I say Afghanistan. You think war. Or corruption, or terrorism, or violence, or all of the above. It’s a country marred by conflict, painted red with blood and stereotypes. That’s the image in our Western heads at least, purported by our news agencies as much as our own ignorance and detachment. I’ll admit I used to have the same associations. That was until I heard a different kind of story.
Meet Jasmin Kozowy, a 24-year-old Canadian documentary filmmaker and journalist based in Sydney, and one of my very close friends. I met Jasmin when I was living in Australia in 2009 and immediately knew she was one of those people who might just change the world. The child of two activists, it wasn’t so much a choice as it was a duty to devote her life to the causes she believes in. While most of us dance quite freely down the road of hedonism and cultured materialism, Jasmin trekked a very different path. From the bubble of Bondi to the rubble in Kabul, Jasmin set out on a mission to tell the story of hope in Afghanistan. Her documentary, GENERATION A, does just that.
The film gives a voice to the new protagonists, those who believe in the future of Afghanistan. So what’s the solution? Education. The students, the teachers, the professors; they are the future. As the saying goes, knowledge is power, and it is in that trust which gives conviction to the belief that the educated mind will change the world. This is where the heart of the film lies, in the untold story of the education system in Afghanistan. With 70 percent of the population under the age of 25, therein lies the hope.
By changing the dialogue from problems to solutions, GENERATION A shifts the paradigm from a country littered with difficulties to a nation with a bright future. It’s not depressing, but uplifting, and any tears shed while watching the film are rooted in optimism rather than horror or sympathy.
From a Western perspective, Afghanistan is often seen as country with so many negative associations and so little expectations. GENERATION A paints a very different picture, both narratively and cinematically. Why did you choose to tell this story?
This story gave me the ability to speak for those who don’t have a voice, which comes naturally to me as well as I get tremendous joy from it. I believe it’s my duty as a first world person to shed light on the dark places in the world because I’ve been born with incredible opportunities that can create positive change. I have the freedom to help others. Afghanistan is just one of many countries that need’s our love and support.
How did GENERATION A come about?
I was a media consultant for two ex army rangers spinning a story about sustainable local economy to various large media outlets. I immediately fell in love with the aesthetics of Afghanistan and fell even more for the people/culture. I decided to go back to Afghanistan by myself to research further into the solution to the problem I was seeing on the ground: lack of education. I visited many refugee camps that inspired me to make GENERATION A. Seeing the children thirsty for education- broke my heart.
You put yourself in imminent danger by travelling there. How did it feel to be a young, white female in Afghanistan?
I’m a strong believer that if you have good intentions people will see that and want to help – that’s exactly what happened in Afghanistan. You have to be in constant control over your emotions in a country like Afghanistan. Fear breads more fear.
What was the Afghan response to your documentary?
They have been so positive and supportive; recently I helped OZ Afghan Charity raise $60,000 for schools and medical supplies for Afghanistan through GENERATION A.
Who do you think has the responsibility and the power to implement such crucial education strategies in Afghanistan? Is this a task for their government, or is it up to outside powers to be the driving force?
Unfortunately the current Afghanistan government does not see education as a priority. That’s why so many people like myself try to help create awareness and other alternatives.
Do you realistically think the government in Afghanistan will step in and implement education strategies?
Currently Afghanistan is in the middle of an election so I hope the new government (whoever gets elected) see that education is the only way forward. It’s the key to so many problems in Afghanistan.
What changes have you seen in Afghanistan since filming the documentary?
There’s a sense of hope in the air, the next generation is protesting for a brighter future. I saw the Afghan youth dedicating their lives to improving their county. Generational change by definition takes time but it’s on the horizon.
What is your position on the American troops in Afghanistan and how do you feel about their intention to withdraw later this year? Is Afghanistan ready?
The American troops is a tricky one. I believe about 10% of the army is important – they have played a crucial role in creating a better Afghanistan. I find the rest of the army is not needed. It’s time to bow out gracefully and keep a limited presence. Afghanistan is like a wobbling baby elephant, trying to find its footing.
GENERATION A talks about the big picture; that is a positive future for Afghanistan through education. What are some of the specific approaches you believe will significantly affect change?
We need to encourage critical thinking at an early age. Engaging the next generation in healthy political debate, learning to agree to disagree. I would like to see programs (elementary level) that teach kids at a young age to problem solve. Also in my lifetime I want to see an international accredited university in Afghanistan.
What needs to happen now to make this a reality?
Simply supporting a new narrative of Afghanistan. The country needs to sit down at the table of brotherhood and create positive change together as one. We, as the international community, need to support those efforts. You can donate to my crowd-funding page here to support local schools in Afghanistan.
GENERATION A is about education, first and foremost, but it’s educational in its own right. The film starts a new conversation among our Western society, giving us hope for a different future for Afghanistan. Fostering a knowledgeable youth through the schooling system today will create positive leaders for tomorrow, and that’s a bright future. After all, it is those leaders who, when given the power, will be able to make the changes needed to save Afghanistan. With education we can change the world, or at the very least, change a country.
No one says it quite so poignantly as Afghan activist Malala Yousafzai* did in her speech to the United Nations in July last year. It is these words which open the film.
“Let us pick up our books and our pens. They are our most powerful weapons. One child, one teacher, one book, and one pen can change the world. Education is the only solution. Education first.”
Let’s change the conversation. When I say Afghanistan, you think hope. And education, and youth, and a bright future. Now there’s hope for a generation.
*Malala Yousafzai is the female Afghan education activist who was shot in the head in 2012 by the Taliban for speaking out in advocation of girls’ schooling.
For more information on GENERATION A or to buy a copy of the film head to http://generationafilm.com/ or to read more about Jasmin’s crowd-funding project and to donate click here. All photo credits: Jasmin Kozowy.
Join the conversation via social media and hashtag #GENERATIONA.
Watch the trailer here.
© Samantha Shorter and Bright Eyes, 2014.