Afghanistan is more than a war, and though violence is spreading, much of the country remains peaceful.  Events in Afghanistan seldom make headlines abroad unless they involve violence, fanaticism or government malfeasance. Regrettably little attention is paid to civilian life, which goes on –because it must– in spite of deteriorating security. 

One of the great untold stories of Afghanistan since 2001 is the emergence of a civil society that has begun to assert itself as a force for progressive change at the grassroots level, with the poorest and least empowered segments of Afghan society –ethnic minorities, poor women, residents of slums and internal displacement camps, orphans, civilian victims of war and persons with disabilities.

Long before I came to Afghanistan, it was my goal to tell as many of these untold stories as possible with my own limited resources as a freelancer, and in doing so give others a glimpse of the brave work Afghan activists are doing with meager support and under some of the world’s most dangerous conditions. I wanted to write stories that focused on the human element so often missing from reportage on Afghanistan, the very real people who are pushing their society forward against all odds.

In May 2010, I was given the opportunity to accompany the Afghanistan Human Rights and Democracy Organization (AHRDO), an NGO that promotes human rights through arts and culture, as its staff conducted participatory theater workshops as psycho-social therapy and organized civilian war victims to take an active role in shaping the national debate over the government’s intention to negotiate with some of the insurgent factions currently battling Afghan and international forces.

For three weeks, I embedded –with civil society. My journey took me to diplomatic briefings, remote villages and sprawling urban slums.

The following series is a narrative account of what I saw, and the unsung heroes I encountered along the way.

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