Tagged: Social document

Caught in the Middle

Caught in the Middle

Ordinary Civilians in Syria

Protests against the regime of Syrian president, Bashar Assad, erupted in March 201. Demonstrators in Damascus and the southern city of Deraa demand the release of political prisoners. Although initially peaceful, security forces shoot a number of people dead in Deraa, triggering days of violent unrest that steadily spread nationwide over the following months. In response to being ordered to shoot unarmed civilians, large numbers of soldiers and police deserted and formed the core of the Free Syrian Army (FSA), which was soon joined by civilian volunteers. Since early 2012 the protest movement has escalated into an armed uprising that many consider to have become a civil war.

Whichever side civilians’ support, they have long borne the brunt of a conflict they did not choose and that no-one seems capable of stopping. Hundreds of thousands have fled the country, creating large refugee populations in Turkey, Jordan and Lebanon. Those who have stayed have no food, no water, and no electricity.

Sanitation systems have broken down and piles and piles of uncollected waste lying everywhere. Diseases are spreading among people whose immune systems have been weakened by hunger. Tuberculosis is ravaging some neighbourhoods, and there have been hundreds of cases of leishmaniasis, a skin disease transmitted by sand flies.

Factories and businesses have ground to a halt. Jobs are almost nonexistent. Fresh meat and groceries are available, but prices have inflated so much that is beyond the means of people who have not worked for such a long period. People’s savings are exhausted and whatever they could sell is sold.

In Syria today, there are no easy solutions. On one hand, the regime can no longer hold its control on northern cities; while on the other hand, rebel fighters are still not fit to provide the population with their basic needs. War profiteers have made the situation even worse.

The long-term psychological damage on an entire generation of Syrians has yet to be played out. If there is no immediate action the world will watch a horrifying humanitarian crisis in one of the oldest civilizations.

A man walks in the Bustan Al Qassar district. The street is mostly deserted due to the danger of sniper fire.
Men break up doors and other pieces of wood they have found in their houses to use as firewood. A door will barely last one week and all heating and cooking is now done with wood since the electricity supply has broken down in Aleppo since fighting started in mid 2012.
A group of children try to keep warm
Industrial City of Aleppo
Makeshift barber
A boy carries the Syrian flag used by the rebel movement in a small demonstration after Friday prayers in the street in the Alfardous district.
Pieces of firewood being sold on the street with a set of scales to measure their weight. Aleppo has been experiencing lengthy electricity outages and wood is often the only way to cook and heat for many residents.
A field worker goes from house to house distributing food cards to the most needy families in the Al Shaar district. There has been no electricity for two months so he has to use a flashlight in order to fill out cards.
A small boy displays signs of leishmaniasis, a skin disease caused by the bite of the female sandfly. Public services have broken down in Aleppo since mid 2012 when fighting between the national army and rebel fighters came to the city. The piling up of garbage has been blamed for various infections and spread of diseases.
15 year old Ahmed pushes a card with scraps he has found on the local rubbish dump. Since fighting started in Aleppo between government forces and rebel fighters, most public services such as electricity and rubbish collection have broken down and people have been left to their own devices. 
A man stands in the ruins of an apartment building in the Almashhad district in Aleppo. The building was bombed by the Syrian Army on 8 January 2013.
A boy carries a bag containing plastic bottles he has found on the streets. 
Sarmada, Idlib Governorate
A Syrian woman looks after her child in a school in Sarmada. People are taking refuge in the town near the Syrian – Turkish border as fighting has in neighbouring Hama governorate has intensified. 
Kilis, Turkey
Faisal (23) was insured on 6 December 2012 when a bomb exploded in his district. His right foot has been amputated. He is staying at the Kilis Istishfa Centre where patients stay after they are released from hospital
Kilis, Turkey
Jihad (24) was shot and wounded on 6 December 2012 in Aleppo. He is being comforted by a relative and recovering at the Kilis Istishfa Center where patients stay after they are released from hospital

Letter from Afghanistan V


I am still in Mazar-e-Sharif even though my visa already expired – on July 15. I sent my application to extend my stay for another month, but the process is very complicated and slow. I had to send my application with a copy of my school certificate; as well as a letter from the Embassy where my Afghan visa was issued. And I had to have invitation letters from the Czech NGO (Non Government Organization) People in Need from Prague as well as a formal request for my stay from my hosts in Afghanistan. All these documents were sent to the Ministry of Economy (PIN is registered there) a week before my visa expired. From there the application will be sent to Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

A couple weeks ago, visas could still be issued in Kabul as well as in Mazar-e-Sharif and others large cities. Not any more. All foreigners must go to Kabul. The authorities make it very difficult for foreigners. They seem to want us out of the country. And I have no news from the Afghan authorities yet about my application, so I really hope I will get some news soon.

Did I complain about weather in the last letter? I did, didn’t I?  I guess it was too early; it was only 42 Celsius, nice and cool weather compare with what it is NOW! Believe it or not:  it has been 48°C the last three days, yes, forty eight in shadow. Our thermometer only registers until 50 Celsius…..it’s crazy.

It has been 48°C the last three days.

It’s not good to stay in the compound all the time, because you’ll go a bit nutty if you do. So I was lucky to have the opportunity to go on another field trip; even it was just for one day in the Toqay district, one and half hours from Kabul.  Uzbek people live there, and women (most of them) do not mind being photographed.

A pregnant woman.

The Afghan parliamentary election is scheduled to take place on September 18th (postponed from May 22nd).   The campaign which kicked off at the end of June will be a major test of Afghanistan’s political progress and security. Depending on how it’s run, the Sept. 18th balloting could be a major advance toward stability; or, if there is fraud on the scale of last year’s presidential elections, a big step backward.

A campaign billboard for candidate standing in the 2010 Afghan parliamentary elections.

In Balkh province my “mission” for the Czech NGO People is finished. In Kabul, I will document a teacher’s training and hope also to document the parliamentary election campaign. My last shoot was in the Toqay district, the ISNA (Income Stability in Afghanistan) beneficiaries: a beekeeper, agriculture nursery and wool processing.

A beekeeper

So goodbye Marghzar, goodbye Zare and Kishindeh. Goodbye  Mazar-e-Sharif, goodbye Balkh.  I am off to Kabul on Saturday.


PS. And I have almost forgot, my visa application is already at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and I will have an answer about my status in couple weeks.

Letter from Afghanistan IV


The security situation has worsened in Afghanistan. It probably has to do with the upcoming elections. The Taliban are coming out, visiting rural areas and recruiting new members, especially young men and boys.  I couldn’t get around freely on my last trip to Zare because rumour had it that the Taliban was present. It is the same situation in Kishindeh and in the other parts of Afghanistan. We worry that the situation will only get worse as the elections draw closer.

Five people have been killed by suicide bombers attacking the office of a US AID-funded organisation in the northern Afghan province of Kunduz. In Kishindeh, one Pakistani and two Afghan engineers were abducted, were released after a few days.

We keep our heads down and consider our every movement, but continue our work. In Zare, a new farmer’s cooperation now has their new tractor with a drop-side-truck and wheat thresher from People in Need (PIN). A big ceremony was held, speeches were delivered and the wheat thresher was use for the first time.

A big ceremony was held.

Farmer’s cooperation now has their new tractor.

Wheat thresher was use for the first time.

Everybody was happy. We were happy that the tractor, drop-side-truck and wheat thresher arrived safely at its destination and that members of this new farmer’s corporation were happy having their new machines. It took seven minutes to thresh one bag of grain, whereas normally it would take one full day of driving several donkeys or cows in a circle to thresh this amount of grain.

A boy driving donkeys in a circle to thresh grain.

Husk must be separated from the grain.

The weather continues to be unbearably hot.  Our two dogs live during the day in our bathroom cooling themselves on tiles. In our office, an air conditioner works sporadically. It’s an endless struggle.

My feet are becoming like Afghan feet – heels dry and cracked from just wearing sandals in the hot weather and there is a constant thin film of dirt. I wear scarf, well, I am trying to wear a scarf. It always slides from my head and my hair is unveiled — not good in the rural areas. Ah! If I use safety pin, I look like Russian babushka.

Scarf always slides from my head and my hair is unveiled.

I wear also a long dress with long sleeves because women must cover their arms fully. I borrow one dress from a friend, and the second one I had sewn here in Mazar-e-Sharif.

There are three genders in Afghanistan: women, men and foreign women.  Foreign women have more privileges than Afghan women. They do not have to wear burqas, just a scarf. They do not have to hide their faces. They can eat together with the men, talk to them and even joke with them. And Afghan men have a great sense of humour.

In recent weeks, I documented the People in Need (PIN) mission, the Cash for Work (CFW), Food Facilities (FF), and the Water and Sanitation (Watsan) projects. Cash for Work gives payment to people who build roads. The Food Facilities program was building granaries and flood barriers. For Watson, I photographed pumps and the construction of water reservoirs.

A group of boys fill canisters at a water pump supplied by the NGO People in Need.

I am trying to extend my visa, but it’s a long and difficult process. I need a diploma from my school, a work permit, an invitation…..and I need lots of patience. I decided to apply only for exit visa.  Hopefully I will get ten days extra. My visa expires on July 15th so with these additional ten days, I will have to leave on July 25th.

I still have to photograph beneficiaries of the Income Stability in Afghanistan (ISNA). And I would like to go to Herat (city in western Afghanistan) to see Fraidoon, my Afghan friend. Still, many things to do in a short time, eh? Time is flying here; it seems to me I just arrived a week ago.