The Film

Mahboba Rawi, a strong-willed Afghan-Australian woman, and the founder of Mahboba’s Promise, has dedicated her life to helping orphans, widows and schooling girls in Afghanistan. She is the mother figure for thousands of orphans she has rescued.

Abdul, one of these orphans, is in love with Fatemeh, the girl next door. The two have been exchanging romantic letters for over a year and hope to marry one day. But Fatemeh’s father has other plans – he has decided to marry her off to anyone who can offer a large sum of money as her dowry. Devastated, Abdul is hoping when Mahboba arrives for her yearly trip to Kabul, that she will help him again. When Mahboba hears the story, she is very concerned about Abdul, and Fatemeh’s possible fate in a forced marriage, She is determined to make the marriage happen between Abdul and Fatemah.

However, Fatemeh’s father makes demands beyond anyone’s expectations. He won’t let the marriage happen unless Mahboba pays him $10,000 or finds a wife for his eldest son to replace Fatemeh’s role in the household. With nothing to Abdul’s name, the fate of the couple depends entirely on Mahboba’s ability to meet or negotiate the father’s terms. But she only has one month and limited resources.

Mahboba Rawi is the founder and director of Mahboba’s Promise, an Australian Charity Organization which supports multiple projects in Afghanistan and sends ongoing aid to thousands of widows and orphans across Afghanistan. Mahboba started her charity organization when she lost her own son in the 1990s in a drowning accident in Australia. To overcome the grief, she redirected her energy into helping others. Since she started the charity, she has been recognized by the Australian government and people for her great efforts. In 2010 she was awarded an Order of Australia Medal for her achievements.
Abdul was one of the first children saved by Mahboba. When he was a small boy, his mother sent him to Pakistan to avoid the war. There, he lived in the refugee camp with some other boys. The conditions were harsh. One cold winter they were almost freezing to death. They were saved when the first money that Mahboba collected and sent to them bought them a tent. When Mahboba’s Promise was established, Abdul went to Kabul to the Hope House. There, he was educated, taught himself to memorize the entire Quran, learned English and French from visitors, and now teaches at the Hope House as a teacher.
Virginia Haussegger is a columnist, an author, and an ABC journalist. She is a feminist who writes about women’s issues. When she met Mahboba at an event, she invited Virginia to come along to Afghanistan and see the situation of the people for herself. Despite difficulties she put her work on hold and traveled with Mahboba to gain a more informed perspective on the country.
Seddiq Rawi is Mahboba’s brother. He manages every aspect of the Hope House in Kabul. He lives six months of the year in Kabul and the rest in Sydney.
16-year-old Fatemeh lived across the Hope House with her father and three brothers. When she lost her mother at a young age, she was forced to be the caretaker of the family. When she reached an age her father thought she was ready to marry, he was willing to marry her off to anyone who agreed to take her hand. She was attending school at the Hope House where she met Abdul.
Nik Mohammad is Fatemeh’s father. During the Taliban he was imprisoned for several years. When he returned, he was faced with his wife’s death and the responsibility to take care of four children. Because of this, he suffers great mental and emotional pain. He wants to ensure the best possible future, the way he sees it for his children.

The Filmmakers

Amin Palangi
Amin PalangiDirector, Co-Producer
Amin is an Iranian-Australian filmmaker, founder of Palangi Productions, director of Persian International film festival in Australia and the Convergent Media Lecturer at the Western Sydney University. He holds a PhD in film studies from Australian National University, MA in script writing from Australian Film Television and Radio School and is member of the Screen NSW advisory committee.
Pat Fiske
Pat FiskeProducer
Pat is an experienced director and producer. She is recognised as a prominent member of Australia’s independent filmmaking community. In 2001 she was awarded the prestigious Stanley Hawes Award for her outstanding contribution to the documentary industry in Australia at AIDC. Pat was Co-Head of the Documentary Department at the Australian Film, Television and Radio School from 2002-2008 and worked as the Documentary Consultant at SBS Independent for eighteen months in 2000-2001.
Sanaz Fotouhi
Sanaz FotouhiCo-Producer
As a creative writer, Sanaz has been published in anthologies and journals across Australia and Asia. She is also the co-producer of two documentary films – Hidden Generation, a short documentary examining the reasons for the increase of women’s self-burning as a form of suicide in Afghanistan, and Love Marriage in Kabul, a multi-award feature documentary following a young couple as they try to get married against all odds.

Sanaz is one of the founding members of the Persian Film Festival in Australia, and is the former director of Asia Pacific Writers and Translators Inc., a literary networking organisation that brings together people from the creative writing and publishing industries.

Bill RussoEditor
After a false start studying Chartered Accountancy Bill worked as a professional surf photographer and in advertising before discovering editing. With nearly forty years experience as an editor he has worked on a range of projects though most of his career has been with documentaries and drama. While Head of Editing at AFTRS (2000-2009) Bill made regular trips back into industry often taking his students to work alongside him.
John GrayComposer
John is a multi-award winning film composer. Winner of the European Union Film Award 2005, his achievements include APRA/AGSC Screen Music, and Tropfest awards. A graduate of the Australian Film Television and Radio School (AFTRS), his features include the AFI-nominated ‘Kokoda’, ‘Coffin Rock’, the AFI-nominated documentary ‘I am Girl’, and ‘The Bet’, which was in competition at the Sydney Film Festival that year. He also composed for the Emmy award winning SBS documentary series “Go Back to Where You Came From” (2011 and 2012) and the critically-acclaimed ABC documentary series “Great Southern Land” (2013).
Michael GissingSound Design & Mix
With over 38 years in the industry, Michael has worked as a telecine operator, location sound recordist, post sound mixer and picture grader on many documentaries. In 2007 he was the recipient of the Stanley Hawes Award for services to the documentary industry, an award rarely given to technicians rather than film makers. He has been nominated five times for AFI best sound awards and has won twice. Since locating from Sydney to rural Tasmania six years ago, Michael continues to work on many interstate feature length docos as well as shorts, feature films and comedies for local film makers. He is also providing mentoring for up and coming film makers through supporting the Raw Nerve initiative.

Director’s Statement

It was in early 2006 when my wife Sanaz Fotouhi and I embarked on a journey to make a film in Afghanistan. I was an Honours student at the Australian National University then and determined to make a documentary in Iran or Afghanistan. As a migrant, I was going through a stage where I wanted to understand my background and represent different aspects of it to the world where I was living. Filming in Iran was not as easy as I imagined. To get permission to film there meant months of paper work, which I did not have. As luck would have it, my father-in-law had recently been appointed to establish a bank in Kabul. This made my choice a lot easier.

I began researching for a topic online and by contacting different NGO organisations. One of the issues that continuously came up was the increase in women’s self-immolation as a form of suicide. I was intrigued and horrified by records showing a massive increase of cases of self-immolation since the fall of the Taliban in 2004.

This formed the central question for my film and after travelling to Kabul twice that year I managed to make a 15-minute documentary on the reasons behind this issue. The film was screened in Australia and internationally, and won a few awards. It was generally received well by audiences. I was happy about this, since after meeting and filming a lot of the young girls in the burn units that have attempted suicide, I had a great sense of responsibility to tell the world their stories.

However, after one of my screening in Australia, I overheard a conversation between two audience members. “It’s Afghanistan, this sort of shit happens there!” This was like a knockout punch to my face. I was hoping that after watching the film people would to identify with the situation of these young girls. But instead it seemed that like many other outsiders, I had only added to the existing stereotypes of the western world.

Concerned by this idea, I felt compelled to make another film in Afghanistan. It was around this time that I was introduced to Mahboba Rawi. She was a strong-willed, enthusiastic Afghan-Australian woman who, through her charity organisation, Mahboba’s Promise, has been raising money to provide support and education to more than two thousands orphans and widows in Afghanistan.
I was greatly curious about her work and her huge ambitions. Her own life story I found incredible.

She was a woman who had to escaped Kabul at the age of fourteen, lived in refugee camps of Pakistan, and eventually married and came to Australia. But her life was turned upside down when she lost her small son in adrowning accident. However, instead of letting all these struggles consume her, she had made a promise with her God to save all orphans of Afghanistan. Through her charity organization called Mahboba’s Promise she has been able to help thousands of orphans and widows in Afghanistan. If her presence and quirky attitude did not capture me, her story and what she was doing most certainly had me hooked in.

It was during our first meetings that Mahboba asked me to make a film about her. I soon realised that she would ask this pretty much of anyone who has ever held a camera. She knew the importance of media and wanted to spread the word about her work. I felt that making a film about this courageous Afghan women, was my chance to repay my debt to Afghanistan.

Of course this was not easy, I wanted to find a story that was not merely showcasing a charity worker or a welfare corporate video to help Mahboba’s Promise. I wanted to tell a human story that shows the great ripple effect Mahboba’s work is having in Afghanistan. I kept in touch with her and looked for ideas for over two years. It was in early 2009 that Mahboba told me that she was going back to Afghanistan to attend to her projects, one of which was about a marriage between one of the orphans and a girl who lived next to the orphanage. After many months of search, this seemed to be it.

This was the story I wanted to tell. The fact that it was potentially a love story with a happy ending meant that the western audience could relate to it, but it could also showcase how Mahboba’s work for these orphans does not finish with providing food and shelter. Her engagement with these kids was an ongoing investment in changing the future of a country.To make this story, we self-funded the trip with our own savings as a two member team and headed to Kabul with Mahboba. I would do the camera work and Sanaz, the sound. Having been to Afghanistan previously, I was very familiar with the challenges of shooting a film there. I had been arrested and put in prison, slapped at the border crossing by security guards and generally been under constant surveillance by the secret police there. Added to this was being worried about my wife Sanaz who, to be honest, seemed a lot more courageous than me. With all this in mind we embarked on our journey.

On the plane on our way there, I remember the only thing I was asking the universe for was more DRAMA and good God, didn’t the universe just deliver!