These 5 Organizations Want to Boost Literacy in Afghanistan

Development organizations all over the world point to literacy as one of the leading factors in helping individuals and societies build a better future. Improved literacy rates in emerging economies are linked to a broad range of other positive outcomes, including improved health, better earnings or economic progress, and increased political and civil society participation. Indeed, literacy is so important in the modern world that UNESCO has declared it to be a fundamental human right.

Unfortunately, it’s not always easy for nations to prioritize literacy in the face of significant obstacles. In Afghanistan, for example, decades of civil conflict have left the country with one of the world’s lowest literacy rates. According to current estimates, fewer than one in three adult Afghans (over the age of 15) can read and write.

In response to this, many organizations and individuals have launched initiatives, both large and small, aimed at boosting literacy rates in Afghanistan. Read on to learn about five of these projects.

  1. UNESCO – Enhancement of Literacy Afghanistan

UNESCO logoUNESCO is by far the largest organization focused on literacy in Afghanistan. Through its flagship literacy program, known as Enhancement of Literacy Afghanistan (ELA), UNESCO has partnered with Afghanistan’s Ministry of Education to implement large-scale literacy, numeracy, and vocational skills development programs across all 34 Afghan provinces. ELA was first launched in 2008, and it has received financial support from a number of international sources including the Government of Japan, the Swedish International Cooperation Agency, and the Government of Finland.

To date, ELA has been implemented in three different phases. The first, which took place between 2008 and 2010, was a pilot program that was initiated in Bamiayan province’s capital city and then expanded to nine additional provinces. The second phase (2011-2013) included nine more provinces and added targeted market-demanded vocational skills training. The third phase (2014-2016) expanded the program’s offerings to reach a total of 600,000 individuals across Afghanistan.

  1. UNESCO – Literacy for Empowerment of Afghan Police (LEAP)

In addition to the large-scale ELA literacy program described above, UNESCO operates a number of targeted literacy initiatives. Among these is the Literacy for Empowerment of Afghan Police (LEAP) program. The LEAP program was launched in 2011 with the goal of using literacy training to help boost the quality of policing in Afghanistan.

The first phase of the program focused on developing and delivering literacy training materials for 500 police literacy facilitators. The second phase expanded the training to reach additional Afghan police officers. The LEAP program has also been working with the Ministry of the Interior’s Literacy Department to build long-term institutional capacity for creating, supporting, and enhancing police literacy through initiatives like training workshops and special literacy publications geared towards newly-literate members of the police force.

  1. Mercy Corps – Literacy and Math Education Program

mercycorpslogoLiteracy initiatives don’t always have to be big to be effective. The international humanitarian and development organization Mercy Corps has been working in Afghanistan since 1986, supporting projects in areas ranging from agricultural development to renewable energy.

In 2002, the organization made a new commitment: to provide literacy and math instruction to members of its own staff in northern Afghanistan. As senior program manager Joerg Denker explained at the time, in its ongoing mission to support Afghan citizens, it was important for Mercy Corps not to forget about its own employees.

The literacy and math classes proved tremendously successful, reaching dozens of Mercy Corps employees. The organization had plans to expand the program to include more people from the local community and to offer English classes in addition to the other subjects.

  1. The Institute for Cross-Cultural Exchange – Share Literacy Afghanistan

ICCElogoThe basis of literacy education is having appropriate materials for students to read. However, access to books can be a challenge in remote or rural Afghanistan. That’s where the Institute for Cross-Cultural Exchange (ICE) comes in. A Canadian charity dedicated to fostering learning and understanding among different cultures, ICE works with a number of groups in Afghanistan to distribute books to schools, orphanages, and libraries around the country.

The group doesn’t provide just any books: one of ICE’s partners is Hoopoe Books for Children. This is the educational non-profit publisher of (among many other titles) beautifully illustrated traditional Afghan children’s stories assembled by Afghan author Idries Shah. Through a special arrangement with Hoopoe Books, ICE is able to offer copies in the Dari and Pashto languages to children all over Afghanistan. For the vast majority of these young readers, this will be the first book they have ever owned.

  1. Captain Edward Zellem – Book of Afghan Proverbs

Like the Institute for Cross-Cultural Exchange, US Navy Captain Edward Zellem is also hoping that simple and relevant material will help give many Afghans their first taste of literacy. Zellem is the author of “Zarbul Masalha: 151 Dari Proverbs,” a collection of proverbs that he collected as a personal hobby during his deployment in Afghanistan in 2010 and 2011.

After compiling the proverbs, Zellem approached art students from a high school in Kabul to illustrate them. The volume was later published by Karwan Press in Kabul through a grant from the US State Department. Today, the books are distributed to rural communities and high schools as part of several programs that aim to preserve and promote Afghan culture.

What You Need to Know about This Group’s Work in Afghanistan

Relief InternationalSince Relief International (RI) began working in Afghanistan in 2001, the organization has placed a major emphasis on building strong partnerships with local communities and on earning respect and acceptance in order to ensure the safety and sustainability of its work. Over the years, the scope of RI’s activities has grown considerably, but even though the organization now works in a wide range of areas—from health and education to governance and civil society—the goal of mobilizing, empowering, and supporting individual communities remains at the heart of its mission. To learn more about how RI is helping Afghan communities with both short-term relief efforts and long-term development projects, read on for an overview of four RI programs from the organization’s past and present.

Improving animal health

Roughly 23 million Afghans live in rural areas, and at least three-quarters of these rely on their livestock to provide them with food and income. But after years of conflict, essentials like adequate animal feed and veterinary services are no longer readily available, thus putting not only the health of the animals at risk, but also the livelihoods of the families that depend upon them.

Together with the international rural development organization Mission d’Aide au Développement des Economies Rurales (MADERA) and supported by funding from the EU, Relief International is working in some of Afghanistan’s most vulnerable and volatile rural districts to re-establish reliable veterinary care and to educate and train farmers and livestock owners in animal husbandry best practices. By helping communities to improve shelter conditions and nutrition for their livestock, boosting the quality and availability of animal health services, and strengthening ties between public and private animal health sectors, RI is aiming to expand livestock production and increase animal productivity, which in turn have the potential to significantly improve the livelihoods of rural farmers.

Preventing zoonotic diseases

AfghanistanAnimal health in Afghanistan does not only affect the livelihoods of many rural families in Afghanistan, it also impacts these families’ own health. Afghanistan has a small but robust population—about 2.4 million people—of nomadic families and communities who travel with their livestock; these unique living conditions make these individuals particularly susceptible to zoonoses, which are diseases that animals and humans can transmit to each other. Zoonotic diseases pose a significant health risk, which is exacerbated by a general lack of knowledge about animal health, as well as a dearth of government support services in this area.

Under the umbrella of its One Health Asia Program, Relief International works with Afghanistan’s ministries of health, livestock, education, and environment to develop community education and support programs for animal vaccination and zoonotic disease awareness. Educating susceptible populations enables them to better recognize early signs of infection and seek the necessary treatment, while supporting animal health care and vaccinations minimizes the threat of zoonotic disease at the source. According to officials in the Afghan government, RI is the only organization directly involved in fighting the spread of zoonotic disease.

Alleviating cold and hunger in Afghanistan’s eastern provinces

Residents of eastern Afghanistan are all too familiar with the effects of the region’s long, harsh winters: fewer jobs, higher prices for household essentials like wheat and fuel, and more precarious conditions for families who are already struggling to make ends meet.

Drawing on its strong relationships created over the years with some of Afghanistan’s most remote communities, Relief International helped support thousands of families in Kunar province through the winter of 2017 by connecting them with a cash program funded by the World Bank and Afghanistan’s Ministry of Labor, Social Affairs, Martyrs & Disabled. With RI helping direct the assistance to cases of the greatest need—typically families with children under the age of 5—the program provided financial support to nearly 2,600 families in 76 of Kunar province’s communities. As a result, more families were able to stave off childhood malnutrition and could afford to send their children to school rather than requiring them to work in order to help out the family.

School construction

afghanistan educationOf the many barriers to education that children and youth in Afghanistan experience, a severe shortage of proper education infrastructure is one of the biggest. With so many schools destroyed by conflict, many remaining education buildings in Afghanistan had to operate in shifts in order to be able to accommodate more students. In other cases, students had to attend classes in dilapidated or dangerous buildings, in tents, or simply in the open air: environments that are hardly conducive to learning.

One of Relief International’s earliest projects in Afghanistan was the construction of three new schools in the Nijrab district of Kapisa province in the country’s northeast. Featuring 60 classrooms, the new facilities offer approximately 2,500 schoolchildren a safe and secure place to learn.

Afghans Need Better Eye Care – These 3 Charities Can Help

When weighed against Afghanistan’s many other priorities – like rebuilding critical infrastructure, improving education and literacy, and ensuring adequate nutrition for all citizens, to name just a few – the question of eye care and vision health might not seem to be a particularly pressing issue. And yet, the numbers tell another story.

WHOlogoAccording to the World Health Organization (WHO), approximately 400,000 Afghans are blind, and an additional 1.5 million have some degree of visual impairment. But what’s truly shocking is the following statistic: WHO estimates that 80 percent of these cases of blindness would be avoidable if proper eye care facilities could be established and maintained.

In this respect, Afghanistan’s story is typical of the state of vision care in many developing nations. With limited facilities and few trained professionals, even conditions that are easily treatable can result in permanent vision damage and eventual blindness.

For example, in Afghanistan, the majority of instances of blindness (60 percent) is caused by cataracts (a clouding of the eye’s natural lens). Cataracts can be corrected by a very simple outpatient procedure. However, at present, Afghanistan only has the capacity to perform about 15,000 cataract surgeries per year. This leaves a backlog of approximately 200,000 cataract patients, many of whom live in rural areas.

Fortunately, a number of charitable organizations have made it a priority to improve the state of vision care in Afghanistan. Read on to learn more about three of them.

  1. The Fred Hollows Foundation

What it is:

FredHollowsFoundationThe Fred Hollows Foundation is an Australia-based, international development organization dedicated to eliminating avoidable blindness. It was founded by Fred Hollows, an ophthalmologist who passed away in 1993, and his wife.

The Fred Hollows Foundation now works in more than 25 different countries, pursuing Fred’s vision of a world in which no one is needlessly blind and everyone has access to quality and affordable eye care. To date, the Foundation has restored sight to more than 2 million people.

What it does in Afghanistan:

The Fred Hollows Foundation has been working in Afghanistan since 2006. At present, the Foundation has two major projects in the country. The first is the University Eye Hospital Project. Conducted in partnership with the Ministry of Higher Education, the Kabul Medical University, and the Kabul University Eye Hospital, it is aimed at increasing the number of skilled and trained eye care professionals in Afghanistan and building the public health system’s capacity to address eye health issues.

The second is the Afghanistan School Eye Screening Project. It aims to reduce high rates of childhood blindness in some of Afghanistan’s rural regions through education and awareness-building initiatives about childhood eye disease. In the future, the Fred Hollows Foundation hopes to work with the government of Afghanistan to coordinate, plan, and implement a national plan of action for improving the country’s eye health sector.

  1. CharityVision

What it is:

CharityVisionLogoA US-based non-profit organization, CharityVision’s mission is to restore vision to people in developing nations. Founded in 1986, the organization has provided more than 375,000 charitable surgeries over the years to prevent cases of needless blindness. Today, CharityVision operates worldwide, performing about 36,000 sight-related procedures every year, and working with local networks in more than 25 countries.

What it does in Afghanistan:

In Afghanistan and the other countries in which it operates, CharityVision uses a charitable model that is all about empowering local physicians and health practitioners. The organization partners with local doctors and care professionals, providing them with surgical equipment, supplies, and other resources and support free of charge.

In turn, the physicians provide their talent and time for such procedures as screenings or sight-restoring surgeries at no cost to the patients. This leads to a stronger local medical community and a robust network of health service systems that ensures that all patients in need can receive charitable surgeries free of charge.

  1. The International Assistance Mission (IAM)

What it is:

IAMlogoFounded in 1966 (the organization’s original name was the International Afghan Mission), IAM is one of the longest continually-serving NGOs in Afghanistan. Although IAM’s present focus areas include development, education, and general health initiatives, the majority of its work over the years has concentrated on eye care and vision health (at the request of the Afghan government).

What it does in Afghanistan:

The NOOR program – National Organization for Ophthalmic Rehabilitation – is IAM’s longest-running initiative. It was launched, along with the organization itself, in 1966 in partnership with Afghanistan’s Ministry of Public Health. At present, the NOOR eye care program is the main provider of eye care in the country.

The program operates three referral hospitals: the NOOR Eye Care Training Center in Kabul, the Mazar Ophthalmic Center, and the Kandahar NOOR Eye Hospital. These are key hubs for the provision of affordable vision care. With the additional goal of building Afghanistan’s internal capacity for treating vision problems, NOOR also provides logistical support and financial oversight to two other hospitals, the Ministry of Public Health’s Central Polyclinic in Kabul, and the Ophthalmic Center in Herat.