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The Centre for the Study of Global Human Movement


Symphony of Courage: Empowerment and Resistance in Afghanistan through the Arts 


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Since resuming power in 2021, the Taliban have rapidly eroded human rights. Women have virtually been erased from the public sphere. Most secondary schools for girls have closed and women are largely prohibited from work. They have no presence in the government. The Taliban victory has catalysed a humanitarian crisis and exacerbated poverty.  Minority groups and those who are perceived to have supported the previous government are at serious risk. Freedom of media, speech and assembly is subject to threats and deadly attacks. In the wake of international military withdrawal, how are Afghan people resisting? What does soft power look like and how effective can it be? What can the academic community at Cambridge do to support resistance and empowerment? Join us for a screening of Symphony of Courage and an interactive panel discussion to probe these questions. 



Screening: Symphony of Courage

Symphony of Courage tells the story of the Afghanistan National Institute of Music and its brave founder, Dr. Ahmad Sarmast. Challenging the Taliban’s ban on secular music, Sarmast joined forces with famed cellist Yo-Yo Ma to evacuate his students including the all-female orchestra Zohra to Portugal. This documentary follows Farida and Zohra, the last two girls to be evacuated from Afghanistan. It explores how Afghanistan’s musical heritage is being kept alive. The ANIM is committed to developing a new generation of leaders empowered by music. Its concerts are broadcast in Afghanistan by Voice of America, giving hope and inspiration to Afghans working for change. 

Watch the trailer

Watch the documentary

Afghanistan National Institute of Music


Panel discussion

A moderated panel discussion will follow the screening to discuss the unfolding situation in Afghanistan and allow for audience engagement with the speakers. The panel includes:


  • Yolanda López , Director of Voice of America


  • Beth Mendelson, The Director of Symphony of Courage. She is the Senior Executive Producer of Special Programming and Documentaries at the Voice of America. Mendelson was previously Chief of the Afghanistan Service.
  • Dr. Cayenna Ponchione-Bailey, a conductor and Leverhulme Trust Early Career Research Fellow focused on the orchestral activities of Afghanistan. Ponchione-Bailey has mentored ANIM students and she is currently working with Afghan scholars and musicians in exile.
  • Dr. Marissa Quie, Convenor of the Afghanistan Desk at the Centre for the Study of Global Human Movement, Fellow, Lucy Cavendish 
  • Dr. Ahmad Sarmast, Founder of Afghan National Institute of Music, will connect via zoom. 


  • Hameed Hakimi, Associate Fellow at Chatham House (London) and Senior Fellow at the Atlantic Council (Washington DC)



Tuesday, 7 February, 2023 - 18:00
Event location: 
Newnham College (Sidgwick Hall)