The Qessa Academy – “The Academy of Stories”, in Persian – is a unique venue in Kabul, Afghanistan, created to revive traditional storytelling and provide unemployed youth with knowledge and skills to bring about community development locally.
After over 30 years of war, Afghanistan suffers from a 75% illiteracy rate, making oral communication paramount in addressing poverty, peace and stability. Both the government and development organisations are experimenting with different ways to pass on information, including comics, posters and billboards.
The Afghan culture is however predominantly oral and it is hard to overstate the importance of storytelling and the extent to which it pervades all levels of society. As such, master storytellers are held in high regard as repository of values and information. As most of them are also elderly people, their skills may soon vanish with them. At the same time, Afghanistan is country where 68% of its population is composed of youth aged 18-25, who face an unemployment rate of 40%.
With this in mind, in 2013 Plain Ink opened Qessa in Kabul and started offering unemployed boys and girls aged 18-25 classes on the following subjects:
- Community development – public health, natural disasters mitigation and the environment, human rights in Islam
- Storytelling – traditional storytelling, creative writing, performing art
Amidst danger and chaos, 6 students managed to complete the courses and, after graduating, started their two-month internships at Afghan foundations, Ministry of Education and performed publicly on radio and TV.
Our second year of operations (2015) was instead made possible by the Linda Norgrove Foundation, and saw 17 young people – 6 of which girls – graduating from Qessa. Some of them went on to work at Afghan foundations and radios.
Qessa welcomes up to 20 boys and girls per year, offering full scholarships and a highly professionalizing program.