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From Kabul to Nashville: Building bridges via photography

My article for UN Special‘s April 2018 issue

Throughout the west, creative initiatives are launched in an attempt to challenge the war and conflict-dominated media coverage of the Middle East.

Young Americans and Europeans with roots in the region, in particular, are dealing with their frustrations with what they view as an imbalanced depiction of a wide, diverse region with much else to offer than seemingly only conflict and tragedy. By visualizing everyday lives of the peoples in the region, these alternative media projects are seeking to nuance and humanize westerners’ information on the wider Middle East and build bridges between the two.

One such project is the Tennessee-based non-profit organization Relief Without Borders, previously known as People of Afghanistan. Focusing on the art of photography, young Senzela Atmar is facilitating from Nashville a successful platform through which a broad, international audience are given an insight into everyday life in Afghanistan as well as the option of directly contributing to the restoring and empowering of the war-torn country.

Born in Afghanistan herself, for Senzela, founder of RWB, the project also has a very personal aspect to it.

“My father taught others how to be a mechanic, so I naturally learned the skill. My father also told me to join the military – to help defend our country. After many years in the military, I became a taxi driver. 35 years later I continue to drive the same vehicle. I don’t know how I haven’t wrecked it, or how the engine hasn’t broken down.” Credit: Relief Without Borders |

Giving back

Senzela Atmar was just a small child when she and her family were forced to leave their home country in 1995. A 72-hour long ceasefire offered the Atmar family a rare chance to flee the shelling and rocketing of Kabul, crossing the border to neighbouring Pakistan where they sought refuge in the camps.

Senzela Atmar

After two years of waiting and living under harsh conditions and extreme insecurity, during which Senzela’s 11-year-old brother was murdered by the Taliban, hope finally arrived when the family of seven received news from their visa lottery, containing a chance to join their relatives in the United States. 

Years later, now a citizen in the US, Senzela has certainly not forgotten about her country of birth. By making use of the knowledge and tools that she has gained through her growing up in America, Senzela decided to materialize her wish to give back and support the people of Afghanistan by launching the awareness and empowerment project, Relief Without Borders: “It’s like this big circle for me right now, where I’m trying to use the skills that I’ve learned in the US to connect the two countries and show people here how to get involved in the Middle East.”

Credit: Relief Without Borders |

Read the rest of the article (republished) on The Turban Times

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