Monday, 14 September 2009

A Conflict of Interest

I (Dr Karen Woo MBBS,MRCS) met Firuz Rahimi at the Afghanaid fashion show back in March 2009. The fashion show was the brainchild of Lady Bridget Cowper-Coles wife of the British Ambassador to Afghanistan, and Mina Bavary and her sisters. I was the producer of the show and Firuz was covering the story for the BBC World Service – central Asia. We got chatting back stage and I discovered that Firuz had originally trained as a doctor back in Afghanistan before becoming a journalist and moving to the UK. As we talked we both discovered that we held the same opinion; that many things can be done if you have a will to do them. We shared the same spirit that whatever you dream to be possible can become a reality; and so a partnership was born.
I looked at the substantial and impressive work achieved by Bridge and felt drawn to become involved with the work of this organisation that was achieving so much, so swiftly and with so little.
Shortly after the Fashion show, which was a great success and raised £25,000 for Afghanaid, Firuz and I started to discuss the documentary project.
Just to give you a bit of background, I'm a surgeon and was able to visit Kabul in April this year when I went to the CURE Clinic, the French Medical Institute for Children (FMIC) and the Children’s House. The things that I saw during that visit made me, as a doctor, want to be able to bring back the human stories both good and bad.


For the last few months I've been working with a small team of journalists and filmmakers as part of Bridge Afghanistan to put together a plan for the documentary I envisioned. The principal drivers are to use the medium of healthcare to provide an in road for people outside of Afghanistan to come on a journey with me as I explain what it is I am seeing. The access that a doctor or healthcare professional has to a community is unlike that available to a journalist; the trust and conversations are different. The insight is through the lens of birth and death, of loss and disability, and reflects every aspect of the consequences of conflict on individuals and on their community. The loss of nearly all elements of the infrastructure of a country; security, governance, education, transport, clean water, sanitation and power, are all visible in the health of the people.

The body of the documentary will focus on key players whose commitment to providing healthcare and a sustainable offering go largely unsung, these people are both foreign nationals working in Afghanistan and Afghan men and women who a working to make a change. The context will be set by the women and men who are able to tell of their experiences giving first hand narration to the viewer. The predominant focus is on women as this is where the most disturbing and tragic scenarios are played out, occurring through ignorance, poverty and cultural and religious restrictions. The characters; both the patients and the care givers, give us their human stories and link us to the real people and families of Afghanistan. This perspective gives substantial reason to continue to invest in humanitarian aid and development.
The documentary aims to counterbalance the British media's bias toward reporting only the live conflict, to provide a deeper level of information and understanding of the complex situation which is the current Afghanistan. It aims to reflect the human spirit of survival and to remind of, or explain the relatively developed Afghanistan of the 1970s as a way of visualising a possible future of peace and stability.

A young lad with eye injuries being cared for at the Children’s House in Kabul.

The Children’s House funds board and lodging for families and their children and pays for surgical treatment and rehabilitation costs.


A young girl with a broken leg is accompanied by her father at the Children’s House in Kabul – April 2009.

The French Medical Institute for Children in Kabul

The United Nations Millennium Development Project.
The United Nations (UN) Millennium Development Project states eight Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) of which this documentary and additional photographs, film, and recorded material will address:
  • MDG 3: To promote gender equality and empower women
  • MDG 4: To reduce child mortality
  • MDG 5: To improve maternal health
Why make this Documentary? Afghanistan has contended with continued levels of instability and conflict throughout its modern history. The current government faces enormous challenges on every front not least to defend a fledgling democratic process, to extend its authority beyond the capital, and to create a unified nation. Much of the health infrastructure has been destroyed, and many people in remote villages have little or no access to health care. Reproductive health care in Afghanistan is particularly inadequate, resulting in some of the highest maternal and child mortality rates in the world. One woman dies in childbirth every 28 minutes and 1 in 5 children die before the age of 5; health care issues should be at the forefront of the fight to stabilise Afghanistan. The documentary will explore the underlying reasons why healthcare continues to be limited in both urban and rural settings of Afghanistan.
Why now? Afghanistan is the hot media topic with the eyes of the world upon the conflict and the presence of foreign military powers. For countries that have troops and international aid present in Afghanistan there is both human and financial resource at stake. But what of the Afghan people who are living their daily lives in cities and in rural areas, who tells their stories and presents the human face of Afghanistan?
What do we see of the real Afghanistan?
For those living outside Afghanistan the perspectives offered are limited, the media shows a particular slant on events in Afghanistan. The history and the culture of the country provide a picture of a complex society; a myriad of problems that will by no means reach a resolution overnight. Afghanistan is a place where people conduct ordinary lives, live, eat, sleep, and have families amidst the harshest conditions. Many people strive to do the right thing, there is bravery and there is hope for a time of stability. There is beauty and creativity in Afghanistan but these are overshadowed by the media images of military casualties, burhkas, and conflict.

8 comments:

Anonymous said...

Very proud to see such a determination to make a difference. Best wishes.
Broomfield Colleague

fazlionline said...

Yes, Karen
You are right
This country needs more and more attention at each field
I appreciate all your effort which is for better tomorrow of this country.

I will also appreciate your documentary, and waiting when will you start on.

Thanks for your best wishes for this ruined country

Thanks once agian

Fazal - Kabul

Joshua! said...

I like the pics, though. Very anonymous. For all I know, I could be looking at a room in a building in Virginia.

Thaqalain said...

And we lost Dr. Karen in terrible attack.

gangly said...

I don't know Dr Karen Woo. But this morning I learnt through newspapers that she was murdered along with nine other persons when returning from \nuristan after delivering her medical services to the needy. I then visited this blog and after reading it I was impressed by her noble cause. Her death pained me. She was a great social worker who gave her life when serving humanity in far flung areas. May got give peace to her soul in heaven. I pray to Allah for grant of patience and courage to the members of the berieved family to bear this irreparable loss.
Sher Gondal. Pakistan

Anonymous said...

I am very sad to hear about the violent deaths of your colleagues at Bridge, including Karen. My thoughts are with all of you, and the brave work I hope you areable to continue; we have brought much pain and destruction to Afghanistan and I feel humbled by people with the courage to try to chnage lives in this horrific war. The Taliban do not deserve Afghanistan, but neither is it ours to mould in our own image. Louisa

understandingislaminthisworldorder said...

Another light extinguished by the darkness of hate and ignorance. Yet in this loss may her work be illumed by a million angels, as the world looks on with tears.

Her actions while seemingly so insignificant against a backdrop of Afghanistan's endless sea of sorrows and tears, has flashed before our eyes in a few short clips, that will remind us forever of her mission: to do something, to make a change.

In this great loss we ponder the depth of human courage and love. The willingness to walk into the fire in order to save another, to in effect change the world, at the loss of ones own being.

To me she stand out as a reminder of the dignity of humanity in a place we all would like forgotten and long given over to destruction of sacred life in a wanton battles over ideal, ideas, and ideologies.

Far from futile, she touched the lives of many, and will live on in our hearts as a witness to the essential good of the human soul, of what we all could do with the right conviction... a testimony of courage and a measure of how far we all have to go.

Anonymous said...

You had such a profound grasp of life. One life was just not enough for you. God willing those who have known and loved you, will have the energy and the inspiration to carry on your work. I have seen the dignity with which your parents hold themselves. Your father who suffers such arthritic pains. Your mother who like you, has depth and goodness.
You really were a beauty in this life in every sense. Don't be angry with those who could not keep up with you! You needed so many lives to be all things you yearned to be. Live on, in the glorious light sweet friend.

Your death casts a great shadow, but your loving heart is a lantern in this darkness of worldly sorrows to lead the way to the hearts abode.
There is no religion in the world hereafter but that of love.

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