What You Need to Know about LEARN & Play

right to play logoChildren learn best through play. That’s the major principle behind Right to Play, a global organization that uses sports and games as tools to help teach kids the essential life skills they need to overcome challenges like poverty, conflict, and disease, and to create better futures for themselves and their communities.

Recently, in its capacity as secretariat to the Sport for Development and Peace International Working Group (SDP IWG, an initiative of the United Nations), Right to Play published a report showcasing a number of different SDP IWG initiatives and looking at the transformative effect these programs had on local children and their communities.

Among these programs was LEARN & play, a program launched in Kabul and Parwan province and spearheaded by the German development organization AfghanistanHilfe Paderborn. Read on to learn more.

What were the objectives of LEARN & play?

With more than half of Afghanistan’s entire population currently under the age of 18, initiatives that target children’s welfare and development are an absolutely vital part of the country’s rebuilding process. Street children are a special focus of many initiatives, as estimates indicate that in Kabul alone, as many as 20,000 children are living on the street with no permanent home or adult care.

The objectives of LEARN & play were to provide disadvantaged children in Kabul with the opportunity to attend school regularly and to participate in sports and games, to provide street children in particular with a safe environment for learning and skills development, and to teach them skills essential to future success like reading and writing and computer skills. The program also sought to teach participants about cooperation and conflict resolution skills through football.

How was the LEARN & play program designed?

The target demographic for LEARN & play was children aged 8 to 12 who were either living on the street, had been orphaned, or were from struggling single-parent homes. In Afghanistan, many children who fit this description have to help provide financial support for themselves and their families, and are therefore able to attend school. Furthermore, life on the streets carries many risks, including the greater likelihood that children will become involved in crime and drugs.

The LEARN & play initiative used football to attract children to the program; the idea being that the program’s participants would come for the football and stay for the academic training. As part of the program, children received one meal; three hours of academic lessons in fundamental subjects like reading, writing, computers, and English; and two hours of football practice.

All classes were taught by instructors approved by Afghanistan’s Ministry of Education and were held in the safe environment of buildings belonging to AfghanistanHilfe Paderborn, the program’s lead organization. Two centers for the program were established—one in Kabul and one in the eastern province of Parwan—and classes were held in shifts so that more children could attend. For maximum effectiveness, eligibility for the LEARN & play program required a five-year commitment from the participants.

What organizations were involved in the delivery of LEARN & play?

While AfghanistanHilfe Paderborn was responsible for overall administration and project coordination, a number of other groups provided additional support for LEARN & play. These included the Afghanistan Football Association, which organized football teams and tournaments; Handicap International, which provided training clinics for team coaches; Afghanistan’s Ministry of Education, which oversaw the teachers employed in LEARN & play’s non-formalized schools; and the Fédération Internationale de Football Association (FIFA), which provided financial support for the curriculum design of the program, as well as much-needed moral support for project staff.

What impact did LEARN & play have?

LEARN & play reached approximately 600 of Afghanistan’s most disadvantaged children: 400 in Kabul and 200 in Parwan province. At the start of the project, only about 10% of participating children were enrolled in a formal school; by the end of the project, that figure had grown to 60%.

Based on reports from project staff members, LEARN & play participants developed greater self-confidence and became more energetic and more cooperative as a result of their football training. Because of the teamwork involved in playing football, children also had plenty of opportunities to practice problem solving and positive conflict resolution, and to boost their communication and interpersonal skills by interacting with a diverse range of people, both peers and adults, with whom they would not likely have had contact before the program.

The children also enjoyed greater recognition from their neighbors and peers as a result of LEARN & play’s respected community status; street children and orphans are often marginalized in Afghan society. Finally, LEARN & play provided important health benefits for participants, both through the provision of a daily meal and through the regular physical activity at football sessions, which helped improve their strength, stamina, and coordination.

Can NEI Solve the Problem of Malnutrition in Afghanistan?

mantoo foodAccording to research from the United Nations World Food Programme (WFP), malnutrition is a major problem in Afghanistan. Approximately one-third of the country’s population isn’t getting enough calories on a daily basis, and about 20% of Afghans aren’t getting enough protein. The figures for malnutrition in children are even more troubling: more than 40% of Afghan children under five years old are stunted (or smaller than the average for their age), which is one of the world’s highest rates of childhood stunting. In addition, 10% of Afghan children are acutely malnourished, and thousands of children die every year because they don’t have access to adequate food and nutrition.

Childhood malnutrition naturally has serious consequences for physical development, but it can also lead to problems with cognitive development and educational achievement. Without the nutrients needed for healthy brain development and functioning, many malnourished children struggle with learning issues throughout their lives, even into adulthood. This is a particular challenge for a country like Afghanistan, which is working hard to increase literacy rates and education levels as part of its post-conflict rebuilding process.

With child health experts calling for greater nutritional investment in Afghanistan, a number of NGOs are stepping in to help tackle malnutrition and the underlying causes of Afghanistan’s food insecurity. Nutrition & Education International (NEI) is one such example: a non-profit organization that is working to promote soybean cultivation and nourishment in Afghanistan in association with local government agencies, universities, and the WFP. Read on to learn more about NEI’s work and its history in Afghanistan.

What is NEI?

NEI logoNEI is a non-profit organization on a mission to eradicate malnutrition in Afghanistan with a surprising weapon: soybeans.

Containing nine essential amino acids, soybeans are a rich source of protein and other nutrients, making them excellent fighters against malnutrition, which is essentially synonymous with protein deficiency. In addition, soybeans are a cost-effective crop to grow, and so are relatively easy to incorporate into Afghanistan’s agricultural practices.

NEI’s primary objective is to help Afghanistan establish a self-sustaining soybean industry by developing a full soybean value chain. The idea is that by introducing seed multiplication, soybean cultivation and processing, and soy market development, NEI can help poor families improve both their nutrition and their economic circumstances. According to NEI’s president, Steven Kwon, a functioning soy economy is one of the most practical remedies to address Afghanistan’s ongoing struggle with chronic malnutrition.

A history of NEI in Afghanistan

2003—Steven Kwon makes his first visit to Afghanistan. Soon after, he develops the soy nutrition initiative and establishes Nutrition & Education International as a non-profit NGO.

2004—Six varieties of non-GMO soybeans are successfully cultivated and tested in Afghanistan’s Balkh province.

2005—Following the successful testing of NEI’s soy program in 12 different Afghan provinces, the government of Afghanistan adopts the program as a national project.

2006—For the first time in Afghanistan’s history, 1,000 tons of soybeans are produced through the efforts of more than 2,000 Afghan farmers across nine provinces. In addition, two soy milk processing facilities are established, and NEI begins its humanitarian soy milk distribution program, which delivers nutrition-rich soy milk to 3,000 high-risk families.

2007—Soybean production expands; more than 3,000 farmers across 15 provinces are now cultivating soybeans.

2008—Three more soy milk processing facilities are established, as is a containerized soy flour factory.

2009—Soybean production expands beyond agricultural operations to include home and community gardens, thus helping individual families and small communities supplement their protein intake independently. NEI’s soy milk distribution program is now reaching 5,000 families, and a newly initiated winter soy nutrition campaign provides 100 tons of soybeans and soy flour to 2,500 high-risk families in Afghanistan’s eastern provinces.

2010—NEI purchases and distributes 100 metric tons of soybean seeds to farmers in 21 provinces; by this time, Afghan farmers are producing enough soybeans to sustain their own families. Afghanistan’s first-ever soy flour factory is built in Kabul with a capacity of 300 metric tons. NEI also increases its efforts to create a soy market in the country by launching its business arm, Soybean Nutrition Services Afghanistan (SNSA), and concentrates on providing seed resources, training farmers, and further developing the market for soy. A grant from the government of Japan enables NEI to pursue these aims.

2011—Three more soy flour factories are built, and NEI receives a second grant for its soybean production project from the Japanese government.

2012—NEI enters into a partnership with the United Nations World Food Programme to promote soybean cultivation in 100 districts across 20 provinces. More than 6,000 new farmers are trained in soybean cultivation, and 2,000 metric tons of soybeans are produced.

2013—NEI celebrates a decade of work in Afghanistan, and commits to a further 10 years of developing Afghanistan’s soybean industry in order to eradicate malnutrition.

2014—Two more soy processing facilities are established. NEI receives a grant for its work from the Republic of Korea.

2015—NEI’s founder meets formally with the President of Afghanistan to discuss the future of Afghanistan’s soybean industry.

2016—Construction on a sterilized soy milk factory is completed. 17,000 new soybean farmers are trained in 31 provinces, and soybean production reaches a record high of 6,000 metric tons.

5 Charities Helping Make Afghanistan a Better Place to Be a Kid

Modern Afghanistan is not an easy place for a child to grow up. As is all too often the case, war hits children especially hard; reports from recent years estimate that more than 1 million children across Afghanistan have been left orphaned or abandoned as a result of decades of civil conflict.

However, many charitable organizations, both within Afghanistan and internationally, are working hard to build a better, brighter, and safer future for Afghanistan’s children. Read on for a look at five organizations that are putting Afghan kids first.

  1. The Aschiana Foundation

aschiana logoAn example of how productive partnerships can be between the international community and grassroots organizations on the ground in Afghanistan, the Aschiana Foundation is a US-based organization dedicated to supporting Afghanistan’s most vulnerable children. The Aschiana Foundation was established in 2004 by a group of people—including expatriates, diplomats, and military spouses—who had seen for themselves the incredible challenges facing the country’s young children, many of whom were working on the streets of Kabul in an attempt to eke out a living.

Inspired by the work of the local organization Aschiana, which was created in 1995 by Yousef Mohamed, an Afghan engineer, the founders of the Aschiana Foundation were determined to find an effective way to support his efforts to provide education, training, and opportunities to Afghan children excluded from the school system due to financial or other barriers. Today, the support that the Foundation provides to Aschiana in Afghanistan helps tens of thousands of Afghan children find refuge and escape from life on the street.

  1. Save the Children

save the children logoAs its name implies, Save the Children has been a major force in protecting and providing for Afghanistan’s children. At present, the organization’s activities are governed by its three major priorities. The first is to stand up for children’s rights: Save the Children works with local communities, religious leaders, government ministries, and other NGOs to build national child protection networks and provide social workers to support children whose rights are in danger of being violated. The second priority is the improvement of vital health services: Save the Children operates many mobile health clinics with the support of doctors, trained midwives, and community health workers, focusing particularly on reducing child deaths by identifying malnourished children and providing feeding centers where these children can receive life-saving treatment. The final priority, one shared by many other organizations, is education: Save the Children works with the Afghan government to create and implement community-based classes that facilitate access to education for those children who have been shut out of formal schooling.

  1. Afghan Connection

afghan connection logoThis UK-based charity was founded in 2002 by Dr. Sarah Fane, who had spent several years working in Afghanistan as a wartime doctor. Initially established as a medical charity focused on vaccination programs, Afghan Connection has evolved to become an important supporter of education projects in Afghanistan’s northeastern region; the charity’s goal is to concentrate on making the strongest possible impact on a single area.

To date, Afghan Connection has built 42 new schools in the region, serving many remote and rural communities where access to education has been extremely difficult. It has also funded more than 500 teacher training courses to help improve the quality of education that Afghan children receive. Sports programs, and cricket in particular, are another important activity for Afghan Connection; the organization works to build pitches, establish cricket camps, and train coaches so that as many children as possible can reap the benefits of participating in team sports.

  1. Child Soldiers International

child soldiers international logoIn countries impacted by war and violence, the use of child soldiers on all sides of the conflict is becoming an increasingly common practice, and Afghanistan is no exception. Child Soldiers International works to build awareness of child recruitment in Afghanistan by performing critical research and field work that keeps this pressing issue at the forefront of the international agenda. The organization also lobbies for practical changes in law and policy that can support the Afghan government and its partners in meeting the challenges of combating child recruitment.

  1. Afghan Mobile Mini-Circus for Children

Afghan MMCC logoAfghanistan’s children need access to critical services, such as education, but they also require fun and playtime. Afghan Mobile Mini-Circus for Children (MMCC) brings these two worlds together with its unique use of circus arts as a teaching tool. Dedicated to empowering young people and working with the philosophy that children are the ones who know the best way to communicate with other children, MMCC brings child-led educational performances and workshops to young people all across Afghanistan. Since 2002, the organization has reached nearly 3 million audience members in 25 Afghan provinces and has leveraged the joyous atmosphere of the circus to engage children and youth on key topics like health and hygiene, landmine awareness, and peace.