GYC 2018 Keynote Speaker: Travis Beard

The Keynote Speaker at the Global Youth Conference 2018 is Australian photojournalist Travis Beard

Beard is a photojournalist who spent almost ten years working in Afghanistan, and has recently directed a feature length documentary called ROCKABUL, following Afghanistan’s first metal band District Unknown.

Beard’s interest in photography started in high school, and continued as he studied photojournalism in university. Awarded top of his class, Beard spent the next ten years travelling as a freelance photojournalist.

In 2001, after the events on 9/11, as Beard was travelling to Yemen, he was informed that Yemen had closed their borders.

“I changed my plan and went to Iran… While in Iran I met a BBC journalist who said he was going to cross the border into Afghanistan and asked if I wanted to come. Of course I agreed.”

“We headed to refugee camps and documented the exodus, and the that is where i got the 'Afghan bug'. It’s an unexplained sensation where you fall in love with Afghanistan and it becomes an itch that wont leave you.”

Beard returned to Afghanistan in 2006, volunteering at the new media centre AINA as a teacher in photojournalism. During his three years teaching, he saw many of his students go on to work in the media industry.

Whilst in Afghanistan, Beard helped the locals experience many of the activities which he had enjoyed as a teenager – skateboarding, art, motorcycles, and even music.

“I wanted to help the Afghan people rebuild their country and by using culture as a tool we reached a lot of youth. Afghanistan back then was like a naked canvas, that was screaming to be painted on. So all we did was provide the paint and let the Afghans paint the picture.”

Beard’s documentary ROCKABUL follows the story of District Unknown, Afghanistan’s first metal band. With a ban on non-traditional Afghani music, District Unknown’s dangerous journey made it that much more important to pursue.

With District Unknown, Beard created the first music festival that Afghanistan had seen in 35 years. The festival, Sound Central Festival, was an underground music scene, that brought together young people from all over Afghanistan. During one festival, Beard organised a female-only day, with only female artists, female audience, assistants, and reporters. This was to help young women in Afghanistan have the opportunity to express themselves and enjoy music in a safe environment too.

As cliched as it seems, Beard has truly learned to “appreciate what we have in the first world. Freedom of expression, civil infrastructure, security, education, health, choices, options, a good passport.”

At the GYC, Beard is most excited to “share my experiences with a group of youth that may know nothing about this part of the world. Maybe, just maybe, I can shed some light for them and inspire them to travel to more exotic destination and not just follow the tourist’s route that 95% of the population magnate towards. And if they do go to these parts of the world, to contribute, give something back to the places they visit.”

“Don’t be lazy. Challenge yourself, think outside the box. Don’t just follow, lead the way.”

The Global Youth Conference is held this year from 6th – 10th August, where Beard will address more than 100 young participants as keynote speaker.

To see a trailer for Beard’s ROCKABUL: