Public diplomacy took a new form May 18th in Kabul, Afghanistan- the form of 10,000 pink balloons. As part of a performance art project called “We Believe in Balloons,” New York-based artist Yazmany Arboleda and his volunteers spread the bright, biodegradable balloons throughout the city in an effort to advocate for peace by bringing about “joy, wonderment and a new sense of awareness to people.”
The project has gained a significant amount of criticism from those who say the notion is just “plain silly,” and that aid funding should go toward projects that are more meaningful, substantial and lasting. However, Arboleda argues that the project will bring unexpected happiness to a nation that has experienced more than its fair share of violence and conflict.
Especially in a time when hundreds of billions of dollars from governments and private philanthropies have been flooded into Afghanistan, projects such as Arboleda’s do not stand alone. There have been dozens of projects in the past decade, both publicly and privately-funded, that have attempted to bring the same hope of peace in somewhat unconventional manners.
One such project, funded through the Amanuddin Foundation, intends to bring peace of mind to the people of Afghanistan through Ayurvedic meditation. This project is the brainchild of the French travel writer Amandine Roche and a male model from New York, Cameron Alborzian, both of whom desire to bring an end to war through a collective heightened consciousness.
While this project was financed by Roche and Alborzian themselves, many similar projects have been hugely funded from outside sources. A prominent example of this was Australian musician Travis Beard’s “stealth rock concert” in 2011. The concert aimed to teach Afghan youth how to express themselves through rock music- a move that promised to provoke some serious backlash from the certain parts of the community- the government included.
The rock concert project gained funding from a handful of embassies, including the United States’. Though the embassy declined to disclose the amount, Beard’s grant came from the public diplomacy budget, which in 2010-11 totaled about $148 million.
Another contribution from the land down under came from the aid group Skateistan. Skateistan, founded by Oliver Percovich, built a skate park and provided free lessons and meals to Afghan boys and girls. The project gained support from several European governments and, since its founding in 2007, has grown from a Kabul-based NGO to an international non-profit charity.
Many of these public diplomacy efforts have pointed their focus toward the defense and protection of women in Afghanistan. The organization Young Women for Change is one such entity. Run by Afghan women studying in the United States, it received funding from the U.S. embassy to put on a fashion show last February in an attempt to empower females to look outside of their traditional dress. They also opened up the first women-only Internet café in central Kabul in order to provide women a safe haven to discuss issues and to create social networks.
U.S. embassy spokesman David D. Snepp defined public diplomacy as “how we engage people around the world, it’s how we explain our values.” With this definition in mind, it is not unreasonable to bundle these projects into a comprehensive strategy for peace in Afghanistan. Who knows, a few thousand more balloons today could mean a few thousand less bullets tomorrow.
– Kathryn Cassibry
Source: New York Times