Established in 2001, AINA was the first organization with the goal of building up civil society nationwide in Afghanistan and restoring the Afghan people’s sense of culture and identity. AINA’s core strategies are to (1) train women in media, culture, and communication, so they can develop long-term autonomous and sustainable business entities and (2) educate children for the long-term peace and progress of Afghanistan.
After thirty years experience with heavily affected communities, Reza launched a program for the Afghan people in 2000. He saw Afghanistan as a pilot for rebuilding a society’s social fiber in extreme conditions, in a way that could be replicated in similarly affected areas across the world. Essential to his idea was to involve local people in spreading the program, so that it is by and done for Afghanis.
As a first step Reza focused on creating a pool of “master trainers” in the area of media and communication. These film-makers, photographers, radio journalists, and writers, mostly women, became the core training team. But more importantly, Reza began to identify potential “managers and administrators” for media enterprises, recognizing that these were the individuals key to the long-term success and growth of any independent media business. Often these were people who have greater strengths in managerial roles than within the creative media industries. With a pool of both—media experts and management experts—Reza and AINA could begin building a self-multiplying community of media professionals to quickly transform the media landscape in Afghanistan, particularly with respect to women’s voices.
Once any media organization is successfully directed and managed by local staff, AINA supplies the funding and professional experience to develop the organization into sustainable business entities. Although these businesses are entirely creatively and financially independent, a Memorandum of Understanding is signed between the enterprise and AINA to ensure that all business entities continue to adhere to the ethics as convened in AINA’s charter.
Within three years, AINA trained hundreds in communications and media production. Dozens of sustainable media businesses flourished, including women-led radio stations that disseminated information on health, nutrition, domestic violence, education, and more. One of the most notable, “Afghan Women’s Voices” airs nine hours daily and is completely autonomous and sustainable.
AINA also supported the production and creation of eight independent publications, training the journalists, providing the publishing equipment, and covering the initial print and distribution costs. One of the most successful, Kabul Weekly, was designed to accurately reflect the concerns and desires of Afghan citizens across all topics. Since its inception, close to 3 million editions have been printed and today the paper is autonomous, sustainable, and directed by AINA trained Afghan journalists.
AINA also facilitated the launch of Parvaz, Afghanistan’s first and only children’s magazine. Parvaz is a colorful, visually rich educational tool full of stories and illustrations that teach children (and subsequently their families) about health issues, brotherhood and tolerance, sharing, and Afghanistan history, among many other topics. To date, thirteen issues have been produced totaling 390,000 copies, for an average of 30,000 copies per issue being distributed throughout Afghanistan. Each issue of Parvaz is read by almost half a million children and adults.
Finally, AINA created the first Afghan television serial, “Palwasha” (meaning, “rays of the sun”). The series follows a female judge (the heroine) who within each episode deliberates and rules on issues such as domestic violence, gender equality, drug addition, child abuse, and others. The first series of twenty-five episodes has aired in Afghanistan and parts of Europe to great acclaim. Such a series is a remarkable achievement only seven years after the expulsion of the Taliban.
Reza’s focus on media and communications is closely tied to his belief in the power of information and education. Another of his key initiatives, “emergency education,” involves mobile visual learning packages that can reach the furthest corners of Afghanistan to educate and empower its citizens, particularly children. Films are projected on huge screens sometimes in the middle of a desert, all powered by a generator that operates from a bus that travels across the country to the most distant and disenfranchised areas. Topics of the films include health and vaccinations, tolerance, cultural history, democracy, equality, and more. Reza believes these are critical for reconstructing the identities of Afghanistan’s citizens, and ensuring the country progresses towards democracy and peace.
AINA has had a measurable impact in Afghanistan since its inception. The radio station “Afghan Women’s Voices” reaches over 5 million listeners. The first and only Afghan Photojournalism Institute has trained over 100 photojournalists who now work for national and international media and institutions. The video production and training unit trained the first Afghan camera woman and produced the first documentary film by an all-female production team—entitled, “Afghanistan Unveiled”—which was nominated for an Emmy Award (2005). AINA’s mobile educational cinema has shown more than thirty AINA-produced educational films throughout the country to over 1 million people. The films have helped spur national awareness campaigns with the support from the UN on health issues, participatory government, and equality for all. AINA is predominantly locally run and is moving toward being 100 percent self-sufficient.
Perhaps most importantly, AINA has promoted a spirit of volunteerism among Afghanistan’s people and has given women the freedom to express themselves—a privilege most women never dreamed of.
Reza is looking to build on the successes of AINA and take his idea to a global level. His Open Mind initiative will combine long-term strategies of media development with “emergency education” programs—including mobile cinema, women’s radio, and children’s magazines—meant to re-establish cultural touchstones, keep refugees connected to their homeland and traditions, and provide education and a sense of hope amid the turmoil.
Reza will launch Open Mind in Sudan, Kurdistan, and Burma in 2009.