Will This Amazing New Facility Put Bamiyan Back on the Map?

For centuries, the historic Buddhas of Bamiyan stood guard over the Bamiyan valley in central Afghanistan. These two massive sculptures—one measuring 115 feet in height, the other 174 feet—were carved directly into the valley’s sandstone cliffs approximately 1,500 years ago.

Visitors came from around the world to view these unique examples of Afghanistan’s Buddhist heritage. However, years of fighting and conflict took their toll on the Buddhas of Bamiyan. Unfortunately, the statues were destroyed in 2001, an incident that was devastating for Afghanistan’s cultural heritage.

Today, however, a bold new initiative is in development that aims to pay homage to the legacy of the Bamiyan Buddhas and to put the Bamiyan region back on Afghanistan’s cultural map. The Bamiyan Cultural Center, a project initiated by UNESCO in collaboration with Afghanistan’s Ministry of Information and Culture, is intended to serve as a hub for culture and creativity in Afghanistan and to contribute to a vital national discussion on the past, present, and future of the country’s cultural heritage. Read on to learn more about this exciting project.

 

What is the vision for the Bamiyan Cultural Center?

Image by DVIDSHUB | Flickr

The Bamiyan Cultural Center is envisioned as a vital space for a wide range of activities and programs around the topics of cultural diversity, cultural heritage, and the future of cultural identity and cultural preservation in Afghanistan. The Afghan government, like many of the country’s citizens, believes that sparking conversations around these topics is an essential part of rebuilding and redevelopment efforts, and that the thread of culture and heritage is one of the most important in the fabric of civil society.

Practically speaking, the Bamiyan Cultural Center will be home to two gallery spaces (focused on Afghan archaeology and similar cultural subjects), an auditorium for live performances, a tea house, and an extensive outdoor garden. The Center will host a variety of events—from speakers and lectures, to regular exhibits, to special displays like the Kabul Photo Biennale. When it is complete and operational, the Center will benefit many stakeholders from a wide demographic, including schoolchildren, visiting scholars and researchers, and national and international organizations.

 

Who will design the Bamiyan Cultural Center?

In 2015, after being flooded with a remarkable 1,070 design entries from 117 different countries, UNESCO and the Afghan Ministry of Information and Culture chose a proposal from an Argentina-based architectural team as the winning design. Carlos Nahuel Recabarren, Manuel Alberto Martínez Catalán, and Franco Morero won over a panel of distinguished jury members with their proposal, entitled “Descriptive Memory: The Eternal Presence of Absence.”

The vision of the Descriptive Memory proposal is of a generous public park that extends out to meet the rooftop of the Cultural Center, which is imagined as a sunken building complex which surrounds a public plaza and is bordered by a reflective pool. As the architectural team described in a statement, its vision was inspired by the image of a meeting place where ideas can be shared and communicated, and which highlights the impressive surroundings of the Buddha Cliffs.

Thus, rather than imposing a newly-built structure on the landscape, the team is working very much with the notion of the Center as something that is “found” or “discovered” by carving it out of the ground. This strategy ensures that the building is fully integrated into its environment. It also pays homage to the area’s ancient building traditions.

In choosing this proposal as the winner, the jury particularly praised the design’s well-conceived plan and sensitive site strategy that minimizes the structure’s visual impact; the choice of brick as the designated building material; the Center’s elegant curving passageways; and the project’s appropriate consideration of scale and feasibility of construction. The design has been endorsed by Afghanistan’s president, Ashraf Ghani, who also took the opportunity to reaffirm his commitment to protecting the country’s cultural heritage through the announcement of a national program to support cultural diversity.

 

Who is financing the Bamiyan Cultural Center?

Image by txmx 2 | Flickr

Financing for the main complex of the Bamiyan Cultural Center—which has a projected cost of US $2.5 million—is being provided by the government of South Korea. The Afghan Ministry of Urban Development and Housing is supplying an additional US $1.5 million for the creation of the outdoor areas, including the gardens and public park.

 

Why is the Bamiyan Cultural Center important?

Initiatives like the Bamiyan Cultural Center, with its focus on national unity, cross-cultural awareness, and the safeguarding of ancient heritage, are hugely important elements in the broader process of reconciliation, peace-building, and economic development in Afghanistan.

In addition, the Bamiyan Cultural Center is expected to make a valuable contribution to Afghanistan’s socio-economic development by revitalizing visitor interest in the Bamiyan valley, which remains a UNESCO World Heritage Site even without the famous Buddhas. Finally, the Center will encourage local residents to participate in tourism-oriented efforts that will help grow their communities and showcase their ancient heritage.

5 Things You Need to Know about the Miraculous Love Kids

Although the situation has improved in recent years, the sight of kids on the street is still all too common in Afghanistan’s major cities. Some of these street children are orphans, living on the street because they have no other home, while others have taken to the streets to beg or sell food or trinkets in order to help support their families. Unfortunately, living on the street makes these children particularly vulnerable: according to UN figures, 923 Afghan children were killed in attacks in 2016. In addition, when children are working on the street, they are not attending school, which means they will face even greater barriers to a better future.

This is where charities like the Miraculous Love Kids come in. Perhaps the most hopefully-named charity in Afghanistan, the Miraculous Love Kids is one of a growing number of organizations dedicated to helping the nation’s street children. The Miraculous Love Kids is a music school founded by guitarist Lanny Cordola that offers guitar classes to street kids in Kabul, and for many of the young students, the experience has been life-changing. Here are five things you need to know about this special organization:

  1. The school was inspired by a tragic event.

Lanny Cordola, the Miraculous Love Kids’ founder, got his first taste of music’s power to help and heal people in need in 2010, when he was invited by a friend to collaborate with Central Asian musicians as part of a relief campaign for catastrophic flooding that was affecting the area. In his travels to visit various flood camps, Cordola witnessed the joy that these displaced people undergoing tremendous hardship experienced when they had the opportunity to hear and play music.

Cordola returned to California determined to work on making music that would give a voice to people in need, like those he’d met in the camps. And it was in this frame of mind that, in 2012, he heard about two young sisters who had been killed by a suicide bomber in Afghanistan as they sold trinkets on the street. Cordola was deeply moved by the story and reached out to contacts from his previous trip to see if he could get in touch with the girls’ family. Upon discovering that their mother and younger sisters were living in poverty with few resources, he was determined to do what he could to help. After repeated visits to Afghanistan, during which he raised enough money to move the family into a better home, Cordola noticed how interested the girls were in his guitar. The realization that music could help heal these young lives provided the initial spark for what is now the Miraculous Love Kids.

  1. Around 60 children attend the school.

Today, Lanny Cordola and other musicians teach roughly 60 children at the Miraculous Love Kids school. As part of the program, the children receive an allowance of between 50 and 100 Afghanis every time they come; this means that the kids (and their families) don’t lose out financially because the youngsters are in class rather than selling or begging on the street. In addition to studying guitar, the school’s students learn English and receive support for additional schooling.

  1. The school is a US-registered nonprofit.

The Miraculous Love Kids is formally registered as a 501(c)(3) organization in the US. Its main sources of financial support are private donations—many of which are made via the organization’s GoFundMe page. However, it also raises money by performing benefit concerts.

  1. Students have collaborated with one of the biggest legends in music.

The young musicians at the Miraculous Love Kids have a dedicated supporter that most Western artists could only dream about: Brian Wilson. The legendary Beach Boys front man is an old friend of Lanny Cordola, and when he learned about Cordola’s work with some of Afghanistan’s most vulnerable children, he reached out to see how he could help the group. The result is the Miraculous Love Kids’ first-ever professional collaboration: Brian Wilson sent voice and music tracks for his song “Love and Mercy” to the school to be mixed with the students’ own playing and singing. Proceeds from the sales of the song will go to support the school. In addition, Wilson has invited some of the students to visit and work with him in the US.

  1. The school’s founder, Lanny Cordola, is a former arena rock guitarist.

There are few people better equipped than Lanny Cordola to introduce Western rock music to Afghan street children. A guitarist from Southern California, Cordola has played with musicians in some of the most important rock groups in music history, including the Beach Boys and Guns N’ Roses. As a result of his work with the Miraculous Love Kids, Cordola has also been collaborating more and more with Afghan musicians like Wahid Qasimi. Cordola now lives full-time in Kabul.

6 Things You Should Know about Teach for Afghanistan

Teach for AfghanistanIn an effort to improve access to quality education, many countries have drafted talented young graduates to serve as teachers in areas that are underserved. Today, this model is taking off on a global scale due to the efforts of Teach for All, an international nonprofit that has spent the last decade working with local partners to connect motivated and inspiring teachers with students in some of the world’s most disadvantaged countries, including Afghanistan. Read on for six facts about this organization and its local affiliate, Teach for Afghanistan.

  1. Teach for All is a global network with local roots.

Teach for All believes that meaningful and sustainable change needs to be led by people rooted in their culture who understand the unique challenges and opportunities facing youth in their own communities. That’s why Teach for All doesn’t bring in teachers from elsewhere, but works with local partners to recruit and place community-oriented educators who themselves have experienced the inequities that they aim to address in the classroom.

  1. Teach for All supports teachers so that they can support students.

Teachers are most effective in the classroom when they have received comprehensive instruction and training, something that is not always the case in countries or regions with struggling postsecondary education systems. Teach for All supports participants by offering training and ongoing coaching opportunities so that teachers have the opportunity to develop the skills and knowledge that will enable them to contribute to their communities.

  1. Teach for All spans six continents and 46 countries.

Teach for All has network partners in countries ranging from Argentina and Armenia to Uganda and Ukraine. Since each one is locally led, there are some differences between networks. However, all of the partners share a commitment to a number of key program principles—such as accelerating alumni leadership and driving measurable impact—and to some common organizational design features that include building public and private sector partnerships and ensuring diverse representation and inclusiveness.

  1. Teach for All networks share five core values.

In order to maintain a sense of cohesiveness and shared purpose when working across borders, Teach for All networks are guided by five core values: a sense of possibility, or the belief in the potential of all children to realize their aspirations; a dedication to being locally rooted but globally informed; a commitment to constant learning and continuous education, reflection, and improvement; diversity and inclusiveness, which seeks to ensure full participation from people of all backgrounds; and interdependence, which recognizes our shared humanity and interconnectedness.

  1. Teach for Afghanistan is led by a former Teach for India volunteer.

school children

Rahmatullah Arman, the CEO of Teach for All’s global network partner Teach for Afghanistan, was first introduced to Teach for All as a volunteer in Pune, India, where he pursued postsecondary studies after having completed secondary school in Kabul. While at the University of Pune, where he earned a bachelor’s degree in international relations and a master’s degree in international human resources management, Arman ranked among the highest-achieving students and earned a number of national and international awards at various conferences and debates. After completing his studies in 2011, Arman returned to Afghanistan, where he served in several positions with government and private sector organizations. Eventually, however, he was so inspired by his volunteer experience with Teach for All—and so dismayed by the state of his home country’s education system—that he became determined to bring the organization’s mission and model to Afghanistan.

  1. Teach for Afghanistan’s first cohort was comprised of high achievers.

In 2013, Rahmatullah Arman launched Teach for Afghanistan with the support of Teach for All. At that time, Afghanistan was still struggling to recover from decades of civil conflict and challenging reconstruction. At the time, 3.6 million children were not attending school and 75% of students had dropped out by the age of 15. Moreover, half of the country’s teachers lacked qualifications. Despite this, Arman said in interviews that he was inspired by the hope and determination that he witnessed, such as schools crowded with students even though there were no chairs or desks, and families risking explosions or other security dangers just to take their children to school.

In the face of all this, Arman was determined to provide the children of Afghanistan with not only an education, but a high-quality one led by Afghans themselves. In order to achieve this goal, he set high standards for the first cohort of Teach for Afghanistan participants. Applicants were required to have a degree with marks of at least 75%, as well as communication skills and leadership experience. For the 80 available positions, Arman received 3,000 applications. All of the applicants fulfilled the criteria, and the majority were graduates of Afghan universities.