Aug 2, 2009

Learning Online Journalism and Writing Blogs in Helmand Province

Note that this article was first published in the (direct link of this interview)and if you reproduce this article you must retain this notice.

Introduction: A surprising number of Afghans blog on the Internet and even more want to learn how. Nasim Fekrat has been at the forefront of helping Afghans use modern technology to communicate with each other and the rest of the world – but it can be a dangerous business.’s Jane Morse talked with him earlier this year while he was in United States on a fellowship (see: Eager to Learn About the World, Tech Savy Afghans Turn to Blogs.) In a new guest post, Nasim talks about his latest efforts to teach blogging in Helmand province, the largest in Afghanistan and the world’s top opium-producing region. The province is the site of ongoing deadly fighting between the Taliban and American, British and other NATO troops.

This is the sixth day that I am in the war-torn province of Helmand. My friends in other provinces do not know what I am here for, and before I explain it to them, they ask me, “What the heck are you doing there?”

I am in Helmand province to conduct a training session on online journalism and blog writing. We had planned for owners of 20 media outlets to participate in this two-day training session, but we received more applications than we expected. We were unaware that we would get 28 people for the training session, including reporters, poets and writers.

You may think that we had everything we needed for the training class, but we did not have everything. We had just two computers that connected to the Internet and we had 28 journalists. Every one of them required the Internet during the training. It may be unbelievable for readers or funny to them, but we did it. Every one of the participants had a blog entry by the end of the training session and had posted two subjects on their blogs. Almost all of the blogs were written in Pashto (one of the official and most common languages in Afghanistan) and discussed subjects such as culture, literature, community, politics and agriculture in Helmand province.

When I asked the participants what made them participate in the training, our discussion taught me something new. One of them, who was familiar with Wikipedia, told me: “I want to inform people about Helmand province.”

He said that whenever he goes to the Internet site to search Lashkargah (the capital city of Helmand province) and Helmand province, he only finds results that center on drugs, war and violence.

Therefore, he is learning to utilize blogging in order to inform the world that Helmand is not a place of drugs and war but has agriculture, culture and literary works which have not been widely publicized.

One of the participants told me that he wants to discuss the security challenges in Helmand province using blogging, and he wants to hear opinions from other bloggers concerning the operation in Helmand province and find solutions for the conflict in this province.

The enthusiasm for the training was more than expected and the reason for that is clear: This is a war-torn province and nobody is willing to put himself in danger in order to conduct training for journalists. But for me, as a young Afghan from the generation of war victims and refugees, I love to serve my country and my fellow citizens. I want to teach them the things that I have learned. I like to spread the culture of blogs and online journalism in Afghanistan among the younger generations.

This was the third workshop on blogging and online journalism which was conducted with the support of the U.S. Embassy in Kabul and the blogging Institution of Afghanistan in Helmand province. This program has been scheduled in other provinces and the next workshop will be in Bamyan province.

Read more about Nasim’s efforts at his English language blog, Afghan Lord at

You can see his photo gallery The World Through My Eyes at

Additional photo galleries by Nasim can be found on NATO’s website, as well as at

Aug 1, 2009

Eager to Learn About the World, Tech Savvy Afghans Turn to Blogs

Note that this article was first published in the (direct link of this interview)and if you reproduce this article you must retain this notice.

Afghan blogger teaches others his craft

By Jane Morse
Staff Writer

Washington — Tech-savvy Afghans increasingly are turning to blogs for information about their country and the world. They also use blogs as a platform for telling their stories about Afghanistan to the world, says Nasim Fekrat, one of Afghanistan’s trailblazing bloggers.

Although Internet penetration is not high in Afghanistan compared with other countries, since 2002, some 20,000 Afghans have started blogging, Fekrat told Fekrat, who blogs under the moniker “Afghan Lord,” estimates that at least 1 million Afghans access the Internet through Internet cafes and at local schools and universities.

Fekrat discovered blogs in 2000, when only two Afghan expatriates — one in Canada and one in the United States — were blogging in Farsi. He e-mailed them requesting more information and then taught himself how to use the medium. In late 2002, he launched his first blogs featuring his poetry and discussions of classical music. Later, he included discussions about events in Afghanistan as well as philosophical issues.

In 2008, Fekrat taught blogging workshops in Kabul and Bamyan. Approximately 40 people attended the three-day workshops. They shared 10 computers Fekrat was able to rent with funds he raised from donors over the Internet. He hopes to raise enough money to repeat the classes again this year, sharing what he learned during his recently completed three-month fellowship at the DeWitt Wallace Center for Media and Democracy at Duke University in North Carolina.

Barack Obama’s deft use of Internet tools to send his message to voters, raise money and ultimately win the U.S. presidential elections profoundly impressed Fekrat. “This can be a model, a lesson to Afghanistan for presidential elections which are coming in a few months,” he said.

Afghanistan’s presidential elections are set for August 20. According to NATO officials, nearly 16 million voters have registered to vote — about half the country’s population.

That an African American won the U.S. presidential elections is “a big lesson” for Afghans,” Fekrat said. Afghans, he said, “should build up the determination to end inequality and hatred toward each other.”

“When I go back [to Afghanistan],” Fekrat said, “I will tell [my blogging students] about the media and morality. I’ll tell them how we can’t have exactly the same thing [as in the United States]; but with what we’re able to learn, to transform in [an] Afghan way; not in a very traditional way.

“We can change,” he said. “We can bring a picture of different models of Afghanistan.”

Many Afghans never learned about democracy, according to Fekrat. “Rather they heard communism, socialism, equality, Marxism, those ideas based on Marxist theory.” Compounding the problem, he said, is widespread illiteracy. “Those people, who never heard democracy, freedom, freedom of speech and human rights … they have to have an idea, a description of democracy that they never had,” he said.

“The meaning of democracy was not transformed in the context of Afghan meaning, Afghan knowledge, Afghan language,” he said. For many of the uneducated people, he said, democracy means little more than women discarding their head scarves.


“The new generation is not the generation of Taliban,” Fekrat said. “The new generation — they are simply about learning. … They want to connect themselves to the world.”

Blogging and the Internet won’t reach Afghanistan’s illiterate poor, and Afghan society, Fekrat acknowledged, is highly controlled by tradition, religion, differing tribal customs and fear of retribution. Even so, there is a core population of young people interested in change, according to Fekrat.

Afghans who blog enjoy a lively forum for discussion, Fekrat said. “They’re talking about elections, presidential elections. Hundreds of articles are published in Web sites. There is debate among them. They’re discussing the issues,” he said.

“I’m sure there are lots of misunderstandings, misconceptions and biased information from Afghanistan,” Fekrat said. If given the proper tools, young Afghans could provide a more accurate picture of their country, Fekrat said.

Although Fekrat blogs in both English and Farsi, the vast majority of Afghans blog in Farsi. But Fekrat would like to see the viewpoints of the Afghan people reach a wider non-Farsi speaking audience. His plan is to teach Afghans to do video interviews and podcast interviews with subtitles in English. Once again, he’s hoping to raise the funds for the video camcorders by soliciting donations online.

“You can find lots of Nasims like me in Afghanistan; lots of people will contact you and talk to you. You can learn a lot from Afghan society,” Fekrat said.

For more, see Fekrat’s Web sites in Farsi and English.