Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Mina Wali visits Portugal

In May 2008, when the Shawl Pacha School was already a reality in Afghanistan, its owner, Mina Wali, paid a visit to Portugal.

Mina was warmly welcomed by AMI's staff, Hope of Mother's partner in Afghanistan

In Setúbal, Mina walked around the Sado's estuary, joined by AMI members

While visiting Parque das Nações (Nations Park), in Lisbon

Jeronimo's Monastery in the back (Lisbon)
In the Portuguese Parliament, Mina was received by MP Leonor Coutinho and MP Teresa Caeiro (next to Mina). At their left, a representative of AMI

In Lisbon, in an event hosted by AMI, where Mina attended a conference on humanitarian aid and children's rights

In Alcochete, with Vasco da Gama bridge in the back
Back to Parque das Nações
On the way to Oceanário (Lisbon's Oceanarium)

"At the Lisbon's Oceanarium, Mina wanted to take pictures to show the Afghan children where is Portugal, the country that, through AMI, funds their school and their education. She also wants to tell them that if they study hard and contribute to the development of their country - Afghanistan -, they may, one day, visit Portugal or even have an Oceanarium."

Testimony of LTC Octávio Vieira, who followed Mina Wali during her visit to Portugal

Photos by Octávio Vieira

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

"These young girls want to be recognized"

In an interview with "News War Radio", Pennsylvania (USA), Tareq Azim talks about his experience as a boxing trainer of young afghan women. And how his initiative excited a filmmaker' couple to do a documentary on Afghanistan, women and boxing.

Kristin Caspar: Boxing is one of the most male-dominated sports in the world, but that's not stopping Tareq Azim. The 25-year old Afghan-American has begun a movement in Afghanistan, teaching young girls how to compete both inside the ring and out. Elise Garrity has the story.

Elise Garrity: After graduating from Fresno State in 2004, California native Tariq Azim flew to Afghanistan, to pay homage to his grandfather General Shaw Wali, the first commanding jet fighter in the history of Afghanistan. Tareq is a fighter as well. A pro fighter, sponsored by Fairtex. While he was in Afghanistan, he trained with the Afghan men's boxing team. At the same time he volunteered as a women's soccer coach, where his boxing captured the interest of his players.
Tareq Azim: I’d get there a little earlier before the girls come to practice, and I’d train, I’d do my shadow boxing while I was running, and the girls would say “Coach, Coach what are you doing?” I’m like “Don’t worry, with time, with time” like “With time what?” I said I’ll start this program.
Elise Garrity: Boxing is one of the most male-dominated sports in the world. And Tareq wasn't sure that Afghanistan was ready for something like women's boxing. In talking to tribal elders, he found that all people needed was a little persuasion.
Tareq Azim: I did go discuss this idea and topics with several different people just to ask: “What do you think if something like this was to happen?” And of course immediately after that they would laugh at you: “You’re crazy, this could never happen in our country” and it’s like “Why?” and then they freeze, and then you tell them why and you tell them how and you tell them the benefit, and then it paints a bigger picture. These people are really open to new ideas if you just tell them how to do the new ideas.
Elise Garrity: The program began informally last year. Around 100 girls were interested. That number dropped around 50 when practices began. Tareq and one other coach train the girls in Kabul's National Stadium. Under the Taliban, this was the site of not sport, but executions. Now the room is outfitted with donated equipment from Tareq's fight sponsor, Fairtex.

Elise Garrity: Massouda Jalal ran for president of Afghanistan in 2004, and later served nearly two years as the Minister of Women's Affairs. Now she's the executive director of the Jalal Foundation. Her organization has worked to give women more access to sport, for example importing ping-pong tables for girls high schools in Kabul. Although there are many initiatives for better access to sports in Afghanistan, Jalal says is it not a countrywide movement.

Massouda Jalal: It starts from capital and goes to the edge of the rural areas, and there is insecurity so it is the worst in terms of development.

Elise Garrity: Even in the most secure areas, Jalal says there can be other barriers for women.

Massouda Jalal: Of course we have in Afghanistan like any other third-world country some unwanted traditional practices that is discriminating women and girls from having equal opportunities in life.

Elise Garrity: Cultural traditions are not holding back Tareq Azim. He's looking to expand his program beyond the relative safety of Kabul, as far as the Pakistani border.
Tareq Azim: I’m actually taking the program into the eastern region of Nangarhar, because I heard it was supposed to be one of the toughest challenges. I’m a competitor and I thought it would be a good idea to compete and just prove that I can do it there too, so I’ve launched it there.
Elise Garrity: Inside the country and out, Tareq's audacity is turning heads. Peter Getzels is an award-winning independent filmmaker who is making a documentary about Afghanistan's first women boxers. Last year, his wife Harriet was on a domestic flight to San Francisco when Tareq caught her eye.

Peter Getzels: This chap sat down next to her on the airplane and he was very agitated and he was on his cell phone and his foot was shaking and he was not speaking in English and she was kind of perplexed and curious, so she thought she better make his acquaintance because she was wondering what this was all about, and started chatting with him, and very soon found out that he was this Afghan boxer who had been doing this extraordinary work with these women boxers in Afghanistan, and they started going through his pictures on his computer and talking about the whole thing.

Elise Garrity: When Harriet, who is also a filmmaker, told the story to her husband, Getzels was immediately interested.

Peter Getzels: It was one of those stories and one of those things that just jumps off the page at you or just jumps out of someone’s lips and you think gosh this is an extraordinary thing. It’s the kind of film that Harriet and I like to make.

Elise Garrity: Filming has just begun for this small crew of Getzels, his wife Harriet, and Neil Barrett, who has previously filmed in Afghanistan. Already the story has become about more than just sports. And indeed, that was Tareq's goal from the start.
Tareq Azim: My main motive behind this is establishing an avenue, an outlet of empowerment for these young girls because they want to start having titles and living like the men do in Afghanistan. They want to have high posts in the government, they want to be pilots, they want to be doctors, it’s like okay well come prove to the world you can be a man, or take the role of a man and they are.
Elise Garrity: Last year, Tareq presented his program to the Afghan Olympic committee, establishing the Afghan Women's Boxing Federation. He is now looking to create a national team, which will compete around the world. Tareq owes some of his success to his Grandfather's good reputation in Afghanistan, which earned him a direct line of communication with the Olympic committee president. He says that many bureaucrats feel threatened by his progress.
Tareq Azim: They believe that if there’s instability there’s going to be more funds coming in and there’s going to be more support coming in and all these free big budget programs from USAID coming in. But if you then show stability they see “Okay we can’t let this guy work here because if he works here he’s going to show that there’s growth and there’s peace and there’s quiet and we don’t need help”.

Elise Garrity: Tareq says that there is also some opposition within the boxing world. Some people are jealous of how well the girl's program has been outfitted.
Tareq Azim: And they would start sending threats, they’ll call my phone and say “if you go to practice today we’re gonna kill you”, they call my girls and say “if you go to practice we’re going to kill you and rape you on the way”, all sorts of… It’s really easy for me to talk about because it happens so much.

Elise Garrity: Under the Taliban, women in sports was strictly taboo. It became clear to Peter Getzels how much things had changed when he spoke to one former Taliban leader who knew Tareq.

Peter Getzels: And I spent some time talking to him trying to understand how he could square this women boxing with my perceptions about what the Taliban’s vision of women in Afghanistan could be and he felt that they could fight as Afghan women and that didn’t – as long as he felt that they were following the Sharia law etc. there didn't seem to be any prohibition against that and there’s no reason why they couldn’t and why they couldn’t be women. I sensed that he thought it was a good thing.

Elise Garrity: And it has been a good thing for the girls. Getzels says that they are defying categories, both in how they are seen, and how they see themselves.

Peter Getzels: It’s funny, I asked one girl at one point through the translator whether she considers herself to be first and foremost a girl boxer or an Afghan boxer, or herself. Who was she when she was boxing or fighting? She had a great response, she said that she was actually a sportsman.

Elise Garrity: Getzels says his project is in its earliest stages, and he's keeping it open-ended. The 2012 London Olympics are one possible finale. But even if the girls could get there, women's boxing may not be an event. Naturally, Tareq would love to see the girls succeed in international competition, but his ultimate goal is one that can only be achieved outside the ring.
Tareq Azim: I give them a really hard time in practice and training, a really hard time, in regards to their physical activity, and I have them utilize that with their studies, when they get stressed out reading books or studying, put the pressure on it’s just like when you’re hitting the bag and you don’t want to, you just gotta fight through it. Taking that home means more to me than anything.

Elise Garrity: Through the Afghan Women's Boxing Federation, Tareq has not only made a name for himself in Afghanistan, but he has set the stage for these women boxers to do the same.

Fotos HOM

Printed interview:
Squaring Off, War News Radio (Swarthmore College, Pensilvânia, EUA), 25/07/2008

Tareq Azim, by Alexandra Lucas Coelho

In her "Afghan Notebook", Alexandra Lucas Coelho reports several meetings with Tareq Azim, during her one month trip to Afghanistan, between 31st May and 29th June, 2008.
"Tareq is one of those Afghan entrepreneurs who grew up in America and returned after the fall of the Taliban. He has several projects. One of them is a female boxing team in Kabul. Another one is a girl’s school in Jalalabad, where his family has pashtun scrolls."
His maternal grandfather, Shaw Wali Khan, was the first jets commander in Afghanistan and the right hand of King Zahir Shah. His paternal grandfather, Shawl Pacha, stood out as a great tribal leader in Nuristan (northeastern). The family provenance shapes Tareq’s personality and contributes to a determined person. “Tareq looks forward as a professional fighter. This nose is not only inheritance, it is of punches in the ring. This man is a boxer and he came to win.”

Tareq says to Alexandra:
"I came very aggressively in 2004. The land here means honor and my family was being disrespected. I am a fighter, I came to set things right. Fifty men were receiving me at the airport. Then, while coming to town, I saw how people lived. God made me hungry for Afghanistan. I grew up in the legacy of my grandparents, but I had the opportunity to travel the world, having education, and there was a time when I thought: I will make a revolution in the world through sports. Boys and girls. My bet is the kids under 17, the only people with a pure heart. First, a soccer program to boys and girls. Then, a federation of women boxers. My mother said: ‘They will kill you. Afghanistan is not ready for this. This warlord will kill you’. But I put my afghan clothes, visited him, sat down on the floor and ate with him: ‘Isn’t it time to show the world who we are? Everyone is trying to rebuild the country, but we must use the future, which is the kids'."
Alexandra watches Tareq, “a male body in its heyday, with gleaming eyes and an eagle profile. He could come on his horse razing everything as a Genghis Khan." And she notes that he “has many alternative ideas for Afghanistan”, built between his wanderings among the U.S., where he studied Environmental Sciences, and Afghanistan, the country of his heart. Tareq tells her:
"I'm trying to build the local economy of Afghanistan through its industry, its history, its agriculture. Otherwise, we will be slaves of the world."
“His business is agribusiness”, explains Alexandra, “‘quality agricultural products, strawberries, citrus fruits, pomegranates, 34 species’. He bets ‘in the local market, and then in Pakistan and India’. He has ‘new concepts to clean the products, give them another life in the shelf. For example, ‘the strawberries that come from the Kunar province’, and before packing them and give them a price, they have to be cleaned, because ‘80 percent of the air has human faeces, due to the sewer system’. More than clean, ‘it is necessary to purify’.”

In America, Tareq could have it all, parties, sex, cute girls. “But I'm busy saving Afghanistan. And that's what the old tribesmen see: ‘He's here’.” Alexandra notes that Tareq does not travel with armed escorts, “as everyone who can does”.

In the short term, this young Afghan wants to raise money for the Olympics. However, he already feels he has “won a medal” in the daily training sessions with the girls, at the Kabul stadium. The youngest is 12 years old, the oldest 17.
"We laugh and laugh and laugh. We joke and joke and joke. We fight and fight and fight. Then I ask them what they want to do and they say: ‘I want to be an orthopedic surgeon’. Or: ‘I want to be a jet pilot’. They developed self esteem.”
Tareq teaches his students the boxing techniques and gives them tips on how to react when, as Alexandra, journalists come in the gym.
“When you are asked ‘What are you? Tajiks, Pashtuns?’, answer: ‘No. Afghan.’ When you are asked ‘What do you need?’, reply: ‘Thank you, we have everything we need, come and see our boxing class.”

Tinta da China, 2009

Photos of the travel diary of Alexandra Lucas Coelho in Afghanistan
(Tareq Azim pictured on June 4th, 9th and 13)