This website shows the great work of many teachers, students, community partners and museum staff. We ask you to explore the similarities and differences between the student’s work and we encourage you to use the resources, lesson plans and guidelines we have built into this project to continue to help tell our story, your story through the lens.
This project engaged two schools predominantly comprised of minority students, in two vastly different locales—Center City Philadelphia, and the outskirts of Kabul—in order to give seldom-heard members of society a voice at national venues. Visitors to the simultaneous exhibits were shown what being “We the People” looks like to young minority citizens—in an established democracy, and in one emerging from decades of war. Visitors, just like the students, found in the images profound contrasts—and occasionally, striking similarities.
The eleven students from Philadelphia and ten students from Afghanistan began taking and sharing photographs in July 2009. In March of 2010, the Afghan students came to the U.S. to meet their American counterparts for the first time, and to curate the exhibit by pairing photographs of Afghanistan with photographs of America. The exhibits were launched at the National Museum of Afghanistan in Kabul and at the National Constitution Center in Philadelphia in May 2010.
In 2011, Being We the People entered a second phase, this time exploring civic themes using video rather than still photography. Made possible with generous support from Verizon, students from each school were equipped with video cameras and instructed in the techniques and theory of oral history and documentary video. As with the 2009-2010 photography project, they ventured into their own communities and used their newfound skills to capture scenes of exploring freedom, religious expression, protest, and simply a day in their respective lives.
The 2009-2010 project was made possible by generous funding from Museums Connect, a grant program of the U.S. Department of State Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs, in partnership with the American Association of Museums.
The 2011-2012 phase of this project and the online exhibition were made possible by the Verizon foundation.
At the height of Afghanistan’s civil war, as various mujahedeen factions engaged in hostilities that killed thousands of civilians, destroyed homes, and drove families into neighboring countries, a small school called “Marefat” (meaning “enlightenment”) sprang up in a Pakistan refugee camp. When it first accepted students in 1994, Marefat conducted classes with just a few students in a tent. As Afghanistan saw its civil war come to a close with the Taliban capture of Kabul in 1996, and its half-decade of Sharia law, Marefat continued to thrive in Pakistan, educating Afghan refugees, most of whom belonged to the Shi’ite Hazara ethnic minority.
After U.S. forces arrived, and the Taliban collapse ushered in an era of relative security, Marefat moved to the densely-populated Western section of Kabul, where it grew into a two-building complex with 3,150 students, more than 30 classrooms, and two computer labs. Having operated originally as an entirely coeducational school until the Ministry of Interior mandated class segregation, the school now holds special coeducational seminars and after-school sessions. The curriculum focuses on humanism and justice, and the school imbues its students with respect for human rights—especially women’s rights—which was absent during the Taliban reign. To that end, Marefat introduced special accelerated learning programs into the community, designed for adult women who had been restricted from school under the Taliban.
Marefat has benefited from in-kind and cash contributions from community members, as well as donations and staff time for specific programs from the British Council, USAID, the American University of Afghanistan, and other generous supporters.
Constitution High School launched in September 2006 in an effort to promote civic education and active citizenship. The history and civics themed Philadelphia School District magnet school was created in partnership with the National Constitution Center and the Gilder Lehrman Institute of American History, with additional support from Ballard Spahr Andrews & Ingersoll, LLP. It is the only Philadelphia School District high school with a Civic Education and American Studies theme.
Located close to Defense Ministry land that was converted by the Soviets into a missile base, the National Museum has suffered from its proximity to a strategic position fought for in three different wars. Over the course of nearly three decades of war, the National Museum has been struck by errant rockets and high-caliber rounds, had its roof collapse and its interior burned, its collection looted and smuggled out of the country, and many of its remaining pieces deliberately destroyed by the Taliban. The Museum’s director, Omara Khan Massoudi, foresaw the period of violence and instability, and was able to hide some of the most valuable artifacts, but the museum and most of its collection were still damaged, many beyond repair.
Today, almost ninety years after it first opened to preserve and display Afghanistan’s rich cultural history, the National Museum of Afghanistan has been largely rebuilt and has begun restoring its collection, rebuilding statues that, in some cases, had been reduced to dust and rubble. The collection now includes almost 60,000 objects from Afghanistan’s various archaeological eras, and the museum has a renewed commitment from the Afghan government to preserve and present the country’s rich cultural heritage.
Being We, the People opened at the Museum on May 12, 2010.
The National Constitution Center, located at 525 Arch St. on Philadelphia’s Independence Mall, is an independent, nonpartisan, nonprofit organization dedicated to increasing public understanding of the U.S. Constitution and the ideas and values it represents. The National Constitution Center is an interactive museum, national town hall, and civic education headquarters. Steps from Independence Hall and the Liberty Bell in Historic Philadelphia, the Center is the first and only nonprofit, nonpartisan institution devoted to the U.S. Constitution and its legacy of freedom.
For more information, call 215.409.6700 or visit www.constitutioncenter.org.
In 2008, the Center’s Board of Directors chartered its International Engagement Program with the following mission statement:
“In drafting the Constitution, the framers looked both at home and abroad to find wisdom; in later generations, the American experience has in turn inspired and informed other countries. So as the story of the Constitution itself has been connected to the stories of freedom around the world, so will the Constitution Center seek connections beyond our shores, for both learning and teaching; in exhibits; in our programming and in leadership and support.”
Being We the People opened at the National Constitution Center on May 13, 2010 and was displayed at the Center until Sept.26th, 2010.
Welcome to the place where the U.S. Constitution is celebrated, debated, and illuminated.