Mir Bacha Kot is a village and the center of Mir Bacha Kot District, Kabul Province, Afghanistan. It lies 25 km North of Kabul. The village infrastructure was destroyed during the war. The population is 5,659 at last estimate.
Photographer Ruvan Wijesooriya traveled to the Roots of Peace School in the village of Mir Bacha Kot, Afghanistan, and gave the students several disposable cameras to photograph their unique perspective of the world around them.
The Roots of Peace School was built in 2006 after the infrastructure of Mir Bacha Kot was destroyed during the war. It was a project developed by the Roots of Peace organization, which de-mined the land of explosive ordnance and eventually helped the locals to make that land farmable.
Years of conflict in war-torn countries have deprived the current generation of youth the needed formal education that will fuel the future growth of an emerging country. In Afghanistan, for example, with 44.6% of Afghanis under the age of 14, schools can become central to positive social change in Afghan communities.
Yet, landmines and other remnants of war continue to hinder children’s access to schools for education and ball fields and playgrounds for activities for positive social development. The majority of landmine victims are curious children – often walking to and from school or inadvertently venturing into minefields that surround their communities.
Without safe access to the means of changing their way of life through education and social development, Afghan children remain vulnerable to the surrounding warring factions. They become victims of a continuous cycle of violence and a future without hope. Will Afghanistan create the next generation of productive citizens or the future foot soldiers of disorder?
The consequences of the instability festering in Afghanistan and in other war-torn countries in conflict have reached American shores. Americans must break the cycle of insular thinking and teach the next generation of American children to look outward and embrace a global leadership role to make the world a better place. While most Americans have a desire to take some sort of action, most feel powerless to do so, especially our youth.
The Roots of Peace Penny Campaign empowers American students to take positive action towards peace. The program helps students to look beyond their own backyard and explore the plight of Afghan kids and other children less fortunate and contrast their own lives with those of kids in war-torn countries.
Ruvan describes these beautiful and enlightening pictures:
"One of my goals was to make pictures for the kids themselves to keep. I wanted them to capture their hope, their joy, and that energy that children only have."
"It was important for me to focus on our similarities and show progress and hope in the face of negativity and division."
"I was looking to get past the suffering and hardship by using the photo shoot to bring a new experience into the lives of these kids."
"To involve the subject and attempt a real connection."
"Giving people disposable cameras to see what they come back with is not terribly original, but it acted like a 'yearbook class' for the students."
"Their choice subject was very much school life: the classroom, playtime, and then little bits and pieces from the outside."
"Most visuals coming from Afghanistan at the time were politically embedded, digitally dramatic, and generally showcased the horrors of war...it was all very 'us over here and them over there.'"
"At some point I realized that it would benefit others to see their perspective, not just the kids in the photos."
"There is a wealth of visual data in these photographs: You'll notice that there's no females in the older grades, some students are wearing brand logos in a school with no running water, and none of the kids are seen wearing glasses."
"For many, it was their first time having a proper portrait taken of them; definitely their school portrait. Giving the kids pictures of themselves felt powerful far beyond me."
"And the kids had such an enthusiasm for being in school … it represented hope for them, a way out, and the possibility to help their fellow citizens after they finished studying."
"I was most surprised by how positive the kids were. The faces of these children were stunning and fascinating, beautiful and somehow unpredictable."
To learn more about Ruvan Wijesooriya's project "Yearbook: Afghanistan", check out the website at www.yearbookafghanistan.com. Because of all the pictures it is a little slow to load, but well worth the wait.
If you would like to donate to Roots of Peace and help other children in war torn areas of the world please go to https://rootsofpeace.org/donate
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All pictures are courtesy of Ruvan Wijesooriya