Name: Derek Eland
Returned from: Afghanistan
Hometown: Carlisle, UK
Website: In Our Own Words
I have mounted an Indegogo campaign in order to raise funds to publish In Our Own Words, a book of extraordinary handwritten stories written by people on the front lines in Afghanistan. The book tells their stories, it is their self portrait.
I'm an artist, based in the UK, and in 2011 I volunteered to go to Afghanistan as a war artist. I spent a month on the front lines and wanted to find a way to get inside the heads of the people I met: soldiers and civilians, Afghan and Western.
I asked everyone I met to write their unique story or a poem on a postcard, and collated these stories in a series of Diary Rooms. Here is one of the postcards:
In my time in Afghanistan I was shot at and was with a patrol that was targeted by an IED (Improvised Explosive Device) as I went to remote areas to collect the stories. Hundreds of people wrote their stories to form a unique self portrait of what it's like to be human in a war zone: men and women, soldiers and civilians. The people who wrote their stories revealed extraordinary things about themselves, their lives, their losses and their hopes and fears.
What was the end result? The Diary Room walls filled up, hundreds of stories were written, mostly on the coloured cards, but sometimes on scraps of paper, on cardboard ripped from ration boxes or scribbled on blank medical forms. One soldier took an empty packet of semolina and wrote ‘Yummy’ on the side. A female medic wrote what it was like to treat her first casualties and save their lives; a chef described cooking and distributing Christmas dinner to hundreds of soldiers scattered about the front line; a bomb disposal expert described what it felt like to go to Afghanistan as a battle casualty replacement for someone who had been injured. Some of those who wrote stories went on to be killed or seriously wounded.
Overall, the response I got was staggering and included excerpts such as:
"Your mind clicks into a gear that you never knew you had, and you bark orders like your life depends on it … and GUESS WHAT: IT DOES!"
"My abiding memory of Afghanistan? … it will be a humble local farmer who one day took me by surprise by asking after my family. ‘You are far from home. You must miss you family very much. We are very grateful.'"
"The young soldier was brought to me following an IED blast…I didn’t need to ask more questions – his eyes told the whole story. As wide as possible and conveying such a sense of bewilderment, uncertainty and terror that I shall never forget them."
"I’m going to write about the day to day struggle of being away … what your girlfriend was wearing last time you saw her, what she did, said, what she smelt like, what she will look like and if anything will have changed while you have been away and if you will put up with the changes when you get back … if you are close to someone that is away out here know that you will always be in their minds because there are two wars being fought, one which is publicised and one which goes on in a soldiers head when everything goes quiet…."
These extraordinary stories describe the war which goes on in a soldier's head when the fighting stops, as in this excerpt below:
This campaign is to help produce and publish the book In Our Own Words, containing these powerful stories, poems and some of the photographs I took whilst I was in Afghanistan. I am determined to make this book happen, to help tell the stories of those who wrote.
It's important that these stories are published and seen by people because they tell the human spirit in war. These dusty handwritten postcards, written there and then on the front lines, provide an insight into this and other conflicts never before seen. All of the people who wrote their stories had a strong need to write about what it felt like to be there.
Readers of this book will be moved by the stories and poems and what they reveal about the human spirit. It will also challenge and perhaps change perceptions about war, soldiers and the conflict in Afghanistan.
The project has already been described by the international press as 'groundbreaking', for more information please read these selected press reviews:
GETTING THE BOOK PUBLISHED
We need to raise £17,500 to get this unique book published in time for a book launch and exhibition of the original art work in November 2014 at the Middlesbrough Institute of Modern Art in the UK, at: http://www.visitmima.com
I volunteered to go to Afghanistan on a not for profit basis and the book has a charitable link where proceeds from it's sale will go to the British charity Combat Stress, The Veterans's Mental Health Charity, at: http://www.combatstress.org.uk
Funds raised will go into the physical production of a high quality book which will include the images of the handwritten postcards, photographs I took, and essays. I'm working on the book design with Ned Hoste at the fantastic 2H Design in the UK, at: http://www.nedof2h.net
We plan to publish an immediate 1000 physical copies of this book for distribution in the UK, with an ebook being available globally. In our second run we plan for a second UK print run and a physical book in the US.
THIS BOOK IS ABOUT BEING HUMAN
2014 is the year when British troops will be withdrawn from Afghanistan. It is also the 100th anniversary of the start of the First World War.
In Our Own Words will add considerably to the global public's view of war and conflict and what it is like to be involved. These handwritten postcards are vital and essential in a digital age and need to be read. There is nothing more honest and revealing than a person's own handwriting, written at a time of stress in a war zone. Readers will be enormously touched and at times shocked by these extraordinary stories, as in this excerpt:
OTHER WAYS YOU COULD HELP
Please help by sharing this story using the Indiegogo share tools. Many thanks!
If you want more information about me please visit www.derekeland.com or drop me an email at email@example.com if you have any questions.
Many thanks for reading, I'm very grateful if you can help, and please spread the word!