Tahereh Sheerazie, Pasadena Ca. USA – It has been over a month since Mahera Omar’s beautifully filmed documentary ‘A Garden in Shigar’ has been on the Womens’ Voices Now website competing for audience choice awards with many other well made films from all over the Muslim world. A Short-Film Festival giving voice to women of all faiths living in Muslim majority countries and Muslim women living as minorities around the globe.
“Nusrat, Khezran, Zakia, Asiya and Sajida are five young women from the scenic Shigar Valley in the mountainous northern areas of Pakistan. As interns with the Aga Khan Cultural Support Pakistan (AKCSP), their project is to landscape the Abruzzi secondary school’s garden in the village of Sainkhor, Shigar, Baltistan. Tahereh, their guide and mentor, has come all the way from Los Angeles, California, to teach the women the principles of design and landscaping. In learning these skills to transform a rubble strewn field into a one-of-a-kind teaching garden, these women sow the seeds for their own transformation.”
An excerpt about the film festival:
‘Women’s Voices Now is hosting Women’s Voices from the Muslim World: The Festival is a unique project that highlights pro-women voices from within the Muslim world and presents an unfiltered and honest account of these women’s stories–the experiences that shaped their lives, the challenges that must be overcome before freedom and gender equality become the status quo, the struggle for freedom of expression and inalienable human rights, and the people who are making this transformation happen. The project will be realized in partnership with numerous organizations focused on film, women’s rights and/or Muslim issues. Through this plurality of voices we are able to increase cultural awareness on an international level and fill that void in information left by traditional media, art and news sources.
On March 17-19, 2011, this community will have a physical incarnation at the Los Angeles Film School in Hollywood, California. The attendance of the winning filmmakers (and their subjects) is invaluable to this community.’
‘A Garden in Shigar” addresses myriad questions regarding rural women’s empowerment and social development. Instruction in principals of garden design became more about recognizing and building self confidence, inculcating critical thinking skills and encouraging informed yet creative ways of devising ideas and plans while maintaining true and tested methods of agriculture and Balti aesthetics. Fostering a sense of excitement, pride and ownership in eventually formulating this viable well thought out plan for a teaching school garden, is a landmark for both the community and the interns. In a work force dominated by men, the subtle and unthreatening fashion in which this project delivers a message of tranquility, calm, and inward strength and confidence gained through envisioning and creating a physical space – a garden, is remarkable.
As an effective means of education and a profound architectural space the Abruzzi school teaching garden is a milestone in the lives of Shigri students and Balti education.
The film has garnered numerous positive comments and votes of appreciation, support for the courage and passion the girls have displayed, and the hope of seeing their work blossom and come to fruition.
Winning the audience choice awards, will be a first step towards beginning to implement the stalled plan to build the garden in spring 2011. My objective, and that of Mahera’s, while filming the documentary has been not only to put a face to the unseen, unsung, unheard stories of Pakistan’s courageous and smart women from the rural communities, but also to enable this simple effort to grow and take root in leaps and bounds – ‘flowers everywhere’ as one comment on the website puts it.
This requires more than baby steps, ideas, pictures and words. It requires vision and support with resources, expertise and funding to tackle the logistical and cultural challenges that are faced by these remote mountain communities – their women in particular.
However, regardless of the film winning an award at the festival, if there is to be a paradigm shift in addressing women’s issues with sincerity (in this case Muslim women) the screening and dissemination of this film is a step in the right direction. For rural women struggling to emerge out of a cultural crunch, as well as social and economic disadvantages, this school garden is an important step towards sustainable social inclusion and a replicable long term solution to poverty alleviation. Having put in play a milestone initiative in introducing this creative intrinsically ‘Islamic’ vocation (gardens) for the young men and women of this distant land, AKCSP’s needs to be lauded. However their continued involvement in finishing the project is supremely essential in a country facing some of its most serious challenges to identity and survival.
Pasadena Ca. USA