Kash & Shabana, between Rome and KabulRome, 1 February 2008: The story of little Shabana was the starting point for the conference held in central Rome (Campidoglio) on Friday 1 February 2008. Shabana, a 3 year old Afghan girl (nr. not 4 as previously mentioned), was born with a facial tumour. After her first operation in Kabul in August 2005, she will undergo plastic surgery in Rome on Monday 4 February 2008, carried out by an expert medical team under the direction of Smile Train Italia President Surgeon Fabio Abenavoli. Her case has been followed by the international medical community, as her illness is a particuliar form of tumour that is widespread in Afghanistan, though the reason for the high incidence of cases is not known.The conference and Shabana’s operation were organised by photojournalist Kash Gabriele Torsello with the support and collaboration of a variety of organisations and institutions – from the Italian Embassy in Kabul to ’Daniela e Paola Foundation’ in Salento, from Kabul Maiwand Hospital to Fatebenefratelli Hospital in Rome and the charity Smile Train Italia. These and several other organisations and individuals are still involved in the ongoing ‘Shabana project’.Kash Gabriele Torsello, who has known Shabana and her family for the last three years and who organised Shabana’s first operation in Kabul, opened and moderated the conference, remarking first of all that the little girl’s surgical operation offered an important opportunity for European and Afghan authorities, specialists and hospitals to come together in what is hopefully an intensification of collaboration. In fact, Shabana’s operation in Rome is the second phase of Kash’s project ‘Temporary Work for Afghans’.
Journalists’ response was higher than expected and the conference room, the beautiful and elegant Sala degli Arazzi in Campidoglio, was crowded out with correspondents from the Italian national media, including two RAI channels (Italian public service broadcaster). The conference also saw the unexpected arrival of Her Royal Highness Princess India of Afghanistan daughter of the king of Afghanistan Amanullah Khan, and of Italian Minister for Health Rt. Hon. Livia Turco.
The initial ‘musical chairs’ and cheerful chaos, ensuing from the overwhelming numbers, resulted in a late start to the conference but soon enough the room fell silent as a photo-video projection started, underscored by Franz Schubert’s emotive Ave Maria and illustrating Shabana’s story from the time when Kash first met her, going through the health system in Kabul and finally ending with the four-hour operation that removed Shabana’s neurofibroma in 2005 at Kabul Maiwand Hospital RSU. In the course of the conference, talking of Shabana’s case as the first of many, Kash stressed that a shocking 10% of Afghan children suffer from face tumours and that more research is needed to understand the reason behind this.
After the opening, Rt. Hon. Ileana Argentin, the Mayor’s Counsellor for Policy regarding Handicap and Mental Health, expressed the importance of the project and her support for Smile Train Italia’s work on undertakings such as this. Subsequently, Smile Train’s President Doctor Abenavoli explained the NGO’s objectives, how it operates in hostile environments and the importance of training doctors is countries such as Afghanistan where better medical expertise and equipment are needed.
The Ambassador to the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan in Rome, H .E. Prof. Musa M. Maroofi, also conveyed his support for Kash’s initiative. Prof. Maroofi remarked, “Shabana is the symbol of the Italian people’s strong feelings towards humanitarian projects” and he expressed his gratitude to them, for their interest and their effort in making the realisation possible, and also to organisations such as Gino Strada’s Emergency.
The conference’s message was clear, as all speakers underlined the need for collaboration amongst the various international organisations and bodies operating in Afghanistan. As the President of the Italian Red Cross, Doctor Massimo Barra stated, there is a need for synergy, for working together focusing on common goals. In few words, Doctor Barra articulated the focal point of Temporary Work: to connect the many different organisations working in Afghanistan, and help the Afghans help themselves and achieve independence in an effort that that can be much quicker if it is centralised. Fittingly, speaker Dawood Azami quoted the Afghan proverb “drops make an ocean”, while talking about cooperation between Italy and Afghanistan.
Shabana also spoke to the media during the conference and in an interview to Rai TG1 (news bulletin). Her presence and her natural delightfulness increased beyond expectation the audience’s enthusiasm and united support for Kash’s initiative.
The conference ended with an intervention from Janat Ghul, Shabana’s father, who thanked all the speakers and organisations present, the Italian Government and the Italian people for their help and support, which will allow Shabana to recover her smile.
NOTES TO EDITORS:
1) KASH Gabriele Torsello worked in Afghanistan documenting the everyday life of ‘ordinary’ people for seven years. His work was interrupted when he was kidnapped in October 2006, released after 23 days. Since then, KASH has been working in London and in Lecce, Italy, to develop the project Temporary Work for Afghans, and involving an increasing number of individuals and organisations internationally. The complete press pack including information on Temporary Work is at http://www.kashgt.co.uk