Photo exhibition

Foreword – Photographies and their captions – About the photographer


When one hears the name of my country, I know that certain images come to mind that are not positive. It is true that violence and suffering has been part of the daily life of the Afghan population, but I would like to share a different story: a story of commitment, personal engagement, achievement and change.

My family originally comes from a remote and rural region of central Afghanistan. My father – who was a modest shepherd – took a decision that was both brave and visionary. He decided to move to a larger town in the south of the country. He did this in order to ensure that all of his sons and daughters would go to school. He saw this as the only way to extract us from poverty and exclusion.

I was determined to take my father’s vision a step further by enabling children in neglected regions of central Afghanistan to go to school and study in dignified conditions. Ten years ago, I set up Nai Qala with the aim of returning to my father’s region of origin to build a school. So far Nai Qala has successfully completed the construction of 9 schools for over 9’000 boys and girls and one clinic serving a population of over 20’000.

All these projects are being carried out in, isolated and undeveloped mountainous parts of the country. 80% of Afghans live in these rural areas, which have traditionally been neglected. If Afghanistan is to develop we must focus on these regions.

Afghanistan has been at war for nearly 40 years. The years of war have dispossessed us of the ability to tell our own story. We do not want to be presented as victims. We must and will find our own path and assume our own responsibility. It is education that will allow us to alleviate poverty and isolation and give us the strength to build a strong identity. Education is a key element to enable Afghans, men and women, to reclaim their ability to speak for themselves and formulate their own vision for their country’s future.

I am proud to show the importance of women in building our country. Initially I negotiated all our projects mainly with men, but over the last decade these meetings have gradually progressed and now the men and women sit together with pride and a feeling of responsibility. It is the success of Nai Qala’s projects, led by a woman that has had a positive impact on their view of women’s role in society.

It gives me deep satisfaction to have been able to accompany those brave communities in the search of hope and a different future. I am truly grateful for this and for all those who have believed in me and supported me.

I am extremely grateful to have the opportunity to organize this exhibition in Geneva to show that in spite of the uncertainty of today’s situation in Afghanistan, its people still have hope and strength and do not give in to violence.


Taiba Rahim
Founder and President Nai Qala Association

Photographies and their captions

Photographies and their caption
Picture Caption
Girls walking to Tagab Barg School, built in 2012 and housing more than 450 girls from over 14 villages. Bamyan province has a beautiful mountainous landscape but is susceptible to the harsh weather conditions. A proper school facility not only provides shelter from the elements, but also a safe environment that motivates parents to send their daughters to school.
Parents watch over as their children line up outside Safed Ghaow School in the early morning. Located in the district of Waras it accommodates more than 400 students from 17 villages. Some students walk up to three hours to reach the school. Safed Ghaow School is surrounded by arid mountains and limited infrastructure but provides the only access to education for nearby villages.
Students line up in the courtyard at Dewan School in Panjab district, Bamyan province. Completed in 2015, the school accommodates 350 students and nine teachers. Since completion, teachers have seen increased enrolment. Students are more motivated to come to school as it provides a secure and clean environment to study, especially for girls.
Entrance to Zeera Gag School, completed in 2015. Having a conducive and safe environment to study in encourages students to attend classes and motivates their parents to send them to school. Including parents and local communities in the maintenance of the school grounds makes them proud to be part of their children’s education and future. Despite isolation, poverty and many years of war, education is highly valued and communities strive to ensure these schools are taken care of.
20 years old Shirinne Jan is a teacher of Dari language. She has been a teacher at Dewan School for 2 years, a good job opportunity and experience to work in a remote area of Bamyan province. She loves teaching as it empowers children to improve themselves and make them better people.
Mah Gol copies an exercise from the board. Afghan girls are exceptionally motivated to do well at school and further their education. Not only will it help them gain better job opportunities and improve the lives of their families and communities; but they also gain more control of their own future rather than follow the expected traditional ways of life.
Students break in to groups for a class exercise. Children’s commitment to doing well at school is strengthened by the proper school infrastructure and trained teachers who come to these isolated communities.
Teachers are key to improve learning. Few teachers will come to work in these isolated villages, but with proper schools built newly qualified teachers are sent to teach in these schools. Nai Qala’s teacher training programme helps local teachers improve their skills and encourages them to stay in the region, rather than seek employment elsewhere.
Students, in particular girls, are demanding of the quality of education they receive. Students’ families’ contribute to the costs of education and expect academic achievement. Failure to achieve makes it more likely for girls to drop out. Recognising this, Nai Qala has initiated teacher training programmes to strengthen the capacity and skills of teachers in these rural parts of Afghanistan.
A young girl recites from a book which the class repeats after her. Classes are always mixed, with boys sitting on one side of the classroom and girls on the other. Prior to the schools being built, classes took places outside with children sitting on the ground, exposed to harsh weather making it difficult to concentrate.
Boys listening to their teacher during morning class. With an average of over 300 students coming to a school build by Nai Qala and limited classrooms, classes are broken into two shifts to accommodate all students: the younger children come in the morning, while the older students attend class in the afternoon.
Girls reading together in class at Dewan School. Bamyan province has historically being regarded as the poorest and most segregated part of the country. Despite the many challenges it has faced, it has the highest literacy rate in Afghanistan, a fact Bamyan people are very proud of.
A group of girls sitting in the shade whilst watching boys play volleyball during break time. Even though they don’t have the means to wear the latest fashionable clothes or bags, girls will make sure they add their own flair to their outfits by wearing colourful scarves or bags.
  Girls will wear a blue uniform for school. As most families cannot afford to buy a proper uniform, they will sew one themselves. Girls will always wear their uniform as it represents a sense of accomplishment and pride, as well as their commitment to going to school and finishing their education.
  Girls sitting in the shade during break time. The majority of girls want to become doctors, mid wives or teachers after finishing school. Overwhelmingly they plan to return to their villages to help fill the gaps and needs in their communities.
A group of young boys posing and joking for the camera. They plan to become engineers and seek work in the bigger towns. The blue jackets are the boys’ part of the uniform, but most will not wear them at school, opting for simpler shirts and long sleeves tops.
Girls play volleyball during break time whilst the boys watch. Most students live in small isolated villages with many chores and without neighbours close by. School time is also a time where they socialize and have fun.
Children break into different groups to play many games. Break time at school is a time where children can play and have fun. After school most kids will walk long distances to their homes where they will help out in family chores, such as taking care of animals, farming, taking care of younger siblings or preparing meals.
Gol Zewar walks home after school. She walks two hours each way on mountain tracks, where cars, motorbikes and in some parts even donkeys cannot pass – a normal part of daily life for Gol Zerwar. But this does not deter her determination to get an education in the hope for a better future.
Gol Zewar sorts apricots to dry in the sun. The apricot season brings valuable income to the house. Her father has been in Iran for two years working various jobs. Her older brother joined him a year ago. Gol Zewar lives with her mother, her brother, and her sister – in – law and her newborn. Afghans who are slightly better off will have a small TV and antenna, though electricity is scarce and they rarely watch it. It’s more a status symbol.
Bakhte Awar cuts the grass she collected for the livestock inside the family barn, while her younger sisters look on. As she is the eldest of five daughters, she will help her mother and grandmother with home chores before she can do her homework. Her father is working in Iran, making life at home more demanding.
Bakhte Awar does her homework inside the house having completed her chores. She wants to become a doctor to support her community as there is a lack of medical facilities qualified staff. She is the top student in her school and very motivated. But with the difficulties at home, she sometimes finds it challenging.
Summer is the most bountiful period with fresh produce. Collected apricots are dried on the rooftops of houses and sold at the market. The small solar panel charges a small car battery located in the family room. This will provide enough power to light a couple of lightbulbs at night and charge a mobile phone if they have one.
Mah Gol walks through her family’s potato field to collect grass. After school and before she can do her homework, she will help out her parents with chores that range from collecting grass for the livestock, washing the dishes, and tending to the family’s farmland.
Mah Gol, 15, stands inside her house after collecting grass for the family’s livestock. She wants to further her studies at university, train as a policewoman and return to her community to help them. Her mother is illiterate, and her father only completed 4th grade. They understand the importance of education and support their children go to school.
Mah Gol’s mother watches as her daughter does her homework in the family’s common room after helping out with the chores. She is illiterate as there were no schools where she grew up. She values education and is happy that her daughter wants to further her education to have more opportunities and a better future.
Gol Andam, 18, poses with her family inside their home (her mother was too shy to join). Both parents support education and believe it’s the future and make sure all their children are in school. She hopes to study law to become a judge to prove that women can do anything they put their mind to. She believes that women magistrates would be fairer and disciplined than men and more justice would prevail.
Gol Begoum, 18, poses with her mother and father. She is happy that there is a proper school as before they only had a tent. “Having a school means to build our own country”. Her 85- year-old father, Ramzan, proudly sent all his 12 children to school despite opposition from the community, including from some of his family members. He and his wife are illiterate but see education as the path to a better future with more stability.
Jomah, Mirza and Khadem are teachers hired by Nai Qala. Coming from isolated communities with limited education facilities they know all too well the challenges their students face. Two of them graduated from Nai Qala schools and want to give back to these isolated communities. They also want to show that people who come from remote communities can become better and stronger individuals who can help to build a better Afghanistan.
Community elders sit inside the library in Zeera Gag School. They are big supporters of education, especially girls’ education. They highlighted that education has been proven “to play an important role in developing communities and civilisation, and that girls have it in their nature to share their knowledge and be more inclusive within society and help it grow”. The school symbolises a bridge to the future and a symbol of hope. It has given the communities a sense of pride and confidence that their voices have been head and they are able to work together to improve their children’s future.


About the photographer

Born in Greece in 1977, Haris Coussidis is an independent documentary photographer. She grew up in Iran, Pakistan and Switzerland due to her father’s work with UNHCR, before she worked and travelled as a photographer in East Africa, Central and South East Asia. Her work focuses on raising awareness on social and humanitarian challenges faced by different communities. Through photography she tells stories and brings to light forgotten issues, whilst focusing on the resilience and strength of people. She has worked with numerous humanitarian organisations (UNHCR, UNICEF, MSF, OXFAM, ICRC) on awareness campaigns and documenting their work in the field. She is the author of a cookbook featuring recipes and stories of refugee communities living in Malaysia. She is also working on long term photo projects on culture and identity.

The pictures in this exhibition will be available for sale. The funds will go to support Nai Qala Association projects in Afghanistan. For details please email at

An educated, healthy and balanced society for rural Afghanistan