Drawing: 'Visiting a family in the south of Kabul (March 2022)'. All drawings courtesy of Mélissa Cornet
On Christmas Eve in 2021, Mélissa Cornet was alone, huddled under a blanket to keep warm. There was no city power, and Mélissa didn’t have a generator of her own, so, like many others in Kabul that night, she had no heating or electricity.
Since the Taliban had come back into power four months earlier, there’d been a strict curfew in the city. She couldn’t leave her building or socialise with friends. She’d already read the five or six books she’d brought from home, and so, with nothing else to do, she did something she had not done since she was a child.
She picked up a pen and drew.
Having spent the last five years living in Kabul and working for different humanitarian groups, Mélissa was in a unique position. She’d lived in Kabul before the autumn, and she was now back after the de facto takeover.
She was witnessing the changes in real time and, she realised, she could document this historic time through her art.
“Advocacy is hard. You have to get people to listen to things that they don’t care about,” Mélissa, who most recently has been CARE Afghanistan’s Advocacy Manager, says.
“When they’ve grown tired of the facts and figures, art is another way to reach people and show them what is happening inside the country.”
Below are excerpts from Mélissa’s sketchbook, along with brief descriptions of where she was and what she saw in her travels around the country.
'Two women in Kandahar'
In Kandahar in August 2022, on the eve of the one-year anniversary of the fall of Kabul, I visited the suburbs of Kandahar, a city in the south of the country and capital of the Islamic emirate. In this city, one of the most conservative in the country, it is rare to see a woman not covered with the traditional burqa.
The thousand-year-old minarets of Ghazni, built in the 12th century, are part of the cultural heritage of Afghanistan, but are unfortunately neglected. For a long time, the war prevented preservation and restoration work. The end of the conflict offers a glimmer of hope for the preservation of this ancient heritage.
'Child labour, Kabul'
Since the regime change, Afghanistan has been going through an economic crisis. Child labour, already a common phenomenon, has exploded. We see them picking up rubbish, polishing shoes, selling handkerchiefs or pens, including in the middle of a freezing winter.
In June 2022, a powerful earthquake in Khost and Paktika, provinces near the Pakistani border, left more than a thousand dead and thousands more injured. Hundreds of families are forced to live in tents in the courtyard of their destroyed homes, like here in the Spera district. The approach of winter and snow makes it urgent to rebuild their shelter.
Since August 2021 and the start of the economic and humanitarian crisis, food distributions have multiplied around the country to help people experiencing poverty.
'Interview day in Kabul suburbs'
Street scene in a Kabul suburb visited for interviews. The bakery on the left of the sketch is typical of the country, with delicious local breads.
'View of Kabul from TV Hill'
In Kabul, those most in poverty build on the tops of the mountains. The higher it is, the better the view, but the less households have access to water and electricity.
You can follow Melissa and see more of her work on Twitter at @melissacornet_