Supporting Culture and Better Futures in Afghanistan

February 28, 2013
Afghan Actor Rides Horse on a Hill Where Buzkashi Boys Was Filmed

This past month I had the opportunity to meet two incredible groups of young artists from Afghanistan -- and to see firsthand evidence of how our public diplomacy efforts for young people in that country are bearing fruit. It was also a chance to underscore our commitment to support the strengthening and preservation of national cultures around the world.

The first artists were students of the Afghanistan National Institute of Music (ANIM), who began a State Department-funded tour in the United States with a concert of traditional Afghan music. I had the pleasure of introducing them, and we were joined by Secretary of State John F. Kerry, who shared his own love for music with the audience. Over the course of their tour, the students played to sold out crowds and earned standing ovations at the Kennedy Center and Carnegie Hall.

The second were Fawad Mohammadi and Jawanmard Paiz, the two young stars of "Buzkashi Boys," a movie that was nominated for Best Live Action Short Film at the 2013 Academy Awards. Centered on Afghanistan's national sport of Buzkashi, which resembles horse polo, the 29-minute film follows the friendship between two young boys -- one of whom dreams of competing as an adult.

Both events were innovative examples of our many public diplomacy programs in support of a peaceful, prosperous, stable Afghanistan.

We supported the young musicians -- and the school that trained them -- not because we want Afghan children to learn to play the violin but because of the power of music to overcome divisions. By assisting a music school in a country where music had been banned, we were not only helping Afghans reclaim their cultural history. We were also investing in hopeful futures for young people, many of whom had been living on the streets. That is, until ANIM gave them a home, an education, and a future.

In the case of "Buzkashi Boys," we supported the Afghan Film Project -- the non-profit NGO whose creation was integral to the movie. A grant from the State Department funded the training of 13 Afghan interns in all aspects of film production. Those graduates are now among the best-trained filmmakers in Afghanistan. Most of them have gone on to work in the local media or television industry, or have begun to make their own films.

While the movie didn't win an Oscar, it sent out powerful messages about a future we can all support: an Afghanistan where ethnic and linguistic divisions can be transcended through a common love of culture, where aspirations are possible, and where the playing fields are level for everyone. On the economic side, it showed foreign movie and television investors and artists that Afghanistan is open for business and growing its people's capacity to become a vibrant center of national self expression.

The young musicians who visited us sounded similar messages in the notes and chords of their traditional instruments: Like Fawad Mohammadi and Jawanmard Paiz, these young artists wanted to share the same message: As Afghanistan moves forward towards greater stability, security and prosperity, its people strive to achieve their dreams and realize their potential just like other people around the world.

I am very proud of the innovative public diplomacy work we are doing with Afghanistan. Whether they are playing music, making movies, or pursuing other artistic or cultural endeavors, it has been so exciting to see Afghans of all stripes rise to the challenge of reclaiming their culture and then sharing it so artfully and movingly with the rest of the world.

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