Sunday, March 14, 2010

Addicted in Afghanistan

I saw the London premiere of the film "Addicted in Afghanistan" last week and wrote a review and my thoughts on it for another site, which I am sharing below. It was absolutely the saddest documentary I have seen in a long time and reminds us of our task in Afghanistan and our need to be there for the Afghans. The original piece was published on Project Carousel website and can also be found on my personal blog Chowraha.

Last Thursday, on March 11 2010, SOAS held the London Premiere of the film “Addicted in Afghanistan.” Khalili Lecture Theatre was packed at 6:00 pm from people who had been queing up since 5:15 pm eager to watch Jawed Taiman’s film on the addiction to narcotics in Afghanistan covered via the lives of two young best friends Jabbar and Zahir, boys aged between 14 and 16.

The film was gripping from its very first scene as it took the audience through the journey of these two boys, happy in their childhood but gripped in one of the most sad state of affairs in the world. Both were addicted to opium. What especially saddened me and definitely caught the audience’s emotions was when in the very beginning Jabbar looks to his dad and says (referring to Jawed’s film), “He is going to show this to the world!” to which his dad responds “so what?” and the young boy looks away from the camera saying “its going to bring shame to us.” His dad’s response: “Don’t worry, he will only show it to the important people in London and America, and maybe they will feel sorry for our situation and help us”

The film was phenomenally well-made and definitely worth checking out for those who missed it. It traces the problem of addiction to opium in Afghanistan to its myriad sources of trouble: the allied forces in Afghanistan, the corrupt government and opium lords, the extreme poverty caused by decades of war in the country, the foreign interests in poppy growth in Afghanistan and the usage of resources in not always the right places for the development of the country.

One of the surprising confessions shown in the film was when one of the boys declared with a sense of bitterness “its all because of the foreigners that i am addicted. If the Taliban were to come back, I won’t be addicted anymore – its the foreigners!”. The filmmaker rephrased the young boy’s “strange” (as dubbed by a lady in the audience) expression by pointing out that because the Taliban used the Shariah law (Islamic law and jurisprudence), all they had to say was the cultivation and distribution of poppy is banned from the country and it meant it was banned. Poppy cultivation came down to zero during their governance but ever since their departure has been growing in figures. Jawed Taiman explained that that is the reality the child has seen in front of him and owes his addiction to. m of law), it meant that it was a complete ban.

To another question from the audience, Jawed said what he believed was happening in Afghanistan was the cultivation of two types of poppy fields. One, for the television and the other for business. The poppy fields that were grown for the television were then burnt down in order to show to the world that poppy cultivation in Afghanistan was being stopped. However, those living in Afghanistan know exactly where the ‘real’ poppy cultivation was happening. Even the little children in the movie knew who the distributors were and could easily give opium to any one willing to pay them for it.

The state of poverty in Afghanistan is a striking and heart-breaking feature of the film. The families shown could not afford electricity or bare essentials for survival but were still addicted to opium which was taking whatever little finances they had left. Each sachet of opium cost them $10, an amount quite expensive for those with no food at home. Their homes had cloth and plastic sheets blocking the window spaces in the wall because they could not afford real glass windows. If even one person in the family saved on the one sachet a day, they could easily save $300 which could get them wheat, rice, clothes etc.

The method for detoxification used in Afghanistan is called “cold water treatment” because of the lack of money to buy proper medicines. In this treatment cold water is thrown on the addict that is in pain. The government-controlled detox centres do not have the kind of resources or management to take in enough people claiming that the waiting-list for those willing to be detoxed is too long. Private detox centres require payment and hence cannot keep people for longer than 10 days. Zahir who manages to successfully goes through the 10 day detox returns home to find cold bare floors, no electricity, no food and the responsibility of paying the rent of the house which is due. He is back into the reality which got him addicted in the first place. Jawed pointed out that fancy clinics are set up with lots of money but there are no resources to follow-up on the rehabilitation of those detoxed, in order to ensure that they are not caught in the same vicious cycle again.

It is easy to wonder why people do not make a more concerted effort to control their addiction for the sake of the future. But Jawed does a great job in showing the reality poverty and its frustrations bring to many and where the government and those pouring resources into Afghanistan need to take better actions. It also does a great job in bringing to the audience the behind-the-tv-screens reality of Afghanistan and how easy it is to fall prey to the ‘development’ and ‘aid’ rhetoric our governments seem to want us to believe in.

The trailer of the film can also be seen here

Friday, January 29, 2010

First Fund-raiser for Afghanistan Project

Owing to us being bogged down with the fund-raising events in the last few months of 2009, with the wrapping up of the year and the planning for the new year, this blog post is admittedly late in its release. But now that we have recuperated from 2009 fatigue, are set for the new year, and the excitement of the new projects is kicking in again, it's actually easy and quite fun to recall how the Afghanistan fund-raiser went in Nov 2009. It's better late than never right!

Close to 70 people joined in the bustling energy that filled the room at Seattle Public Library on November 15, 2009. Some were our Seattle-based Afghan friends, others came from Microsoft, Harvard business school club of Puget sound, and Harvard club of seattle, joined by our always-there-for-us dream-makers in Seattle.

In an intimate setting, the Afghan music playing in the background only added to the warm aura of the room. We had a table with Rubia products and thanks to Amena, and in fact the Wardak family as a whole, there was titillating mainly-home-made Afghan food awaiting us. (In case, you're wondering Rubia is the organization we have partnered with for our project in Afghanistan). For me personally, the exciting bit was a dreamwall section where we had pictures from dreamwall Pakistan and lots of pics of our children from dreamfly Pakistan and children from Jalalabad. People left personal notes for the kids and got their pictures taken which we will take to the kids.

We showed videos about dreamfly and Afghanistan. Mona and Umaimah spoke about dreamfly's journey to-date and what we’re looking to accomplish in Afghanistan. A young kid from Afghanistan, Akmal, who’s an exchange student from Jalalabad in Seattle also spoke and thanked all the attendees for their support to build a school in his home-town (it was very moving J).

Friday, January 22, 2010

Looking back at 2009 with dreamfly

It's been a year since i officially joined dreamfly and i can say looking back at the year i cannot be happier with the decision. It all started with my journey in TCF, and the dreamfly school in Badin that was being discussed between the dreamfly founders and TCF team. It was just inspiring, how passionately, just within a year, HBS students and Microsoft employees came together to fund the building of the school and the little kids of Badin saw their first formal school with the happiness that cannot be compared with any thing else in the world.

Since then dreamfly has become more ambitious and better equipped than before.
With the strength of its supporters, the success of its first school and the happy stories of its 200 little kids our dreams have become bigger and more real. We want a world empowered and united through literacy, education and communication. With the observation that technology and communication can break artificial barriers and boundaries built by humans, we realize that we can ease the access to these by providing avenues and by creating literacy in the impoverished areas.

And we set out on this venture, looking back at which we didn't do too bad for the year 2009 :)...

  1. It only made sense that the first barrier to be broken is with the neighbors of our first school. Our next project will be in Afghanistan.
  2. We visited Afghanistan in Spring to figure out where the most need was and which organizations would be most suited for our purposes. You can read about this trip in our blog posts called "Our first day in Afghanistan", "Our second day in Afghanistan" and "How I Found Afghanistan".
  3. We are starting a primary school and women's craft centre in Jalalabad, Afghanistan scheduled to start in Spring 2010.
  4. For this project, we partnered with Rubia which will handle all donations and will be responsible for the on-ground execution of the project.
  5. We also went to Pakistan and met with the dreamfly kids there. We built a dreamwall with them. Our first ever dreamfly dreamwall and we just cant wait until we can build one in the Jalalabad school too!
  6. dreamfly went super online! We have a fan page on facebook which is constantly updated with news, photos and updates from us, we can be followed on twitter and maintain this blog, and we love hearing from our supporters!
  7. We expanded our volunteer-based core team this year too to include some great people helping us coordinate our project in Afghanistan, our future plans and related projects, our social networking and much more! (PS: Watch out for an update on our website really soon so u can meet these fun people!)
  8. We also held successful fundraisers for our Afghanistan project in the latter half of the year. Watch out on this blog for more details about how this went!

With all of this excitement and busy-ness, I just can't wait to see how this year will turn out for dreamfly....and what's more I just can't wait to share all these with our bestest dream-makers!

Monday, September 21, 2009

dreamfly: Crawl Before You Can Walk

DreamFly: Crawl Before You Can Walk

I know this is a late post - I actually bumped into it myself very recently. Gotta love technology! Lahore University of Management Sciences (LUMS) Alumnae talk about dreamfly - read it by following the link above.

Friday, July 24, 2009

Sharing dreams: dreamfly dreamwall

This May we launched our first project of bridging boundaries between the dream-makers in the United States and the dreamfly children in Pakistan. We are ever grateful to over 40 Harvard Business School (HBS) students for making this project possible with their time and affection. Students from Class of 2009 Section J sent hand-written letters sharing their dreams (as children) and attached their personal or family pictures with them. The notes were decorated with thought, love and creativity and were a huge deal of joy and inspiration for the children at dreamfly campus in Akri.

Collecting the Thoughts

Umaimah from dreamfly team, from Class of 2009 HBS, began this project by collecting the notes on her last day of class.

“We do a ‘reflections session’ at the very end of HBS’s 2 years where we talk about what HBS has meant for us, how we have changed or not because of HBS, and what our group of people want to stand for in the future.” Taking this opportunity in front of her group, Umaimah then asked her co-students to share their thoughts on blank pieces of paper.

The class had been asked to bring their pictures beforehand. It was an inspiration to see the dream-makers spend their time with great care for the children of dreamfly campus. Some even wrote and re-wrote their notes while some wanted to know if what they wrote was culturally appropriate for the children. The dream-makers must have taken over an hour to complete all of this. What was even more uplifting was that those who were absent that day also wanted to participate and tried to contact Umaimah to share their notes for dreamfly kids!

Sharing the Love

In May, on our trip to Pakistan, dreamfly team spent a day with dreamfly kids at May making a dream wall out of the notes that were sent to them all the way from United States. The children loved the photographs and were curious about every one who had written to them. They wanted to know about the kids from Africa in Lauren’s photo, if Seema was an actress, asked why Max was holding a funny watering can, if Dan Moon was a real doctor, if Zuber was Pakistani? The children talked about each of the photographs as they put them up on the dream wall.

The most memorable moment was when the principal talked to the children about a quote from Martin Luther King in one of the notes. She explained his historical significance to the children and even said that it is probably because of him that Obama is the President today! She passed MLK’s message on to the children telling them the importance of giving equal rights to every human and treating each with love and respect. The kids were quieting down as she went on to tell children about MLK and it was obvious they were thinking deeply about his words. It was an emotional moment because the children knew that those behind the notes all came from different parts of the world.

"I have a dream..."

The idea behind the project was to bring our children closer to the rest of the world so that they could hear real people talk about their real dreams. The project succeeded in every level – it even brought the message of equality and tolerance to them. They could make a connection between MLK’s cause and the fact that all these people from across the world cared for them enough to send messages of love and inspiration.

If you too want to send a note to or share your dreams and pictures with the children of dreamfly campus in Pakistan, send it to us on twitter or facebook or you could email it to