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About the website

On this site you can follow what happens to the Afghan Civilians – filmed by themselves. Each week a new story will be produced telling about war, work, corruption, leisure, religion, education or love in the rural province of Helmand. You can choose to follow a photographer or you can click on the themes. You can also ask questions which will be translated to the photographers and they will come back with answers. My is closely linked to the Documentaryfilm My Afghanistan – Life in the Forbidden Zone

About the project

It all started when I as a journalist attempted to cover the war in Afghanistan. For several years I succeeded in getting close to the Afghans and talk about their everyday lives, but the stories that I heard was often not in accordance with the coverage other Western media had on the country.

During my many trips I observed that most Western journalists did not travel outside the major cities and towns in Afghanistan. Therefore, their description of Afghanistan was just a reflection of reality for some parts of Afghanistan and not the entire country.

Between 70 and 75 percent of the Afghan population do not live in the cities but in rural areas and therefore the existing coverage is biased and misleading. The consequences of the bias reporting was serious, especially because the residents of cities as Kabul and Herat, which are some of the largest cities, rarely felt the direct consequences of the war. The vast majority of the fighting in Afghanistan takes place in rural areas, but journalists rarely moves out in these areas, because they fear being kidnapped or killed by insurgent groups or militias.

The understanding of the role of the media is not so great in the Afghan villages, and often both Afghan and Western journalists are perceived as being allied by the government or the Western troops. When the foreign journalists on rare occasions travel out to the villages, it is with western soldiers and thus “embedded”. This means that the journalists are protected by the soldiers and consequently will have to accept their rules. The indirect consequence of those “embedded” journalists is that many locals do not dare to talk to reporters because they fear being accused of espionage by rebels or warlords, who do not distinguish between journalists and those in power / army.

Although I have an Afghan look and speak one of the Afghan languages, I do not usually dwell in the villages for long, because it can have consequences both for me and for the locals that I talk to. This I experienced in 2007 when a lot of villagers were being attacked by insurgents because they gave me shelter and in 2008, when I was kidnapped by the Taliban.

Mine and other journalists’ quick trips into the rural areas do not provide the West possibilities of getting close to the locals, because the visits are too sporadic and not long enough to understand their living conditions and circumstances. Therefore, I got the idea of distributing mobile phones to the local people, so they could start filming their lives. This way I avoided exposing myself and those at risk.

The reason for using mobile phones instead of cameras was safety. Camcorders are not a common sight in rural areas and attract attention. Phones are present in all Afghan villages and is therefore a safe thing to hand out to the villagers when they are going to shoot films. The method opened up to experience the villagers’ lives in completely different and more free terms, than we have done throughout the Afghan war that has now lasted for over ten years. I instructed them in how to shoot, and how to tell their stories, while everything else is actually on their own initiatives. They were told to present themselves, their family and friends, their interests and their joys and sorrows. This is also reflected in the film clips that have been recorded in very different ways.