Afghan Program Supports Creativity and Cultural Diversity

UNESCOlogoIn recent years, Afghanistan has begun to recognize the important role that cultural heritage can play in developing a unified national identity that connects citizens beyond their perceived differences. For this reason, the government of Afghanistan created the National Program for Culture and Creative Economy (NPCE) with the support of the UNESCO office in Kabul. A broad initiative funded by a variety of donors, the NPCE covers eight vital thematic areas that are closely tied both to UNESCO’s areas of action in Afghanistan. In addition, they focus on the country’s needs and priorities as outlined in the government’s National Peace and Development Framework. Read on to learn more about these cultural and creative themes.

 

The Right to Culture

This thematic area focuses on the right to enjoy culture and creativity in conditions of equality and dignity without a fear of discrimination. Projects and initiatives in this category will focus on facilitating the right of all Afghans to access culture. Examples include supporting access to libraries, workshops, community and cultural centers, and other creative hubs; using cultural activities to help integrate returnees and refugees; and encouraging private sector partnerships to provide financial and other support to Afghanistan’s cultural sector.

 

Improved Higher Education for Culture and Creative Industries

While there is a national movement to re-center culture in Afghan society and to ensure that cultural heritage and creative industries are able to grow and thrive over the long term, this desire is hampered by the country’s lack of national cultural experts. Systemic and structured investments that target specific competencies are needed to fill these gaps. For instance, this thematic area could oversee the creation of new institutions such as schools of design or university departments for heritage conservation and management.

 

The Afghanistan Translation Movement

The goal of this thematic area is to launch a comprehensive knowledge movement in Afghanistan. Taking its name from the Islamic Golden Age—during which scholars gathered to translate the world’s classical knowledge into the Arabic and Persian languages—the Translation Movement aims to make the sources of today’s universal knowledge accessible to Afghan citizens in their own language. At a time when it is rare to find Dari or Pashto translations of university textbooks, for example, this thematic category strongly supports the right to culture and improvement in higher education.

 

Legal Framework and Policies for Culture

In order for Afghanistan’s creative and cultural industries to thrive—and for its vital cultural heritage to be protected and preserved—there must be streamlined and relevant policies and regulations in place under Afghan law. Through advocacy efforts and expert consultation, the NPCE is working to support the Afghan government through a full review and revision of existing cultural heritage laws.

 

Safeguarding the Cultural Heritage of Afghanistan

Afghanistan’s “built heritage”—its monuments, mosques, and ancient cities—are an important asset and testament to the country’s thousands of years of history. However, due to their isolation and dispersal, far too many cultural sites are not perceived as integral to the fabric of Afghanistan’s rapidly changing society. This thematic area aims to foster a new attitude toward built heritage by supporting and implementing projects (such as rehabilitation works in historical urban contexts) that benefit the community and, in doing so, demonstrate that cultural preservation can enhance development.

 

Architecture for Public Spaces

After decades of political and social upheaval that have affected all levels of society, Afghanistan is in the midst of a period of explosive growth: displaced people are returning to the country in large numbers, and more Afghans are transitioning from a rural to urban existence. This has taken a toll on Afghanistan’s cities, which are struggling to accommodate these sweeping changes without destroying built heritage. This thematic area of the NPCE works to support state and local urban planning authorities to preserve existing heritage on the one hand, and to promote better contemporary architecture on the other.

 

The Afghanistan Cultural Centers Network

Through this thematic category, UNESCO and the NPCE aim to use a networking strategy to resolve the disconnect that can arise over cultural development work at the policy and the project levels. Often, significant policy changes do not “trickle down” effectively to the local level, where they would be of most immediate benefit. Likewise, the short-term effects of project-level initiatives often do not make it past the local sphere to the policy level, where the lessons learned could be put to broader use. This thematic area aims to open up channels of information across local cultural centers in order to provide greater opportunities to better exchange ideas and influence policy creation.

 

The Afghanistan Creative Cities Network

In 2015, Bamiyan became the first city in Central Asia to join the UNESCO Creative Cities Network, an association of 116 international member cities committed to investing in creative industries and the creative economy. This thematic area aims to pave the way for more Afghan cities to join the network and benefit from its worldwide cooperation, intercultural dialogue, and support.

What You Need to Know about Afghan Academy International

A number of organizations are working in Afghanistan to build a better, safer, and more prosperous future for the country and its residents. At the same time, it’s important not to overlook the small number of equally dedicated organizations that are working in other parts of the world to support members of the Afghan diaspora who, for various reasons, no longer live in their home country. Based in the UK, Afghan Academy International is just such an organization. Read on to learn more about how this important association has been helping Afghan expatriates for more than 30 years.

 

What Is Afghan Academy International?

afghanacademyinternationalAfghan Academy International is an independent, non-political, and non-tribal charitable organization that aims to support Afghans living in the UK and abroad. The Academy was founded in the early 1980s in response to the waves of Afghan refugees who arrived in the UK as a result of political unrest at home. The newcomers desperately needed support: first, with all the practical considerations involved in establishing new lives in an unfamiliar country and language; and later, to maintain connections with their culture and heritage.

Over the years, the Academy has become a vital organization that helps Afghans residing in the UK to achieve a better standard of living. In addition, it aims to fulfill a broader vision of promoting and preserving Afghan identity and heritage, serving as an ambassador of Afghan culture, and showing the UK and the world a different picture of Afghans and Afghanistan than the one that is so often represented. An important part of the Academy’s mission and activities is to promote key shared values such as peace, tolerance, respect, co-existence, freedom of speech and expression, and mutual understanding.

 

Who Runs Afghan Academy International?

Since its inception, Afghan Academy International has been an entirely volunteer-run organization. The organization is managed on a day-to-day basis by a board of trustees, board of directors, and an academic board of advisors. Over the years, many of the most influential Afghan professionals, scholars, and artists living in the UK have joined or supported the Academy. The organization is always looking for more volunteers and contributors. You can learn more about becoming involved with the Academy on its website.

 

What Initiatives Does Afghan Academy International Oversee?

The Academy oversees a broad range of activities—services, projects, and events—for expatriate Afghans throughout the UK.

 

Services

The Academy’s services mainly target Afghans who have recently arrived in the UK and those in need of extra support to integrate into their new communities. Services include:

Nowruz

Image by alisamii | Flickr

24/7 Emergency Helpline—Geared primarily toward Afghan youth and families, but available to anyone in need (including other agencies requiring additional support or services), the 24/7 Emergency Helpline ensures that no one has to deal with a crisis alone.

Advice, information, and counseling—Setting up a new life in a new country can be challenging. The Academy provides advice, information, and counseling sessions to new Afghan arrivals to the UK on all the practical aspects of how to get started.

Senior care—Senior citizens are at serious risk of social isolation. To help prevent this, the Academy offers a variety of services to ensure that these at-risk groups are connected and supported.

Afghan language services—In addition to providing class-based and one-on-one language support classes in both Dari and Pashto to Afghans learning English, the Academy offers interpretation and translation services to communities, businesses, and other institutions dealing with Dari and Pashto speakers.

Country information and expert reports—The Academy’s team of experts and academics works to prepare reports on Afghanistan and related issues for UK clients.

 

Projects

Afghan Academy International’s projects are primarily geared toward promoting and preserving Afghan culture and heritage, as well as helping expatriate Afghans to stay connected to their cultural identity. These projects include:

Afghan Art, Film & Media Foundation—Launched in 2011, this project serves as a platform in support of Afghan art and cinema worldwide. The foundation organizes exhibitions and festivals of Afghan art and film, and it helps emerging Afghan artists connect with scholarships and training opportunities.

Afghan Council of Britain—Established by the Academy in late 2013, this project aims to create more effective communication and cooperation among the range of Afghan community organizations working in the UK. The broad mission of the council is to ensure that the Afghan community as a whole is better served by a network of organizations working efficiently together.

Afghan TV channel—Afghan Television London, the Academy’s independent TV channel, broadcasts educational and cultural programs to Afghanistan and Afghan viewers around the world.

 

Events

The Academy organizes and publicizes events throughout the UK that are of interest and benefit to expatriate Afghans, as well as to other community members with an interest in Afghan culture. Past events have included an annual celebration of Afghan arts, culture, and storytelling; community events in celebration of Nowruz, or New Year; and a discussion of Afghan music held at the British Museum.

Spotlight on the Clean and Green Cities Program

According to UN-Habitat, the United Nations program dedicated to building a better urban future, clean, green, and beautiful public spaces are one of the most important elements of a livable city. High-quality public spaces that are not profit-based and that are accessible to all bring many benefits to a city: they enhance community cohesion, promote health and well-being, and allow cities to support a higher population density.

It was in order to bring these benefits to some of Afghanistan’s cities, many of which are still recovering from the effects of decades of conflict and population displacement, that UN-Habitat helped launch the Clean and Green Cities (CGC) program in March of 2017. Read on to learn more about the CGC program and about UN-Habitat.

 

What is the Clean and Green Cities program?

The CGC program is an urban initiative that is working to implement public space upgrades and improve certain municipal services in a dozen cities around Afghanistan, including Kabul. Over the last few decades, conflict, unregulated development, rapid population growth, and aging infrastructure and services have seriously compromised the livability of many of Afghanistan’s urban centers.

The CGC program aims to address this on a local scale by providing support for key “cleaning and greening” activities. These activities are carried out by local residents in cooperation with each city’s municipal government and nahias (a nahia is a municipal administrative sub-district: essentially, a neighborhood).

In addition to the refreshment and revitalization of public spaces, job creation and economic stimulus are important components of the CGC program. Through the funding it receives from a number of international supporters, including the EU, the CGC program creates jobs for more than 13,500 people. The program has a particular focus on making the jobs accessible to vulnerable populations, including returnees and the urban poor. UN-Habitat supports these efforts through technical assistance and expertise.

 

What CGC initiatives have taken place so far?

In Kabul, five major categories of cleaning and beautification activities have been identified by the community and the municipal government. These are: collecting solid waste from households, planting trees, sweeping streets, painting curbs, and cleaning roadside ditches. Under the umbrella of the CGC program, these activities will be carried out regularly, and in accordance with set standards of performance, through coordinated planning efforts from the municipality of Kabul and specially created nahia development committees.

More recently, in February 2018, the mayor of Kabul announced that seven public parks in the city would also be upgraded as part of the CGC program. This particular activity was inspired by the New Urban Agenda, the UN’s action blueprint for sustainable urban development that emphasizes the importance of safe, inclusive, and accessible green public spaces.

To help its parks conform to this vision, the municipality of Kabul has outlined a program of walkway upgrades within and around the park; grass and tree planting; well digging and implementation of an irrigation distribution system; electrical connection; upgrades to the boundary wall and installation of entrance gates; and the installation of benches throughout the park.

 

What is UN-Habitat?

An essential program of the United Nations, UN-Habitat works toward a better urban future. It aims to promote and develop human settlements that are socially and environmentally sustainable and to achieve adequate shelter for all global citizens. UN-Habitat has been working to fulfil this vision ever since it was mandated by the UN General Assembly in 1978.

Even at that time, urbanization issues relating to the uncontrolled growth of cities were already apparent. Since then, cities around the world have continued to experience unprecedented change. Today, the challenges—demographic, environmental, economic, social, and spatial—that the world’s urban areas are now facing are extreme. In view of the projection that 60 percent of the global population will be living in cities by the year 2030, it is clear that UN-Habitat’s work is more vital than ever before.

To guide its vision for well-planned, well-governed, and efficient cities and human settlements that offer all their residents adequate housing, infrastructure, employment opportunities, and basic services, UN-Habitat works with a medium-term strategy approach. Every six years, the organization develops a new strategic plan that provides continuity with the previous plan while facilitating an adaptable and effective response to emerging urban trends and offering opportunities for the incorporation of lessons learned from previous plans.

At present, UN-Habitat is working with a strategic plan that covers the years from 2014 to 2019. The seven focus areas of this plan are: urban legislation, land, and governance; urban planning and design; urban economy; the provision of basic services in urban areas; housing and slum upgrading; risk reduction and rehabilitation in urban areas; and research and capacity development. The first four areas are of particular importance in this iteration of the strategic plan, as they have been neglected in previous years in favor of other, higher-priority objectives.