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Barber-turned-rapper Sayed Jamal Mubarez Crowned winner of ‘Afghan Star’ in Talent Show

Sayed Jamal Mubarez from Afghanistan's long-marginalized Hazara ethnic minority won viewers over with lyrics capturing both the hope and despair of youth

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Zulala Hashimi, 18, right, and Sayed Jamal Mubarez, 23, finalists of the music contest "Afghan Star," rehearse for the show in Kabul, Afghanistan, March 19, 2017, VOA

Kabul, March 22, 2017:  A barber-turned-rapper has been crowned the winner of an Afghan talent show that offered its audience some relief from daily stories of insurgents and suicide bombs.

Sayed Jamal Mubarez, from Afghanistan’s long-marginalized Hazara ethnic minority, won viewers over with lyrics capturing both the hope and despair of young people living through a war against Taliban militants now in its sixteenth year.

Afghan Star, modeled on singing contests popular across the world, is in its 12th season on Afghanistan’s biggest private television network, Tolo.

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This year’s edition stood out after a woman — 18-year old singer Zulala Hashimi from the deeply conservative east of the country — reached the final for the first time, defying widespread attitudes against female performers.

But Mubarez emerged the winner later on Tuesday, looking every bit the budding rapper with his tilted red baseball cap and razor-trimmed beard.

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“I am so happy. … I would have been happy if Zulala had won it because in Afghanistan women are living in a restricted situation,” the 23-year old said after accepting his award at a television studio housed behind wire-topped blast walls in Kabul’s diplomatic enclave.

The sole breadwinner at his home in the northern city of Mazar-i-Sharif, Mubarez said he discovered rap in Iran and spits lyrics while cutting hair.

The contest has been held inside a fortified compound for the last two series after the Taliban last year killed seven Tolo employees in a suicide attack on a staff minibus.

Newer musicians can struggle to make it big in Afghanistan, where the Taliban once banned music and many disapprove of Western-style popular culture, and artists often seek the safety and freedom of a life abroad.

Mubarez told Reuters he intends to turn professional if he can find financial support, and would otherwise return to his barber shop while rapping on the side. (VOA)

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About 2M Children in Afghanistan Suffer Acute Malnutrition: UNICEF

But UNICEF is struggling to fund its operation. The agency needs an immediate injection of $7 million, Boulierac said

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FILE - A boy walks inside what is left of a home in Kandahar province, south of Kabul, Afghanistan, March, 3, 2019. The U.N. Children's Fund is appealing for money to treat Afghanistan's malnourished children. VOA

About two million children in Afghanistan are acutely malnourished. Of those, 600,000 face severe acute malnutrition, the most dangerous form of undernutrition in children, said Christophe Boulierac, a spokesman for the U.N. Children’s Fund.

“Any child suffering from severe acute malnutrition is a crisis and needs to be treated to survive,” he said. “We cannot tell you how many children will die, but we can tell you that a child with severe acute malnutrition is 11 times more likely to die than their healthy peers.”

Afghanistan, alongside Yemen and South Sudan, is among the countries with the highest numbers of children under age five suffering from severe acute malnutrition. Severe drought in 2018 has worsened the situation.

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But UNICEF is struggling to fund its operation. The agency needs an immediate injection of $7 million, Boulierac said. Pixabay

Recent nutrition surveys across Afghanistan find 22 out of 34 provinces are above the emergency threshold of acute malnutrition. Last year, UNICEF provided life-saving assistance to nearly half of the country’s most nutritionally deprived children. It is aiming to reach 60 percent, or 375,000, of those children this year. But UNICEF is struggling to fund its operation. The agency needs an immediate injection of $7 million, Boulierac said.

“We are the sole provider of this treatment against severe acutely malnourished children,” he told VOA. “We need urgent funding in three weeks, otherwise, we will not send the necessary ready-to-use therapeutic food treatment to the 1,300 health facilities that are waiting for that.”

ALSO READ: Rohingya Refugees in Bangladesh Face Serious Water Shortage

This year, UNICEF has provided treatment to more than 73,000 severely malnourished children. Boulierac said plans are in place to immediately scale up the operation to reach more children as soon as more money is available.

He also warned that the nutritional status of Afghanistan’s children is likely to worsen without more secure funding in the pipeline. (VOA)