“Despite our collective efforts, the already dire humanitarian situation in Afghanistan has deteriorated alarmingly over the past months. Without immediate action, we face a starvation and malnutrition crisis in Afghanistan.” – UN Secretary General António Guterres’s remarks at the UN High-Level Pledging Conference for Afghanistan on 31 March 2022
It is a sad reality that there is only so much headline space in the global news. As the war in Ukraine continues to cause food and energy prices around the world to rise, other humanitarian crises are inevitably overlooked, and the ongoing situation in Afghanistan is one of them.
The numbers speak for themselves: the UN estimates that 95% of Afghans do not have enough to eat, with 9 million people at risk of famine. UNICEF warns that 3.2 million children in Afghanistan will suffer from acute malnutrition in 2022, while girls remain forbidden from going to school and terrorist attacks continue to cause suffering and loss of life. As Secretary-General Guterres expressed, Afghanistan and its economy are headed for a “death spiral” which only sustained support and funding from the international community can avert.
To highlight the urgency of a humanitarian crisis which does not always make the front page, Ciné-ONU screened the BAFTA-nominated MY CHILDHOOD, MY COUNTRY- 20 YEARS IN AFGHANISTAN in partnership with One World Human Rights Film Festival and the British Embassy in Belgium on 26 April 2022 at Cinéma Galeries in Brussels.
A remarkably personal story
MY CHILDHOOD, MY COUNTRY is a real-life epic of boyhood and manhood, co-filmed and co-directed over twenty years by British filmmaker Phil Grabsky and Afghan filmmaker Shoaib Sharifi. When we first meet the film’s protagonist Mir, he is a little boy of eight playing among the ruins of the Buddhas of Bamiyan in war-torn rural Afghanistan. It is 2002, and in the aftermath of the attacks on the World Trade Centre, US troops have landed in Afghanistan, beginning a seemingly endless war in one of the world’s poorest countries. The intimate feature documentary follows Mir’s journey over the next two decades, telling a remarkably personal story of the poverty, destruction, aspiration and progress that colours Afghan life today.
The film has garnered critical acclaim, winning Best Documentary at the Valladolid, Tiburon and Cologne International Film Festivals, and receiving nominations for two BAFTA awards.
The screening was followed by a panel discussion with the film’s co-director Phil Grabsky, the Deputy Director of UNICEF Brussels, Marianne Clark-Hattingh, People in Need’s Regional Director for the Middle East, Tomáš Kocián, and the Deputy Head of Mission at the British Embassy to Belgium, Chloe Louter. The discussion was moderated by Arni Snaevarr, Desk Officer for the Nordic Countries at the UN’s Regional Information Centre in Brussels.
The eyes of the audience
Cinè-ONU was honoured to host the film’s co-director Phil Grabsky, who spoke movingly of the moment that sparked a twenty-year partnership with Mir Hussain, through whose eyes we see two decades of life in Afghanistan unfold.
“What I hadn’t noticed in my very first take was this little kid, Mir, who looked straight down the lens. He was always hovering around. I realised, this film should be about this little boy because he projects you, the audience, to think about the future. It was the best decision I ever made as a filmmaker, to follow his life.”
In spite of the current threats to the progress made over the last 20 years in Afghanistan, the panellists agreed that gains have not been made in vain and must continue to be defended.
People in Need’s Tomáš Kocián spoke of his work in Afghanistan, affirming that there has been change for the better. “I have been following Afghanistan for the last 20 years and there is always, particularly after the Taliban took power, this feeling of despair that everything is gone, and nothing has been achieved. That is not the case. Life in Afghanistan has changed dramatically for people in a good way. These 20 years were not wasted.”
Marianne Clark-Hattingh from UNICEF Brussels highlighted the urgent need to protect the rights of women and girls, which are increasingly under threat. “We do not want to reverse the gains in women’s and girl’s rights achieved over the last 20 years and this is the risk. We want women and girls to be able to progress, to get jobs and to be active members in society.”
Hope for the future
Chloe Louter, British Deputy Ambassador to Belgium, agreed that such gains cannot be called wasted, and must be seen as having sown the seeds for long-term change. “During the period under the forces in Afghanistan there were so many gains in education, literacy rates, maternal health, child mortality. Whilst you could say we are now losing all that, the fact is that people have now experienced this and they had a right to these things, and they still have a right to these things. That belief will now be in the hearts and minds of the Afghan people, this is what they should be aspiring towards, and I think this will give them hope for the future.”
Ciné-ONU would like to thank all of the speakers and the audience for their contributions to a fantastic and insightful discussion on a very important topic, and our partners One World and the British Embassy in Brussels for a successful evening.