Hosted by the Law and Order Trust Fun for Afghanistan (LOFTA), the exhibit featured artwork from students ages 11 to 15. The students were part of Aschiana, or nest, a non-government organization that helps poor children attend school. On my trips out, there are always kids of all ages, hanging out on the street, trying to sell stuff, or just playing in the trash on the side of the road. Often it’s because their families need them to try to make a living or beg for food; survival, not school is a priority. Aschiana helps sponsor children, allowing them to go to school and paying the family what the child would have earned by working on the streets.
LOFTA and Aschiana teachers partnered together to showcase the student’s paintings which portrayed their perceptions of the Afghan National Police. The quality of the artwork was impressive and their impressions of the police weren’t always pretty; the watercolor paintings were raw and honest and expressed an adult’s understanding of war through children’s eyes. Some of the paintings showed the police helping people – stopping kidnappers and suicide bombers and arresting “bad people.” A few paintings depicted women wearing the police uniform, always in a helping role. And some showed the police hurting people, taking bribes, beating up children or being lazy. One painting, by a 13-year-old girl named Nozaiba, was selected as a featured painting. In it, a police officer, half male and half female, stands with holds his/her arms out wide; behind the figure are group of children, while in front sits images from the war: a burning car, poppy, an exploding bomb and a man kidnapping a child.
I asked her about the painting and what inspired her to create what she did and she told me that when the school told her that whatever she thought about the police, she could put on paper. She said she thought about it for awhile and imagined a woman in a police uniform. “In our community, women have the best role; I believe women can help anywhere, anyway, and women can serve their country and their people in the police," she told me.
Before Aschiana helped her family, Nozaiba was not able to go to school, but now she's been attending for two years. During that time, she’s learned how to paint and draw, and has participated in several art exhibits in four countries, including the U.S. where her painting won first place out of 3,000 submissions. It was exciting to know that there organizations out there not only willing to help educate the youth of Afghanistan, but to place an importance on art programs.
Even more personally exciting was walking through all the paintings and photos of Afghan National Police on display and coming across one of my own photos hanging up. Luckily, one of my other co-workers was there to document my surprise.