L A I L A H A I D A R I
Poet, Filmmaker, and Civil Activist: Serving the affected and wounded people of Afghanistan.
Laila Haidari was born as a refugee in 1978 in Pakistan and lived as a refugee in Iran. Laila, a lady whose name has been woven as “mother” for hundreds of men and women in ruined city of Kabul, her homeland. Laila’s identity was first shaped with poetry. The poet Laila, filmmaker Laila, the activist Laila and perhaps the Laila that works tirelessly and dedicated herself soulfully to serve one of the most disadvantaged groups of her society – the drug addicts. Laila serves a cause, perhaps a very important cause to help the drug addicts quit addiction and giving them another chance to live their lives. As she believes “life is beautiful”. Furthermore, Laila manages Taj Begum Restaurant to financially support her cause and serve the addicts in quitting.
Since 2002 Laila began to reveal her feelings to heal the pain of displacement, ruination of her homeland and the wounds of her people through lines of poetry. Poetry could not sooth Laila; therefore, she began to work in field of film making in 2007. Laila thought through cinema she could tell her untold story and the silenced stories of those who shared the same destiny as her. However, there were deeper silenced voices screaming for Laila to help…
Laila, born and lived as a refugee, attended school in Iran and successfully completed her bachelor’s degree in religious studies. In addition, she has been trained in short courses as director at Young Cinema Organization, journalist, nurse and teacher.
Activities during refugee hood:
Laila has been active and curious from her first glimpse of life. The situations that she has been living in, has provoked her to look at the problems, disadvantages, and discriminations with open eyes and be a seed of change. Therefore, Laila became a big dreamer, an activist who bravely tackles the problems around her and her community. Since then she has been working dedicatedly on social and cultural activities. Moreover, Laila felt the pain of refugee hood and the problems surrounded their lives. In 1999 she opened a non-profit school for Afghan refugee children who were not allowed to attend the Iranian or governmental schools. Through her hard work and successful management, her school students were able to go to Iranian school for further studies and graduated as award winning students.
In 2002 an anti-refugee mob in Flower-Jaan area of Isfahan city burned the Afghan refugee houses. Laila and other activists came together and protested peacefully in front of United Nation’s office. The Iranian authority imprisoned the activists, including Laila.
Laila packed her bag and came to her homeland, for the first time, to start a new life, not as a refugee but as an Afghan woman in her own land.
Laila as the mother of ‘burnt youth’ of Afghanistan
In Afghanistan Laila felt the disadvantages women faces, discrimination and the traditional culture that imprisons their freedom, has been heartbreaking. She directed her first film called “Imagination”, highlighting the situation of Afghan women and their notion and imagination about life and their lives. Laila’s film received the first director’s award and first actor’s award from Tolo Film Festival.
While focusing on filmmaking, the other wounds of the society were paining her as well. She noticed the ruination of life under Pul Sokhta (burnt-bridge) of Kabul – a place where the addicts get together and smokes… their burnt life.
Pul Sokhta (burnt bridge) has been a safe heaven for the addicts, there are hundreds of them, living, smoking, sleeping and eventually dying there. Thousands of people crosses the bridge daily, some look at the addicts with hatred and some other makes fun of them. Laila could not ignore the ruination of lives there. She has been curious to help the addicts. She eventually began to open the ‘Mother’s Camp’ and cure the addicts.
Mother’s Camp is the name the addicts themselves have chosen. They call Laila their “Mother” after receiving motherly love from her. Laila is famous in Kabul as “Mother” and her camp as “Mother’s Camp”. The former addicts are managing the camp in helping the newly arrived addicts.
Laila is wholeheartedly willing to help the disadvantaged, the affected and ruined people of her society. She pulls their hands from under the ‘Burnt Bridge’, cure them and connect them to the rest of society. She is determined and responsible. Even though, financially she does not have strong backups and in most cases did not have a penny, yet this did not stop her from her work. With a very small amount of money she has rented a house in West Kabul to be the healing place for the addicts.
Laila realizes her work is a lot and she needs financial support for that. In August 2012, she visited elders to help her in the cause she is serving. Mr Akram Gizabi has been the one who supported Laila and her cause financially. The money she received was paid rent and food for the addicts. For the very first time 28 people were brought from under the bridge to the camp for quitting addiction. Mother’s Camp has three rooms, washroom and bathroom, kitchen and a backyard.
To further strengthen her work and support her camp financially, Laila opened a restaurant – Taj Begum – the first restaurant in Kabul managed by a woman and it is run by former drug-addicts. The restaurant has become a social space in Kabul for the social activists, poets, educators and even singers. There are different activities weekly, from concert to poetry night, to exhibitions – the profit goes to Mother’s Camp.
So far, around 4000 drug addicts, all ages, from different ethnic groups, men and women, including children have quitted addiction in her camp. These people were given another chance to live life and return to the society. The cured people from the camps have been working in restaurant, painting, playing musical instruments to serving in Afghan National Army.
Laila Haidari, the real player of life, mother at Mother’s Camp and manager at Taj Begum, has been working for more than 5 years now in serving the sacred cause that concerned her, pained her.
For managing her work properly, Laila registered an organization under the name of “Life is Beautiful” and runs her activities through the organization’s platform.
Laila further works as civil activist in Kabul and strongly presses on the issues of women rights. She has been the main organizer of the three protests held on ‘stop violence against women’. She gives out plans and organizes activities to promote women rights, celebrating women talent and recognizing their hard work.
Throughout her life and specially her recent work in Afghanistan, Laila has been abused, threatened and even kidnapped by the people who are against her work. In her everyday work she is being insulted for working with addicts. However, Laila become stronger and more determined day by day.
Laila believes the war has scarred her country so deeply that everyone in society needs to play their role in serving one another and the disadvantaged one. Laila believes she is at the beginning of the road of her work. Society needs thousands of Laila to work for bigger causes in serving homeland and playing their positive role in world community.
She not only helps addicts to rehabilitate, but, also helps their families to stand on their feet economically. In her view, empowering women is the only way to prosper as both women and men would be able to play active role in shaping their society. Laila has been working to create jobs for widowed women in Kabul in handicrafts as she helps them to sell their products.
So far, there have been tens of reports on Laila’s work, both in national and international media/websites.
Some of the reports on Laila Haidari’s activities can be viewed in the link below:
1. http://edition.cnn.com/2012/09/20/world/asia/afghan-opium-addict- family/index.html