Pari Gul, 30 (second from left) at home with her family in Herat. “For the past three weeks, my children have been only eating sweetened green tea and dry bread. I don’t have enough milk to breastfeed my 11-month-old. I hope this little food package will bring blessings to our sofra (table cloth).” Image: Kiana Hayeri/Oxfam

Kiana is a Senior TED fellow and regularly contributes to The New York Times from Afghanistan. Her work focusses on migration, youth and sexuality. Here she tells us about her experience witnessing a food distribution and documenting the impact of Covid-19 on communities in Herat, Afghanistan.

After four decades of back to back war; loss and death is part of daily life for Afghans. But now with Covid-19 on top of everything else, the economy has been hit really hard and poverty and food insecurity is rising fast.

The communities I photographed in Herat were struggling to get by each day. Many families had to send their children to bed hungry or cut out other essential things like medicine, to provide food for their families.

Women queue for food at a distribution organised by Oxfam in Herat, Afghanistan. Over one-third of Afghanistan’s population, approximately 11.3 million people, are food insecure; of these, nearly four million people are one step away from famine. Image: Kiana Hayeri/Oxfam

A photograph I took of women queuing for food stayed with me. I met pregnant women who were begging to get to the distribution because they had no food to offer to their children for the night.

I met a 30-year-old woman, Pari Gul, at one of the food distribution centres, where she received a bag of flour, 5 kilograms of split peas and some baby food, enough for 15 days. When I visited her at her home, her family was very welcoming, open minded with a positive attitude despite the difficult life they have been living.

Pari Gul and her husband Eid Gil have 7 children but unlike most Afghans, they praised and valued their daughters and sons equally.

Eid Gul suffers from major health issues. He’s had a kidney transplant. The blood dialysis and the multiple surgeries have left him so ill that he’s unable to work.

The family has pooled all the resources they have and all the children work when they are not in school – doing informal jobs like shining shoes or cleaning rice and lentils.

Pari Gul cleans houses and washes clothes for wealthier people. All those small jobs have disappeared and at the moment their 13-year-old son, is the sole breadwinner of the family. He works at a mechanic workshop and earns a very low wage.

Pari Gul and her son outside their home in Herat, Afganistan. Image: Kiana Hayeri/Oxfam

When I visited the family, they had been surviving on bread and tea and sugar for weeks. Pari Gul is struggling to produce enough milk to feed her baby, meanwhile she is pregnant with her eighth child. Eid Gul will run out of medicine soon, which he says can lead to a second transplant failure.

Their family really stood out, because despite all these difficulties, Pari Gul and Eid Gul have sent all of their children to school throughout these years. Even if they had to go to bed hungry, they never let any of the children miss a day of school which is very impressive in the context of Afghanistan.

Khan* waits in line with his mother at a food distribution organised by Oxfam. *name changed. Image: Kiana Hayeri/Oxfam

This pandemic is a historical event and will be talked about beyond our time.

I constantly follow the news, attend webinars and speak to professionals to keep myself up-to-date on how the virus spreads. Based on those conversations, I follow a protocol to keep safe. I do double the amount of risk assessment I usually do working in Afghanistan. I turn down assignments if I feel it’s not worth the risk. I wear a mask, wash my hands and use goggles in higher risk areas – and I’m constantly cleaning my gear. I haven’t changed the focal length of the lens I use, but I do consider whether it’s safe to shoot indoors.

When I am at home editing my images, I think about the wider story. I look at my edit and consider frames that are missing or frames that will help the narrative. I think about sequencing … and I think about the people I’ve met while working.

Some people stay in my mind for a long time.

Some of the images we see can be grim, sad or come from lands and societies that are far out of our reach. It might be easier for us to consider the people portrayed as ‘the others’. We have a tendency of distancing ourselves and I think that’s very dangerous. We need to look for familiar symbols or emotions to keep us connected; things that help us to put ourselves in other people’s shoes. To me, having empathy is the key to a better world.”

Kiana Hayeri on assignment in Afghanistan

Oxfam's coronavirus emergency response appeal

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