Photo story: Afghanistan's women rangers

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Afghanistan’s women rangers

Gelareh Darabi writes about Afghanistan’s first female park rangers in a new Al Jazeera documentary.

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© Leslie Knott

When the Taliban destroyed the famous giant Buddhas of Bamiyan in 2001, they wanted to get rid of the ‘un-Islamic’ idols. They also wanted to end the world’s interest in them. From the late 1950s to the 1970s, many foreigners, often on the ‘hippie trail’ of the Hindu Kush, visited the large ancient statues.

The foreigners often visited Band-e-Amir too, a beautiful natural site near the Buddhas with six wonderful blue lakes, full of minerals.

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Leslie Knott

This is when the local villagers of Band-e-Amir first understood that tourists helped bring in money and that the amazing beauty of their area was an opportunity for a better life.

The Afghan government tried to make Band-e-Amir a national park in 1973. But their plans stopped because of political unrest and decades of war. The roads in the park were full of mines and people from the villages had to run away to higher ground or to Iran.

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Leslie Knott

The country has had so many difficulties from war. So not many people are worried about conservation.

People who stayed used the park to survive: they hunted the wildlife, cut the trees for wood and used of hand grenades to catch fish in the beautiful lakes.

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Leslie Knott

But finally, in 2009 the Afghan government made Band-e-Amir a national park. It started to get money from the Global Environment Facility (an environmental fund from the United Nations Development Progamme (UNDP) around the world).

The Wildlife Conservation Society (an environmental protection group) came to advise and help the 14 villages in the park, each with around 500 residents. They also helped them make big collective decisions for the park, and now they have control in deciding about the future of the park.

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Leslie Knott

A local group decided that the park needed female rangers. More than 6,000 local tourists visit the park every year. Many of these are women and children. They come to bathe in the lakes of Band-e-Amir. They believe the waters will heal them.

Four local women are now working as park rangers. They are Afghanistan’s first female rangers.

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Leslie Knott

In Afghanistan, only 16 per cent of women work. These park rangers do a lot more than welcome visitors and control litter. People see them as a symbol of hope in an area where the giant Buddhas once lived in caves.

Now, Kubra, Nikhbakht, Sediqa and Fatima protect the landscape. They worry more about the many visitors than the Talban.

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Gelareh Darabi

Many people do not know about simple things – like not leaving rubbish on the ground or starting fires, or killing the poaching endangered wildlife of the area. After every sunny weekend full of tourists, the park looks like after a festival. Rangers work with local people to teach them that that soft-drink cans must go in the bin, not in the grass or the lake.

Al Jazeera's documentary is called Afghanistan’s Female Wardens

NOW READ THE ORIGINAL: http://newint.org/features/web-exclusive/2015/05/12/afghan-women-rangers/ (This article has been simplified so the words, text structure and quotes may have been changed).