11/22/2016, 16.05
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Selene Biffi, a Hindu Italian who educates young Afghans trhough comics

by Nirmala Carvalho

She is one of the recipients of the Mother Teresa Memorial Award. In 2009 she escaped an assassination attempt in Kabul and decided to help children and youth. She produced illustrated books and set up storytelling schools in which the country’s cultural heritage is passed down by word of mouth.

Mumbai (AsiaNews) – Selene Biffi, a Hindu Italian social entrepreneur, believes that books can help children understand the power of education and enable them to always choose peace and repudiate violence.

For her efforts, she recently received the 2016 Mother Teresa Memorial International Award for Social Justice in Mumbai.

For years, she has worked in Afghanistan, where she founded an association that encourages ​​education and promotes the country’s cultural heritage. The local illiteracy rate is over 30 per cent and studying is hard to do under the constant threat of attacks.

In 2004, Ms Biffi founded the Youth Action for Change (YAC), a non-profit organisation that focuses on the development of young people. Today, the association offers free online courses to young people in more than 130 countries worldwide.

She says that she went from being an observer to being a facilitator of change. Her first experience in Afghanistan goes back to September 2009, when she arrived in Kabul as part of a United Nations project to write a textbook for children in rural areas that "teaches simple concepts in health, agriculture and development."

Originally, she wanted to be an outside election monitor, but her application was turned down nine times.

Shortly after arriving in Kabul, the Taliban carried out an attack against the hotel that housed international observers, killing six UN employees. As a result of this, she was evacuated and returned to Italy, where she decided to work for the poor children of Afghanistan.

In addition to the book project for the United Nations, she decided to write an illustrated book on public health. In her view, this is the best way to overcome illiteracy. "Using illustrations to communicate information is the key to success".

Her first experience in Afghanistan led her to set up a second NGO in 2010, ‘Plain Ink’, which produces and distributes children's books and comics in Italy and India.

This was followed by the idea of establishing a storytelling school to preserve Afghanistan’s cultural heritage and instill hope in young people so that they could be advocates of information development.

All her work, she said, "is due to her falling in love with Afghanistan. There is something magical here despite the difficulties, the war and everything else. It is the resilience and dignity of its people."

The project has been in the work for more than five years, during which Selene saw the potential of educating 20,000 people every year in schools across the country.

In its first year, the project took in unemployed boys and girls from various tribal groups. It includes courses in English, fiction and creative writing, music and art. As part of the programme, students receive personal and professional support and counselling.

Selene Biffi is aware of the country’s political challenges and instability. A week after her initiative was alunched, a suicide attack in a Kabul neighbourhood close to where she lives caused the death of nine people.

"When you work for the possibility of change, difficulties abound. However, the latter also give hope."

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