How Fly With Me kite festival in Yorkshire is act of solidarity with people of Afghanistan

Fly With Me kite festival is bringing together communities in the UK and Europe for an aerial act of solidarity with the people of Afghanistan. Laura Reid reports.

“An aerial act of solidarity with the people of Afghanistan” is how event organisers are describing a multi-city kite flying festival to mark one year since the Taliban takeover of the country. Fly With Me is taking place this Saturday in 16 locations across the UK and Europe including in Bradford and Sheffield.

Good Chance Theatre, which works with artists from around the world, bringing communities together to tell stories of hope and humanity, will launch the event, presented by Afghan artists, actors and sportspeople.

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Around 23 million people in Afghanistan were facing acute hunger as of March this year, according to the United Nations, forcing households to resort to “desperate measures” to put food on the table. A banking and financial crisis has left more than 80 per cent of the population facing debt and the UN Development Programme reported late last year that an estimated 97 per cent of Afghans could be living in poverty by the middle of this year.

Fly With Me is taking place in Sheffield and Bradford. Photo: Good Chance TheatreFly With Me is taking place in Sheffield and Bradford. Photo: Good Chance Theatre
Fly With Me is taking place in Sheffield and Bradford. Photo: Good Chance Theatre

Figures earlier this year indicated around 12,000 Afghan refugees in the UK were stuck living in hotels and temporary accommodation waiting for permanent housing months after being evacuated from Kabul.

Fly With Me invites people from all backgrounds, regardless of race, nationality or religious beliefs, to come together and fly a kite - sending a message to the world to ‘Remember Afghanistan’.

Organisers say: “Currently, public and government attention is rightly being given to Ukraine and support is being provided to Ukrainian refugees. At Fly With Me, we call for this same support and welcome to be extended to all people seeking asylum in the UK, as well as for those still facing unprecedented hardship within Afghanistan.”

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The cultural significance of kites and Afghanistan’s complex history will form part of the festival’s storytelling, alongside music, poetry and dance from Afghan artists and other community groups.

Joe Murphy and Joe Robertson, co-artistic directors at Good Chance Theatre, say: “Kites remain attached to the ground through a single thread but fly free of the borders that define the land. Kites are the embodiment of freedom and play. Looked at collectively, on the stage of the sky, kites represent togetherness, our difference, and our shared humanity.”

Fly With Me has been developed with master Afghan kite maker, Sanjar Qiam, who founded a toy shop in Brighton and hosts kite-making workshops across the UK; Afghan actor, storyteller and director Elham Ehsas (The Kite Runner, Homeland); and Afghan musician and Fly With Me creative Elaha Soroor.

During the weeks leading up to the festival, communities have been learning how to make Afghan kites, led by Afghan artisans living in each host town and city. On the day of the festival, each place will run a mass kite-making and storytelling workshop, after which, thousands of participants from the workshops and members of the public will come together for a huge kite-flying celebration.

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Sanjar, an Afghan refugee based in the UK and Fly With Me co-creator, says: “In Afghanistan, kites occupy a unique space between national art form and national sport. They are a universal symbol of expression, skill and cultural pride. Fly With Me is an act of solidarity with the people of Afghanistan and an opportunity for all of us to come together and feel between our fingers the strings that connect us to this incredible country, its culture and its people.”

Fly With Me is delivered in collaboration with lead humanitarian partner Afghanaid, raising funds for their ‘By Her Side’ match-funding campaign to support women in rural Afghan communities.