Afghan Service and Ayesha Tanzeem, 2022 winner
August 2021 marked the end of America’s longest war, the start of a new regime in Afghanistan, and a new world for the Afghan people. Some celebrated, others wept, but all faced uncertainty. At times like these, it is up to the press to provide the facts that allow their audiences to make sense of things. Doing so is never easy, and it is even more difficult when the uncertainty extends to the journalists themselves.
It is no secret that the Taliban seeks to destroy any semblance of a free press. As their supporters entered Kabul, VOA’s journalists there had reason to believe that they would be targeted for their profession–and for their association with Voice of America. But still, they reported. In the Dari and Pashto languages, VOA’s contract staff in Kabul covered the final days of the democratic government and the first days of the new regime. In Washington, their VOA colleagues worked around the clock to disseminate that hard-won reporting to the world, all while knowing that their own loved ones were at risk.
To reach English-speaking audiences, the VOA NewsCenter’s Ayesha Tanzeem reported from the Kabul airport as throngs of Afghans – including her own colleagues – worked desperately to find a way out of their country. Ayesha’s work at the airport extended well beyond reporting, however. She tirelessly worked her contacts not just for news, but for vital security information that she could pass on to her colleagues. With many VOA contractors believing that they would be targeted by the Taliban, Ayesha identified avenues for them to safely evacuate their country. Her work kept these journalists safe and alive, ensuring that Afghanistan’s best journalists could continue their vital work, albeit in exile.
Voice of America journalists speak 48 languages. Its work reaches nearly 100 countries. In 2021, VOA journalists covered the storming of the U.S. Capitol, a new American president, a climate change agreement, a coup in Myanmar, and the Olympic games. But it was the end of America’s longest war that most tested its reporters. Thanks to their bravery and their commitment to a free exchange of ideas, a vital source of information remains accessible to Afghans. For this, they deserve recognition.