Spotlight on How AFCECO Cares for Afghanistan’s Orphans

In times of war, children are often the ones who end up paying the highest price. Sadly, this tough history lesson is one that Afghanistan is all too familiar with: decades of civil conflict have deprived multiple generations of Afghan children of parents, relatives, and role models, making for a challenging and uncertain future for both the children and the country itself.

Fortunately, over the past 10 to 15 years, more and more groups have stepped into the breach to provide support, care, and education for Afghanistan’s war orphans. One of these organizations is the Afghan Child Education and Care Organization (AFCECO), a Kabul-based, Afghan nonprofit dedicated to helping orphaned refugees and other vulnerable Afghan children. Read on to learn more about AFCECO’s mission, its activities, and what you can do to help.

What is AFCECO?

AFCECO_LogoAFCECO is a nonprofit organization, officially registered since 2008 with the Government of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan, with a mission to serve some of Afghanistan’s estimated 1.6 million orphans. To fulfil this mission, AFCECO operates orphanages all around the country. However, rather than the cold and institutional environment that the word “orphanage” might suggest, AFCECO homes are inclusive and caring, welcoming children from all regions and walks of life, and teaching equality and respect alongside other practical skills like reading and writing. Ultimately, the goal of AFCECO is to support Afghanistan’s next generation and ensure that these children have the skills and opportunities they need to play an active part in building a brighter future for themselves and their country.

How did AFCECO get started?

For AFCECO’s founding director Andeisha Farid, the question of helping children affected and displaced by war is a very personal one: she herself was born during Afghanistan’s war years and raised in refugee camps, and eventually found escape from her difficult circumstances through education. With a strong belief in the power of children to change the course of their country, Farid founded her first orphanage—or “parwarishga,” which means “foster haven”—in 2004. Her work soon came to the attention of CharityHelp International, an organization that assisted Farid in financing her projects through child sponsorships. Thanks to this support, Farid was able to grow AFCECO to its current status: a collection of nine orphanages around Afghanistan that serve hundreds of children and also provide valuable employment for widows and university students.

What are AFCECO’s values?

As mentioned above, one of AFCECO’s core goals is to help the next generation of Afghan citizens grow into resilient, thoughtful, and productive members of society. To achieve this, AFCECO concentrates on teaching children critical values, including: respect for each other’s differences, including differences of circumstance, ideas, or religion; respect for freedom of thought; listening and tolerance; the importance of justice and democracy; respect for the environment; an appreciation for teamwork and common goals; and a sense of integrity, honesty, and caring.

What programs does AFCECO offer?

Within the framework of its orphanages, AFCECO offers a number of different programs and extracurricular activities to help supplement the basic education that the children receive at local public schools. These include a music program, which sees talented young musicians honing their craft under the instruction of dedicated professionals at the Afghanistan National Institute of Music. There’s also an athletics program, which helps improve children’s physical fitness (a top priority for AFCECO) and gives them the chance to learn about teamwork and competition through participation in nationwide sports tournaments. In addition, healthcare clinics ensure the health and well-being of the residents of each orphanage, and an e-coaching program pairs students with online volunteer educational coaches for additional support and tutoring.

What partners does AFCECO work with?

One of the biggest partners that has helped make AFCECO’s work possible is CharityHelp International (CHI), a global organization that harnesses the power of online connectivity to foster, promote, and sustain close, long-term relationships between individual donors all around the world and organizations in emerging nations that are in need of support. This helps provide many charitable organizations with ongoing, sustainable development financing for their activities. For AFCECO, CHI has furnished the organization’s Child Sponsorship Program with much-needed communications technology and development and administrative support. In addition, CHI is helping AFCECO with a new initiative, the Support and Networking Program, which offers vital resources and mentorship to Afghan business and social entrepreneurs.

What can I do to help AFCECO?

One of the most important ways that concerned supporters can help AFCECO’s work and mission is by making a donation to the organization. AFCECO accepts international donations in a number of different areas: through the sustainability fund, which allows donors to become “sustaining sponsors” by contributing to the ongoing, fixed costs of operating an orphanage; through the child sponsorship program, where donors can make regular contributions to support the basic needs of a child living at one of AFCECO’s orphanages; and through one-time donations in any amount which help AFCECO cover a variety of necessary costs and expenditures.

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.