“Formerly, if I had heard the term summer program, I couldn’t have made heads or tails of it. But attending Rainbow taught me what it is.” Says Faiza, one of the thirty participants of the first ever summer program for school students in Afghanistan. Like Faiza, the term summer camp does not ring any bells for many other Afghan teens who have been raised in the midst of violence, bloodshed, and immigration. Unlike other countries, summer camps here are not part of our educational system. Looking back to annals of student summer camps in Afghanistan, they date back to never.
It is expected that those who have been moving from one concentration camp to the next would not know what a summer program is, but for the middle class of a country, it seems grotesque when they do not understand summer camp.
The very first summer program for school students of Afghanistan is named Rainbow Cultural Diversity Summer Program. It was organized by five Afghan college students who had ] experienced such programs abroad, hosted by the Cultural House of Afghanistan for five days. The program gathered thirty Afghan school students aged 14-18 from various ethnicities and cultures. Rainbow aimed to discuss the issues relevant to cultural and ethnic diversity. “Afghanistan is a multicultural society, but the cultures all have been in conflict and their quarrel has brought the nation into segregation” , says Mohammad Mohammadi, one of the five organizers.
One of the problems Afghans encounter is the geographical segregation of ethnicities which of course leads to cultural exclusivism. For example, Northern Kabul is the base for ethnic Tajiks, South and East of Kabul is devoted to Pashtuns, and the Hazaras inhabit West of Kabul. This structure of ethnicities has given the city, as Mr. Mohammadi puts it, “mosaic face”.He continues: ” When a child grows only within the boundaries of his own culture, a division of ego and other shapes in his mind. The person will not be integrated in the society and is unable to interact with other ethnicities because the picture of the others is based on stereotypes that ends in a vicious segregation which is visible in schools.
Within the span of five days, the thirty participants of the program not only discussed barriers of cultural diversity, but also experienced living in a multicultural environment. As they were split into four groups, they discussed four topics they had tackled in society. From single-ethnic schools, street harassment, and indoctrination of ethnicity in families, to cross-cultural marriage.
“In eleven years of my school, I never had the opportunity of discussing street harassment. Thanks to the camp that granted me the chance to dive into it.” says Eqlima Tahiri who joined the camp from the suburbs of Kabul.
It is not just the experience of Eqlima but of many others. The camp covered topics not taught in schools. For many, it was something new to discuss how their families indoctrinate the concept of ethnicity in their child ages. Indeed, nobody talks about the key role the families, not even elders in the Afghan society. But it is the family which lays the base for breakdown.
Another massive challenge on the way to diversity is the stereotypes Afghans hold about each other. For instance, in the program it was vastly mentioned how the picture of Pashtuns was linked to suicide attack for non-Pashtuns. All the participants were synonymous in thinking that the single-ethnic atmosphere of residency as root to stereotypes in their age and how they nurture discrimination in the future.
Razia Alawi, who recently left Quetta, Pakistan for Kabul shared her experience in this context: “In Quetta, a Baluch family was our neighbor in a Hazara locality. When they were bringing food to our family, we used to pretend accepting it; but, in fact the mere place for it was the trash box. We were always doing it because we thought they were different from us. “
Mohammad a junior at school spoke out about the way he felt about others before the camp and how his idea was changed over the course of it. “To be honest, I felt they had portrayed a vicious face of others to us. In particular, I had a different image of Pashtuns. But when I worked with them in the teams, my previous beliefs went to wind.”
At the end of the program, the participants were given books instead of certificates, though it initially seemed exotic to participants. But when the organizing team argued how a book can be more effective than a certificate along with its outfits, they all appreciated the idea. Mahdi Sorosh a participant wrote on his Facebook account: “My certificate is when I get rid of discrimination and racism in my country.”
by Ali S. and Ziafatullah S.