• BAAG plans journalism trip to cover Afghanistan’s trauma

BAAG plans journalism trip to cover Afghanistan’s trauma

23 November 2015

Any fan of photography is probably familiar with Don McCullin’s 1968 photograph Shell Shocked US Marine, The Battle of Hue. The blank look of incomprehension in the soldier’s eyes draws the viewer in. His hunched shoulders tell of horrors witnessed.  It’s this image that some people recall when thinking about PTSD – the new term for shell shock, post-traumatic stress disorder.

Much has been written about the impact of PTSD on Western military personnel returning from Afghanistan. But very little is reported about the mental health of the Afghan civilians, who have witnessed and endured war for over 30 years.  As a country with a youth bulge, many Afghans have known nothing but conflict, suicide bombers, gun battles and hostage taking.

‘My daughter can’t sleep any more’ said Saleem, a Kabul resident after the August 7th explosion. The blast took place in the early hours of the morning when Kabulis were asleep. Some of them never woke up. Those who did had been dealing with shock and trauma. Saleem’s daughter's body shakes violently if anyone calls her name.

How can a person process such experiences? How does a life marked by fear, loss and anxiety shape a person? How does it shape a community, or a country?

BAAG will be helping two British-based journalists to answer some of these questions, as we send our Afghanistan Journalism competition winners to the country.  After receiving 21 applications in September, BAAG and our panel of judges finally chose the winning entry of Mark de Rond and Magda Rakita.

Their proposal, entitled Some Things Can Never Be Unseen: Tackling PSTD Among Afghan Civilians, captured our attention.  It takes a view of Afghanistan that is regularly presented by the media, that of the Taliban advances, the attacks on civilians, the beheading of hostages. But it turns this around to explore how such traumatic events effect the people who experience them.  Moreover, it asks how conflict shapes people’s coping mechanisms, stating ‘trauma begets trauma: civilians who suffer from PTSD are more likely to favour violent means to end conflict than those who do not.’They suggest that PTSD is likely to impact many more people, through their experience of domestic violence, than just those who witness a traumatic event.

Mark and Magda will travel to Afghanistan next month, accompanied by BAAG.  They will visit a hospital which specialises in mental health, exploring with staff the symptoms of PTSD, the impact on the patient’s family, the treatments available. They will visit other local and international mental health projects, and hope to directly interview those who have been diagnosed with the disorder.

BAAG will publish Mark’s article and Magda’s photographs at the end of December. It will be one years since British troops finished their combat mission in Afghanistan. We hope that their article will provide an alternative view to those that ask how veterans are coping and being treated. It will also mark the end of the European Year of Development, which has highlighted the role of European development support to countries including Afghanistan, showing the value and importance of such cooperation.

Mark and Magda have written a blog for BAAG, about their hopes for the trip and why they chose to focus on mental health.

“We were all moved by Mark and Magda’s proposal, and are really excited about the upcoming trip” comments BAAG’s Programme & Communications Coordinator, Jenny Humphreys. “It could be a challenging story to write, however: conflict has, sadly, become the norm for many Afghans, and therefore they may think that living in fear is not exactly newsworthy. We, however, disagree – and this article should help BAAG to highlight the ongoing support that is needed for the people of Afghanistan.”

Our Afghanistan Journalist Competition forms part of the EC-funded Media4Development programme, details of which can be found here