on a semester abroad in London and Ali holding down the fort in Boston.  Kate has now finished her dual degree in Film Studies and International Development, and we are thrilled that she was available to join the team.   It is a great help that she already knows so much about the organization and she brings a dedication to the cause, with a particular interest in indigenous voices. Welcome aboard Kate! Read more about Kate on our staff page.

Michael Sheridan, Director


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