How The Westsider won Best Feature Story at the Community Newspaper Association of Victoria Awards 2022

    By Meagan Kearney 

    Emerging from lockdown in late 2021, I was excited to try the shiny, new nail salon around the corner. While I was waiting for my fancy new nails to dry, I made a friend. The woman sitting next to me was new to the inner west, in fact, she was newly arrived in Australia.

    My new mate Khalida Daran and her husband Reva, had bravely escaped from Kabul less than six months earlier. I expressed to her that so many of her neighbours, in the Western suburbs and beyond, had watched the news helplessly as Afghanistan fell to the Taliban. 

    Melbourne has the largest number of Afghan refugees in Australia. We all watched as thousands of Afghans arrived from their homeland, but then fell from view. 

    There seemed to be little call to action on how we could help or welcome people into our diverse community. Khalida kindly agreed to share her harrowing story with her local community to raise awareness at a local level.

    We are thrilled that ‘Those that walk among us’, published in The Westsider, Dec 21- Jan 22 issue, was awarded silver at the Community Newspaper Association of Victoria Awards (CNAV) 2022 held in October. It is an extraordinary and superbly written (not without its risks) account, that expresses like the play of the same name that, “though tragedies occur and life is full of trials, it is crucial that people never lose hope in themselves or in the possibility of a higher purpose behind human existence.”

    Fifteen months later, Khalida and her husband Reza have settled into the inner west well, feel part of the local community and are both employed in their professions. “We are happy and very thankful to God for all his blessings, the Australian government and kind people for all their support and look forward to the future.”

    Now an award-winning writer, Khalida is thrilled with the response she has received from her published story. “I received great support and very positive feedback from friends, colleagues and the community,” she says. 

    Being encouraged to write her story also gave Khalida unexpected personal healing. “After I sat down and wrote the story, I felt a sense of relief. All the problems and difficulties we went through were like a heavy thing in my heart. Maybe I was in need to talk to someone about it all. I would like to give a special thank you to Editor Meagan Kearney for encouraging me and guiding me through the process. I’m so happy and grateful to be recognised with this award. This encourages me to keep on writing,” she said.

    How are things in Afghanistan these days?

    There are reports that, as predicted by many, the Taliban are continually reneging on promises that hard won women’s rights in Afghanistan would not be effected within Sharia law. 

    The Taliban went on to dissolve critical state support structures like the Ministry of Women’s Affairs and key organisations such as critical women’s shelters. Girls are not allowed to attend secondary school and women are not permitted to work most jobs outside the home. Women are also barred from travelling without a male relative and only leave their homes in cases of necessity. Violations of this directive will lead to the punishment of their male relatives. Rates of domestic violence, forced disappearances, torture of peaceful women protesters, and other forms of gender-based violence have significantly risen, according to the United Nations. In the past few weeks, the Taliban extended the banishment of women in public life by prohibiting them from entering parks, funfairs, gyms and public baths.

    Approaching the second winter since the Taliban took over and foreign funds were frozen, there has increasingly been chronic poverty and food insecurity and the country is a step away from famine and the health system has all but collapsed. On 14 November the Taliban Supreme leader gave an obligatory order for full implementation of sharia law in Afghanistan. Since then, the Taliban have carried out several public floggings of women and men accusing them of adultery, theft, same-sex sexual conduct or kidnapping, throughout Afghanistan. 


    Community Newspaper Association of Victoria Awards – Best Feature Story (Silver) –judges comments

    This is an account by an Afghani woman, Khalida, who with her husband, escaped from Kabul Afghanistan in August 2021 when the US, Australian and allied forces withdrew, and the Taliban took control. Khalida gives a harrowing first person account of her experience of that terrible time in Kabul and their dangerous escape. 

    Having lived through such a traumatic experience, it would have been very difficult for Khalida to write this story, to relive that trauma. Not knowing whether they would live or die. Not knowing whether they would be trapped in Afghanistan under the Taliban with their lives at risk. It’s a harrowing tale but it’s also very important because it does give us a firsthand account of what it was like being in that situation at that time. We all saw it on the news, we were all outraged. 

    Thank you, Khalida, for your bravery in sharing your story with us and we wish you all the best. It’s also a reminder, when we watch things on the news that are occurring on the other side of the world, that the people involved could end up living next door to you or standing next to you in the supermarket queue. 

    This story is a reminder of that. Congratulations to The Westsider and congratulations to Khalida and her husband and full credit to you for that determination to get through but thank you for sharing your story with us. 

    We are proud to add, The Westsider also won:

    Best design & layout (first) Best newspaper (second)


    Donate to the UN Refugee Agency Australia for UNHCR to support displaced people in Afghanistan:

    Donate to Afghan women in Australia: Afghan Women on the Move supports women and girls, many who arrive alone, to start a new life in Australia.

    ‘Those that walk among us’, full story here:

    Instagram: @meagankearney8


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