Tuesday, January 4, 2011

To have a voice

The other day I was clicking through websites, as I oft do when avoiding laundry or bill paying. I came across the Afghan Women’s Writing Project. You may have heard of it as Sharni Montgomery of Sharnanigans is doing a 5k run next week to raise money for this organization that empowers Afghan women to have a voice in the world.

There were a couple of women’s stories highlighted at the top. I clicked on one. As I began to read, I was pulled in by the sincerity and rawness of the writing and the desperation of the woman’s story. I continued, breathless, until the end. Then I read another, and another. I was gutted.

These were stories of women whose souls were slowly dying and they were fighting back, resisting the stranglehold of the Taliban culture that was pulling them under. Perhaps a father, who had always protected them and seen to their education, had died, and now a brother was selling them off to an illiterate farmer, a man twice their age who spat in the face of education. Some women talked of being abandoned by husbands. Of having babies taken away from them. Of being given impossible choices to make. The stories were all different, yet so much the same. Each one was about a woman without options, without power. I left some comments. Hello sister, I am half a world away, but I hear you.

The stories stayed with me long after I shut my computer and crawled into bed. They lingered for days, weeks. I couldn’t get these women out of my mind. I wanted to reach out to them and pull them to safety, to a life of opportunity and safe harbor where they would know what it is to finally exhale and sleep through the night. At the very least, I wanted them to know that their voices had been heard, that their stories, which they had risked so much to tell, had been felt deeply.

I know what it is to be the voice of taboo. To stand up and say those things which no one wants to hear. It takes a lot of courage to expose our dark stories. But at least when I talk about something like the pain and fear of domestic violence, I have the full weight of society behind me. We all agree that domestic violence is not okay. But can you imagine what it takes to write your dark story when that story defies your culture’s tradition? When even attaching your name to a post could put your life at risk? These women are nothing short of amazing.

But here's something else I know. To stand up amidst that pain and fear and the unknown repercussions and say, "I have a name and this is my story" is incredibly empowering. It can crack open the boundaries of the world you thought you knew and allow in new possibilities. To have a voice is life-altering.

Through the website I met other women who wanted to help them. I met Rupee who wrote a post trying to help one 23-year old Afghan girl escape a desperate situation. I learned that there are people and organizations that have stepped in to help some of these women and their families emigrate.  I also wrote the AWWP directly and asked what, specifically, they most needed. They wrote back, grateful, and full of suggestions.

Here’s how we can help:

Sponsor Sharni in her run on January 8th, 2011. Pledge now and pay after the run. She has raised over $3,000 so far. Let’s see if we can double it and get her up to $6,000. You can read about her run on the AWWP website. You can sponsor Sharni here. The AWWP also has a donation button on their website if you cannot contribute today, but wish to at a later time.

Comment on the Afghan women’s stories. Many of these women write in isolation and take great risk to get their work to the AWWP. When you comment, you let them know that their voice has been heard and that their story matters. I cannot stress how important this is. Virtual support can make a world of difference. Trust me, I know.

They need laptops for the writing hut in Kabul. Sharni has been trying to find a corporate sponsor to donate laptops. If you are a technology company or know of someone affiliated with one, please pass this post along to them.

Add your voice. AWWP is looking for people to host gatherings in their home in February to get the word out about the project. They are also formulating a blog strategy for bloggers who want to help support the project. You can sign up for their newsletter and/or contact lynnharris@earthlink [dot] net if you’d like to help.

Share this post. Probably the easiest thing to do is take a moment to share this post on Twitter, Facebook, StumbleUpon or another social media site where it might reach someone else who can help.

These women are our sisters. Whether we are American or Australian or Afghan, Christian or Muslim or Agnostic, what does it matter? We all experience the tragedy and the incomparable beauty of life. Our hearts beat the same, love the same, break the same. At night we lie down with the same quiet hopes for our future.

I believe that there is hope for these women and that their lives can be different. If enough of us believe that, imagine what might happen. xx

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  1. thank you for bringing this issue to us & these ways we can help. you're a true champion for good.


  2. Will "pimp" this good and proper...

  3. What a beautiful post. I will definately share! I've spent a little time here catching up on your writing (I've been off blogging for awhile due to a massive case of writers block) and I want to say I'm so sorry to hear about the traumatic year you have had! :(

    Your strength and heart are inspiring. Just want you to know you have another person here rooting for you. You will conquer! :)

  4. wow, just wow. I have goosebumps reading this. I will do what I can to help.

  5. Spectacular. Kristin, I have tears. Am going to send your post link in an email to my circle of peeps as well as pimp it online. You bloody good egg, you.

  6. I've book marked the site, I'll wait until I get a quiet moment to read these women's stories. Thanks for highlighting it. x

  7. I would never have known about this project if not for you. What a heart you have, girl! All women have the right to live in the absence of fear and it would be wonderful if we could all find ways to support each other, regardless of race or culture.

  8. I've posted this on my facebook page and on twitter.

  9. Thanks so much for sharing, everyone. xx

    By the way, not all the stories are tragic. Some are quite beautiful. But those are the ones that haunted me.

  10. I read some of those stories the other night, after I saw the 5k ad on Facebook. Thank you for writing about it Kristen. Their stories have haunted me since I read them.

  11. My God you are beautiful. I'm sitting in cafe in ubud, trying to catch up with posts on my iPhone. I owe you big emails, sweet. I love your heart, and know we are meant to know each other. I will spruik this story on my blog and on Jack and Jill. THIS is the true power of online social connectedness. XO

  12. Thank you for bring this to our attention, i will also do what i can to help!

  13. Awesome blog post - so wonderful you're using your (blogging) powers for such good! Thanx for sharing - makes my own little problems seem so insignificant!


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