Photo: (c) DACAAR
At the ‘Waiting for Hope’ week, 10th-14th of September, 2018, DACAAR and the Danish Refugee Council gave voice to the vulnerable and marginalised people of Afghanistan through a photo exhibition, a conference and a public debate.

” Which of my pains do you want me to talk about? The pain of poverty? The pain of displacement? The one of the whole nation? I don’t know which one to start with.”

Kiala is from Kabul and gave one of the very strong statements at the “Waiting for Hope” week in Copenhagen, Denmark.

Monday, the 10th of September, French photographer, Sandra Calligaro officially opened the “Waiting for Hope” exhibition that the statement above is part of. Sandra Calligaro has visited nine provinces in Afghanistan to give a voice to the displaced and vulnerable Afghan people and to document humanitarian aid efforts, among them projects managed by the Danish Refugee Council (DRC) and DACAAR, the organisers of the Afghanistan week.

 More than two million Afghans – internally displaced people, returned refugees, and people living in vulnerable host communities – suffer from the violent and protracted conflict in their country where the security situation continues to deteriorate. Lal Ghamai from Maydan Shahr phrases the situation like this in the exhibition: “I don’t remember a single day I listened to the news and no one was killed somewhere. I haven’t seen peaceful times, neither have these poor kids.”

On the opening day, the Danish national paper, Kristeligt Dagblad published an article with some of Sandras photos in the printed version of the paper and made a slideshow of 16 photos on their website.

Helping hundreds of thousands of Afghan

“Waiting for Hope” also reached audiences that are new to Afghanistan and Danish development aid; On Tuesday morning 11th of September, 90 young students and teachers at AFUK listened to Director John Morse explaining what DACAAR is capable of doing in the conflict ridden country. How the organisation, despite the volatile situation, is able to assist hundreds of thousands of Afghan people with Water, Sanitation and Hygiene (WASH), improving agriculture and their general livelihood, boosting the income of the vulnerable, and what it is like to work in areas where guns are everywhere.

 Photographer, Sandra Calligaro told the students how it often was an advantage being female when working in Afghanistan. As a woman, you get access to people’s houses, whereas men would not be allowed. That is one of the reasons why many of her photos are portraying women and children. And when security gets problematic, she can, as a woman, whisk herself away in a burka, she explained.

A lot of questions were asked by the young audience who silently listened to the stories from Afghanistan.

12 journalists killed in Afghanistan – only this year!

September 11th, the day the World Trade Tower and Pentagon where attacked in 2001, a debate meeting was held with an all female panel of five and the female Moderator, Lena Odgaard Bjørnsen, who works as press officer at the Danish Refugee Council (DRC).

Why do journalists keep on working in Afghanistan when so many of them are being killed? Susanna Inkinen from International Media Support (IMS) asked. So far, 2018 has seen 12 deaths.

That said, Afghanistan is successful in the running of their media and freedom of speech has improved.

“I am not a classic war photographer,” Sandra Calligaro said explaining how she has got emotionally attached to Afghanistan and its people after living there for seven years: “I am trying to portray the place as a friend or relative,” she said.

 Framing stories right

At the debate, Simi Jan, news reporter on Danish channel TV2, explained that the focus has moved to Europe as terror attacks also strike here now. “It is a fight to convince your editor to go to Afghanistan,” she said and added that to her, one of the most important tasks, is to put a human face on what is going on in the world.

Journalist Charlotte Aagaard has covered Afghanistan since 1986. She said that today journalists are part of the war and considered a legitimate target and kidnapping is an issue when reporting from the country.

To Sanne Gram, foreign editor at Danish Radio (DR) the challenge is to make stories interesting and framing them right – also when reporting from Afghanistan. That is the well told ‘human interest’ stories which is wrapped in a news angle, for instance, the upcoming Afghan elections.

A good debate with the 45 participants followed focusing on the 2010 WikiLeaks discovery of the military lying to the media and the security of the sources and the local reporters in Afghanistan.

Part of creating hope

The suffering of the Afghan people should not be forgotten and humanitarian aid should be increased. These were some of the headlines at the ‘Waiting for Hope’ conference on Wednesday that shed light on what works and what doesn´t in the conflict ridden country.

100 conference participants listened to Ulla Tørnæs, the Danish Minister for Development Cooperation, give her views on the volatile security situation and the complicated nature of working there. The Minister is convinced that Afghanistan will need international backing for many years to come in terms of humanitarian assistance, development co-operation and security support.

She mentioned education and protection and empowerment of women and girls in Afghanistan as key priorities.

 Ulla Tørnæs is aware that some people are profound pessimists as to what will become of Afghanistan: “Others, mostly Afghan politicians, are overly optimistic and paint too rosy a picture. To me, it seems that a stark realism is the best stance to take. Conflict, poverty and fragile institutions do not translate into easy solutions. But the glass is half full. And we are not only ‘Waiting for Hope’, we are part of creating hope,” she said.

An optimist, if….

Jakob Brix Tange, the Ambassador of Denmark to Afghanistan from September 2017 to September 2018, listed Afghanistan’s many challenges:

“An armed conflict, widespread corruption, extreme gender inequality, rising poverty, millions of IDPs, refugees and returnees, high unemployment and underemployment, low productivity and now also a drought adding on to the problems already there. Afghanistan is a long-term project – even if we should get a ceasefire and a peace building process starting tomorrow.”

But he concluded that he is an optimist:

“If we manage to get a lasting cease-fire as a building block to a peace process, if the young generation refuses to accept corruption as a legitimate mechanism for distribution, and if private agents manage to establish economic activity demanding labor, then we would be on a very positive trajectory for the development of Afghanistan.”

Increase humanitarian aid

At the ‘Waiting for Hope’ conference, Irene Horejs, Head of Unit at ECHO, said that for the EU, Afghanistan is the most important recipient of bilateral aid and there is a need to tell the public what work is being carried out.

“We must keep Afghanistan visible,” she stressed.

Christian Friis Bach, Secretary General of the Danish Refugee Council, put forward two main messages. Firstly, humanitarian aid needs to be increased substantially and become much more predictable. Secondly, short term humanitarian intervention and long-term development assistance must be better linked in Afghanistan.

Afghan fix in an Afghan context

DACAAR Director, John Morse underlined the importance of ensuring an Afghan fix in an Afghan context. He made a clear distinction between access and security.

“We are working with the community not for them,” he said from the podium.

Tahmina Salik from the Afghan Diaspora in Denmark and other speakers highlighted corruption as one of the main challenges in Afghanistan.

“I believe that the best way to combat corruption is to use more mobile based technology, which is already available and widely used in the country,“ she stated.

You can read more about the conference here.

Public access

Following the conference, a 1½ hour reception was the perfect platform for networking with others interested in the development of Afghanistan.

During the entire week, the exhibition was open to the public, which meant that not only the AFUK-students, nor the parents of the many children attending dance and acrobatic classes at the venue, got a better understanding of what the situation is for the millions of vulnerable and displaced people in Afghanistan right now.


The ‘Waiting for Hope’ conference was co-financed by ECHO, the European Civil Protection and Humanitarian Aid Operations