By: Rachel Kohn
The capital of Herat Province and the third-largest city in Afghanistan, the city of Herat drew international news coverage this month for roadside explosions and assassinations of regional officials. From the perspective of local Afghan Voices trainee Jalaluddin "Jalal" Jamshiddy, however, Herat's present is but a point in a sweeping history and potentially bright future. He speaks of the Citadel of Herat, known locally as Qala Iktyaruddin, a fortress site dating back more than 2,000 years and a dozen empires. The city's minarets and cemeteries of renowned poets and Awliya'ullah (Dari for, "friends of God,") are famous; its people are hospitable and cultured. Even the local accent is "a little sweet" compared to the Dari spoken in other provinces, he says.
Jalal Jamshiddy, 19: "We are change-makers."
Jalal was born in 1994 and comes from a blue-collar background. When he talks about the hardships of his youth, he does not refer to any financial difficulty but immediately hones in on the challenge of attaining a quality education. "Civil war and the aftermath of 9/11 made completing primary and secondary school a challenge for many Afghan children," he says. Jalal's father was unable to pursue his education beyond high school due to the civil war, and if he pushed his son to give 100 percent in school it was because he supported the dedication Jalal displayed on his own. (That commitment paid off in 2011 when Jalal graduated among the top three students in the entire city.)
Jalal started out volunteering in civil society, participating in vaccine programs and clean-up efforts and now, "I make a revolution by beautiful duty of being a documentary film maker," he says.
Since being little I had read many stories about successful people who were making a movement of a change in a community or country. This was hacked in my mind: I wish I could make small changes for my people.
While Jalal says that every documentary he produced this year as a trainee in Afghan Voices is his favorite, the one closest to his heart reflects his strong regional ties. Herat Province shares a border with Turkmenistan to the north and Iran to the west. Jalal grew up hearing stories of Afghans attempting to flee the instability and unemployment at home for economic opportunities abroad, only to be gunned down by the Iranian border guards. "I remember, many of our relatives in the district has their own story [about when] the body of their dearest was taken to their home from the desert and mountains of the Iran border," he says. There are "thousands of other same stories in thousands of painful mothers' hearts." His documentary, Travel to the Dark, chronicles this untold story in an effort to end public silence surrounding the issue. Jalal views his films as educational tools to raise awareness domestically and abroad, and he has internalized the code of ethics described previously by Afghan Voices Director Emal Haidary. Being a journalist, says Jalal, means "to reflect and to picture the facts of time to all people in a sincere way."
I am so proud of being an Afghan... [It] is clear that the responsibility of youth like me is serving to the people, community and country in a sincere way. I have always tried to work for my country and people, because sometimes I think that if we all [look] to others to help us then no one will ever get prepared.
There is a very famous story, he says, that once upon a time a king asked his subjects to fill the swimming pool in his palace with milk. He wished to bathe in the milk on the morrow. In the morning, when the king went to the pool, it contained only water-- everyone had assumed that others would contribute the milk.
This simple tale speaks volumes about Jalal's motivation as a young Afghan and a filmmaker. "I am a change-maker," is his mantra, and perhaps his drive will push others to offer milk instead of water as well.
ABOUT THE WRITER A native Michigander, Rachel Kohn is completing her Masters in International Media at American University. Before moving to the DC area, she ran her own small business as a public relations consultant and freelance writer in Jerusalem, Israel. She graduated from Brandeis University in 2007 with Bachelors degrees in Political Science and Environmental Studies, two of her passions. While attending a religious studies program in the West Bank town of Elkana from 2002-2003, she volunteered as a foreign correspondent for her hometown paper, reporting on the Second Intifada and life in the shadow of the U.S.-Iraq War. Rachel thinks that knowledge through contact is the key to understanding and coexistence. She also tends to dance in her chair if music is playing.
Feature photo by Jalal Jamshidi. All other photos courtesy of Afghan Voices