Afghan Women’s Writing Project helps to link East-West cultures
By Kirby Brooks
It isn’t surprising to see Afghanistan in the daily news, especially with the recent death of Osama bin Laden, but it is surprising to gain insight into the daily thoughts and worries of the women in this war-torn country. Local writer Barbara Field is getting just that, as a volunteer for the Afghan Women’s Writing Project (AWWP). With the motto, “To tell one’s story is a human right,” AWWP couples Afghan women with female writing mentors here in the United States. Although the resulting essays, stories and poems are written in peril and edited to protect the women’s identities, some of their most poignant insights come from ordinary, not extraordinary events.
“I don’t know how people can read these poems and stories and not be inspired,” said Field, explaining her motivation for becoming involved with AWWP. “The stories — some horrible and some good — are so moving … so powerful. You read them and say to yourself, ‘Oh gosh, oh wow.’ We are helping these women have a voice.”
The writing and editing process is all conducted online in secure classrooms. “I spend a few weeks or a month with a student working on one or two pieces,” Field explained.
When you read the stories on the website, what comes across as shocking is not the situations, but how these burqa-clad women seem more like Western women than one might think. Despite living in a society where far less freedom is afforded women, the stories published through AWWP showcase a woman who ran for parliament, a woman who rebelled against her family and culture to marry the man she loves, and another who became an outspoken advocate for imprisoned Afghan women in the face of a threat from the Taliban. These circumstances may not be common in America, but the spirit of these women is something American women can identify with nonetheless.
“We can do anything and say anything, and we take it for granted,” Field said. “When you read their stories it all comes home. They risk so much to tell their stories, yet what comes out of them is our similarities as women.”
Field, a UCSD communications manager and Op Ed Project regional manager, recently wrapped her first rotation with AWWP students. She joins a list of accomplished mentors involved with the project. Field was on staff at CBS, Harcourt Brace, and Scripps Research Institute. Her novel, “The Deeper, The Bluer,” won a Writer’s Digest fiction award. She also teaches at UCSD’s Extension Service and Whidbey Island Writers Conference.
AWWP was founded in May 2009 by Brooklyn journalist and novelist Masha Hamilton. The winner of the 2010 Women’s Writing Project has authored four acclaimed novels, most recently “31 Hours,” in 2009. Hamilton reported from Afghanistan in 2004 and 2008.
Since the early days of AWWP, the organization has worked with more than 100 writers and mentors, and hopes to see that number double in the future. AWWP also operates a safe workshop space dubbed the “Women’s Writing Hut,” at an undisclosed location in Kabul. Now in its third year, AWWP has expanded its presence in Heart, and is beginning workshops in Dari and Pashto.
“We support women as they move forward to re-imagine their lives and revise what is possible. I have personally seen several of our writers grow more determined and focused on their goals as a result of telling their stories as part of our project,” founder Hamilton states on the AWWP’s website http://www.awwproject.org/help-our-women-writers/
Said Field about her goal in working with the organization, “I want people to see the positive through this project rather than expose what rights these women don’t have.”
How to connect
• Visit http://www.awwproject.org/help-our-women-writers/ to read the stories
• OR to make a tax-deductible donation of $25 or more (in June and July) toward the “Freedom to Tell Your Story” project and be entered in a drawing to win autographed books, CDs and videos
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