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Giving a voice to the women of Afghanistan

Elisabeth Lehr reads from the book “The Sky is a Nest of Swallows,” a collection of work from the Afghan Women’s Writers Project’s online magazine.

Elisabeth Lehr reads from the book “The Sky is a Nest of Swallows,” a collection of work from the Afghan Women’s Writers Project’s online magazine. Photo by Shaun Kittle.

The AWWP has offices throughout the United States and one in Afghanistan. The writers are primarily found via word of mouth, and no one is ever turned away.

To date, more than 90 Afghan women have written more than 500 pieces for the magazine, and those numbers are growing.

On Nov. 7, Lehr spoke about the AWWP and about the lives of women in Afghanistan to a group of faculty and staff at SUNY Plattsburgh.

And then, with the help of Kieva Reynolds and Alex Gartner, two student officers from the Plattsburgh State Chapter of National Student’s Language and Hearing Association, she let the Afghan women speak for themselves.

Lehr started with an essay by Norwan called “The Voice of Sahar Gul,” and explained that the story is not uncommon in Afghanistan.

Gul was sold by her family and made to marry an Afghan army soldier. When she refused to allow her in-laws to force her into prostitution, they beat her, tortured her, burned her, ripped her fingernails out and locked her in the basement for five months.

She was 15.

Authorities intervened and Gul was released and taken to a hospital. Her story is now considered to be a voice for other Afghan women.

Norwan’s essay never would have been printed in Afghanistan.

As Lehr, Reynolds and Gartner continued reading the selected work of the writers, their lives began to unfold within the steady cadence of the words. The pieces were bold, direct, sometimes hopeful and oftentimes heart wrenching, and they were all driven by a momentum that can only be described as pent-up.

In a poem called “Always a Hand to Wipe Tears,” Mena wrote about Kabul, a place she calls: “A land of bravery and beauty, a land where poverty increases daily, where death is cheaper than life, where children die before they are born.”

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