treesThis summer, we will feature the words from enthusiastic winners of What About Peace? contest and we’ll share their thoughts behind the incredible art they presented and what this big win means to them. These anecdotes not only showcases their art pieces but also encourages fellow students to come up with great entries for the new school session.

The following is the second installment of our What About Peace? winner story series.

You don’t make a photograph just with a camera. You bring to the act of photography all the pictures you have seen, the books you have read, the music you have heard, the people you have loved.”

The above quote by Ansel Adams falls so true when we spoke with our visual art winner- Afshin Valani from Tennessee, United States.

Afshin who believes that books teach a greater lesson whether it be about redemption, loss, faith, or death came up with idea to click ‘The Story of Peace’ by putting together a collection of books.

She says “I decided to focus on the more positive effects of war rather than the destruction it leaves behind. All the books in my photograph are direct derivatives of the events occurring in the authors’ lifetimes. It’s interesting to see how some authors use their experiences to write funny, satirical pieces of literature while others compose sullen, tragic stories.”

10264483_10152024243546548_8605060233026359083_n-1Her contemporary visual art characterizes her as a talented photographer but she claims that she is an amateur in photography and doesn’t call it as her hobby. For her, its an art that she doesn’t practice much but enjoy doing. Let’s get her talking…

Congratulations on your great win! How does it feel to win the first position in the Visual Arts category and that too competing with so many international array of entries?
Thank you so much! It’s an unexpected honor to win, especially against so many other great pieces of art.

How did you find about the contest? Were you confident of winning the contest?
I found out about the contest through one of my teachers, Mrs. Coe. She showed my entire class the Global Exchange website and several of us thought it was a great organization. I wasn’t confident in winning because I only dabble in photography, but I decided to give it a shot anyway. It was well worth it and for a worthy cause!

Who do you most admire in your life/ Who or what inspires you the most?
I admire my father the most in my life. He’s got the best work ethic I’ve ever seen and he’s a man with a ton of integrity. I aspire to be more like him everyday. He definitely inspires me but so do influential women throughout history ranging from Cleopatra to Malala Yousafzai.

What do you like to click the most? Your favorite themes?
Photography isn’t really a hobby that I practice a lot, but it is one I enjoy. I don’t take pictures much. However, I love a good landscape or nature shot. I live in Tennessee in a mountainous area, so the scenery is just captivating and I can’t help but take a picture sometimes!

How do you plan to celebrate this win?
My family took me out to dinner when they found out I won which was nice treat! I’m actually on summer break currently which is even more cause for celebration. I’ll definitely do something really fun to commemorate this win!

What are your plans for this summer?
I plan on going on vacation, and spending time with family/friends, and all that usual summer fun. I also intend on volunteering a bit at different events an locations.

What are your thoughts as far as promoting peace goes? Do you use photography as a medium to promote peace?
I think promoting peace is quintessential to strengthen global relations as well as domestic ones. For example, because of living in the United States, I’ve seen my fair share of hatred (or misguided ignorance) against Muslims due to events in the Middle East. Without the promotion of peace no advancement can occur. I don’t necessarily use photography to promote peace, but I would love to in the future. As of now I just use my own background as an American Muslim to answer any questions or concerns to hopefully break the constructs that make social injustice possible. In addition, I sign online petitions that I frequently see on social media. It’s not much, but I hope to do bigger and better things to help when I’m older.

Afshin’s idea of peace definitely proves that ‘Peace begins at home’. It indeed is an inspiration for all to see how through our intentions and actions, we can bring about positive and healthy change in the community.

We wish Afshin good luck for her bright future. Thank you for being a part of ‘What About Peace’ program and making it bright with your significant contribution.


What About Peace? is a Global Exchange international arts contest for youth ages 14–20 to express ideas and thoughts about peace by responding to the question, “What About Peace?” through artistic expression.

This post was written by social media intern Sakshi Pathania. 

Ron Herman's image from Havana

A few weeks ago I received an email from Ron Herman, a dynamic and gifted photographer and chair of Foothill College’s photography department sharing with me a cover story in the Palo Alto Weekly about his customized Reality Tour to Cuba.

The article called “A Changing Cuba: Cuban, Local Photographers Reveal the Heart of the Country” featured the story of Ron and those that traveled with him. In it was a detailed narrative with beautiful imagery about the customized Reality Tour Ron made happen, a rich testament to dreams becoming reality, specifically Ron Herman’s photographic educational travel dream becoming a Reality Tour!

After reading the article, I asked Ron if I could share it and include a few of his words about why he created the customized Reality Tour and why he choose to partner with Global Exchange. Here is what he had to say:

Like many, the mystique of Cuba has always intrigued me. Right now, Cuba is at a transitional point, and I believe that the Cuba today will look and be very different from the Cuba tomorrow. I decided that the timing was right to make this trip a reality, and so I contacted Global Exchange to arrange a customized tour for my group of photography professionals.


Ron Herman's image from Havana

Global Exchange’s Reality Tours emphasize education and relationship building to improve international relations. Cultural exchange is very important to my personal travel philosophy, so I knew Global Exchange would be the right organization to arrange our trip. When developing our tour, they made sure that every day was one where we learned something new and unexpected about Cuba. They incorporated a variety of activities where both cultures could learn from each other, which in the end, resulted in a socially responsible and personally rewarding travel experience.

In 2010 and 2011, I led groups of photographers to Cuba to engage in activities that brought photographers from both countries together to share ideas and information. We mounted an exhibition of our work in Cuba and upon our return, mounted two joint photography exhibitions of Cuban and American work.  These exhibition opportunities are just one link in the chain that connects American and Cuban photographers, and I hope we’ll see more creative collaborations in the future.

Photo Credit:

On behalf of Reality Tours we thank Ron for working with us and look forward to building upon the relationships we have been developing between his community and those in Cuba. The relationships as captured by these Cuban and American artists are revealed in their images as is a shared spirit of education.

TAKE ACTION! For those of you in the Bay Area check out “Cuba in Focus,” an exhibition by 11 American photographers (Katherine Bazak, Mary Bender, Harlan Crowder, Lisa D’Alessandro, Ron Her- man, Bob Hills, Mary Ellen Kaschub, Robin Lockner, Laura Oliphant, Cynthia Sun and John Thacker) and seven Cuban photographers (Guillermo Bello, Raúl Cañibano, Mario Diaz, José Manuel Fors, Eduardo Garcia, Jorge Gavilondo and Perfecto Romero) at the  Krause Center for Innovation, Foothill College, 12345 El Monte Road, Los Altos Hills. The exhibition runs through Dec. 8.

As Eduardo Garcia, one of the Cuban photographers who met with the group and has work in the exhibition,  “We photographed together with common goals. Now our American friends can show our reality from their perspective. For us, it’s important to gain the friendship of people who care about Cuba.”

Go to Cuba! Find out how you can travel to Cuba with Global Exchange Reality Tours.