Thursday, August 27, 2009

Nasim Fekrat

Freedom of speech. Apart from yelling "fire!" in a crowded movie theater, the Constitution has endowed Americans with the right to say whatever we want. Daily, we read op-eds and blogs criticizing the government and scouring various members of it across the coals. No reporter fears for his life if he chooses to call the President's policies short-sighted or unwise. Papers even go so far as to endorse some political candidates over others. Not so in Afghanistan. In fact, the concept of independent media in a country so enmeshed in religion is difficult to imagine. A fact which is not surprising since anyone who speaks out against Islam, or the governmnent which supports it, can be in danger of losing his or her life. And even if there were papers available not influenced by political parties or special interest groups, in a country where over 70% of the population can't read, who would buy them?

Nasim Fekrat, a 25 year-old self taught journalist and photographer has come up with an answer. He has gone to the internet and taken advantage of the independence its media provides. With just his computer, he is able to send his thoughts on the state of his nation to a much wider readership. People beyond the borders of Afghanistan can read his words and know his plight and the plight of his people. He truly believes that blogging will change things, and it is in that spirit that he founded the Association of Afghan Bloggers whose mission it is to recruit more bloggers, to send more Afghan voices to travel the world wide web.

The National Constitution Center's own International Engagement Manager, Jeffrey Stern met Fekrat while working a two-year stint as a freelance journalist in Afghanistan. Stern saw the power of citizen journalism first hand, and upon returning to Philadelphia joined with the Center to further projects like Fekrat's to burgeoning democracies around the world. It was in keeping with this pursuit that the Being We the People at the Center and Beyond project came into being.

Fekrat is extending his talents as a teacher and motivator and photographer to the students of Marefat School. No stranger to the power of images, he is teaching them to use their cameras to be journalists covering their own lives to, like him, send pictures of their plight across the planet to museum visitors in Philadelphia who will hopefully carry those images with them beyond the walls of the Center.