Generation A: a new story about Afghanistan
Generation A: a new story about Afghanistan
Marred by years of warfare and conflict, Afghanistan is a country in the midst of transition. But according to Jasmin Kozowy, a former media consultant for the US army cum documentary filmmaker, there is much hope on the ground as the new generation of Afghans begins to find their voice.
“We have all this carnage and blood and bombers and the Taliban. But there’s also a beautiful culture there that we forget to report on – we forget to report on the success stories. We’ve been occupying a country for over 10 years there are some amazing things going on in Afghanistan and I think we need to refocus the way we talk about this place,” Kozowy says.
Disheartened by the story that the world’s media was telling about Afghanistan, Kozowy embarked on producing a film that would “shift the focus” away from what she describes as the “if it bleeds, it leads” news stories – and so her documentary Generation A was born.
“When I first went there I decided that I didn’t want to be spinning that story anymore, it was an old narrative, and I really wanted to focus and shift my way to having a more positive narrative for Afghanistan.”
For Kozowy, who first visited the country as a 23-year-old ‘spin doctor’ for the US army, one of the biggest myths that needed to be overcome was that all Afghans are “extremists” or ‘”terrorists”. What she encountered on the ground was a very different story – one of a hospitable, warm and loving people who are taking their own measures to ensure they get their peaceful society back.
“They’re fighting for their own voice and that voice is really crying out for education and for the leaders of tomorrow,” Kozowy argues, describing the lack of education, the illiteracy and the corruption as the ‘greatest issue facing Afghanistan today’.
“On average a kid in Afghanistan goes to school for one to two hours day. It’s staggering! 80 per cent of the teachers aren’t properly educated for the job; they don’t have a high school education or post secondary education. So how will they teach the next generation?”
“I didn’t go to one school that had enough books and chairs or didn’t have out-of-date textbooks. There’s not enough funding that’s going into education system and even the funding that is going into education it doesn’t get that far because there’s such a large seepage of foreign aid. There’s a lot of corruption and it’s so many layers deep that we’re not seeing our international funds going to the right places and we must be responsible for that.”
Embarking on two trips to the country for two months at a time, Kozowy began talking to locals and expats on the ground in Afghanistan who are part of this movement towards a healthier narrative for the small nation.
“They know that democracy is just around the corner and that their voice has meaning. How beautiful is that, that this person from a third world country who thinks they have never had a voice in their own country while they were growing up and now they have a voice.”
“Afghanis want to stand on their own two feet. We need to help them help themselves,” Kozowy stresses, adding that the recent elections in the country, she saw hundreds of thousands of citizens, including many women, line up to cast their vote, despite numerous polling booths being targeted by Taliban insurgents.
One of the greatest obstacles, the young filmmaker explains, is getting the film’s message to viewers back home and for them to accept the idea that there is something we can learn from the Afghan people, rather than just believing in the idea that we need to ‘save them’.
Part of the problem, Kozowy believes, is that ego is so important today to those of us living in the ‘first world’.
“First world people are really getting caught up in their own egos. It’s almost like there in a spell where they don’t think about anything else or any other people outside of their world. Their world is so faceted with materialistic things that once you subtract those, what is your human essence? Who are you? What do you stand for? What are your morals? What is your ethical responsibility to the international community? These are things we don’t ask ourselves enough in the first world.”
“They [Afghanistan] want to be engaged but I don’t think in the first world do we give enough opportunities for young people like myself to be engaged. One of my biggest challenges as an activist is that I feel like I’m screaming in the woods at times because there are so many people with their blinders on because all they can think about is themselves.”
Sick of seeing her Facebook friends post about what they ate and drank today, Kozowy turned to social media to help the cause telling followers about a refugee camp that she visited where most of the children didn’t have shoes. She asked for assistance and in a few days, raised $1600 online.
“I went and bought 722 pairs of shoes and distributed them in one day. That was the best day in my whole, life. The hardest part was leaving, knowing that I couldn’t do more. I wanted to do more.”
But the urge to help others is not something new to Kozowy. Growing up in a family of activists she felt she was born with the responsibility to fight for others and tell the stories for those living in the shadows.
“It was lonely and hard, but at the same time I think I’m speaking for millions of others around the world and that makes me feel good. It makes me feel like I’m doing something with my voice, connecting, bridging that gap between first and third world – it’s so important!”
“Everyday I woke up knowing I could die but I was ok with that because I knew what I was doing was right and, hopefully, it had a very positive reaction.”
So far, the reaction to Generation A has been inspiring and Kozowy says that many who have watched the film have been encouraged by the hopeful young Afghans who star in this positive narrative for the country, having shifted perspectives and expectations. She hopes to take the film back to Afghanistan by the end of the year.
“We need more empathy, we need more compassion; we need new tactics, we need films like mine that really touch you and make you feel something. Because once you feel something you do something, it’s like a sort of call to action.”
“We have a society that’s really disengaged. We need more people who are a part of the movement for a paradigm shift.”
So what’s Kozowy’s message for other young people who want to get involved?
“Take the plunge. I started working at a local homeless shelter feeding the homeless every Wednesday night, I still do it. There’s places and causes in everybody’s backyard that need help and compassion. We need to show that we’re all connected.”
For more information on Generation A, or to purchase the film on DVD visit generationafilm.com