5 Charities Seeking to Improve Lives in Afghanistan

Of the numerous charitable organizations working in Afghanistan, many are helping to support a broad range of large-scale initiatives and development goals. Other charities are taking a different approach. Rather than offering wide-ranging development support, these organizations are focusing their efforts on tackling and solving highly targeted problems: issues that may not seem as big or as impressive as reforming the educational system or improving access to health care, but which are still vital to a functional and prosperous Afghan society. Read on to learn about five international organizations that are helping Afghanistan to deal with very specific challenges:

1. Dutch Committee for Afghanistan Livestock Programs

Specific mission: Improving the health and production of Afghan livestock.

The livestock programs of the Dutch Committee for Afghanistan (DCA-VET) are intended to support the roughly 24 million Afghans who live in the countryside and depend on livestock and agriculture for their livelihood. Most rural families keep at least some livestock—cattle, sheep, goats, donkeys, and poultry are the most common animals—but local farmers are often prevented from making the most of their livestock due to rampant animal diseases, an insufficient knowledge of animal husbandry and nutrition, and a lack of good market opportunities for their livestock products. DCA helps farmers to overcome these issues by developing quality veterinary services throughout rural Afghanistan, offering comprehensive extension and outreach programs on animal health, and creating value chains for livestock product processing and trading.

Livestock

2. The HALO Trust

Specific mission: Landmine clearance and mine risk education.

Afghanistan is one of the most mined countries in the world. An estimated 640,000 land mines have been laid out in Afghanistan since 1979, and the country is littered with unexploded ordnance. As a result, the subsistence of rural communities is threatened in areas where there is a risk of landmine contamination because land cannot be safely used to grow crops or graze animals. In order to address this deadly issue, The HALO Trust has been working in Afghanistan since 1988 on landmine clearance and mine risk education programs. Over the course of the last 30 years, the organization, which employs 2,500 Afghans, has destroyed close to 700,000 emplaced and stockpiled mines, and has helped to clear almost 80% of recorded mine and unexploded ordnance land in Afghanistan.

3. Group for the Environment, Renewable Energy and Solidarity (GERES)

Specific mission: Disseminating energy-efficient techniques.

As a development NGO specializing in sustainable energy and environmental protection, GERES has been working internationally to improve community living conditions while preserving natural resources for more than four decades. In Afghanistan, GERES’ work focuses on facilitating the adoption of energy-efficient techniques in public buildings and income-generating agricultural activities. A large portion of Afghanistan’s population is affected by energy poverty. Only about 6% of Afghans have access to electricity, even intermittently. Consequently, schools are closed for much of the year due to a lack of heating, and hospitals are hampered in their operations by high energy costs. Introducing energy-efficient techniques to these institutions is therefore an important first step in helping them to make the most of the energy that they can access.

4. Terra Institute

Specific mission: Securing equitable access to land.

Based in the United States, Terra Institute is a nonprofit focused on issues related to land tenure, land administration and management, and land policy reform. Throughout its four decades of work all around the world, the organization has strived to help people improve their lives by empowering them to deal with land issues. Such issues are prevalent in Afghanistan, given its large rural population and heavy economic reliance on land-intensive activities such as agriculture and livestock. As part of its work in Afghanistan, Terra Institute has collaborated with a number of partners to design and pilot a community-based method for achieving community consensus around the legitimate users of rangeland and appropriately documenting them.

Sheep grazing

5. PARSA

Specific mission: Supporting Afghan community leaders.

PARSA believes that it takes dedicated and passionate Afghan community leaders to create a better Afghan society. This is why PARSA is still operating as a grassroots organization after working for more than 20 years in Afghanistan. Unlike many other development organizations, PARSA is directly engaged with the communities that it supports, and it takes cues from community leaders as to what interventions and resources will work best for each community. These inspired leaders then leverage PARSA’s support and guidance to implement programs that will spark positive change for their families and neighbors, and that can evolve organically over time as community needs change. Since PARSA itself receives support from a wide community of small donors, it is able to be highly creative and flexible in its program development without being hampered by the rigid limitations that are often attached to large-scale government and institutional funding.

Spotlight on the First Afghan Youth Representative to the UN

For young people in Afghanistan, June 19, 2018, was an important day. Following a rigorous open competition, Ramiz Bakhtiar was selected to become the country’s first-ever Youth Representative to the United Nations. Read on to learn more about the UN Youth Delegate Program, why Afghanistan’s participation is important, and what’s ahead for the new Youth Representative.

What is the UN Youth Delegate Program and how does it work?

The United Nations welcomes and encourages youth to participate in its decision-making activities. The Youth Delegate Program was established to serve as the designated path for participation. At the global level, the program is coordinated by the Focal Point on Youth. However, it is up to each individual Member State of the UN to establish their own national youth delegate programs, and to choose or decide who will act as the youth representatives for their country. In countries where no program to select youth delegates exists, it may be necessary to lobby to have one created.

The roles and responsibilities of youth representatives may vary depending on the countries they represent, but most representatives are involved in matters such as providing input to their nation’s official UN delegations on youth-related issues and participating in the general work of their delegations. In addition, youth delegates are able to participate in any of the UN’s intergovernmental meetings, including the General Assembly, the functional Commissions of the Economic and Social Council, the High-Level Political Forum on Sustainable Development, and the Human Rights Council.

How was Afghanistan’s first Youth Representative to the UN selected?

Prior to 2018, Afghanistan did not have a national youth delegate program. The development and implementation of such a program required the effort and commitment of a number of different partners. The Government of the Netherlands served as the program sponsor and worked with groups including Afghanistan’s ministries of higher education, economy, and information and culture; the United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan; and Afghans for Progressive Thinking, an Afghan youth leadership organization, to establish the criteria for the program and create the selection process.

The open competition for Afghanistan’s inaugural youth delegate program attracted 60 applicants from all over the country. The candidates completed a multi-stage selection process that involved both video and in-person interviews. Finalists participated in a live debate hosted by the Bayat Foundation that took place on June 19, 2018, at the Bayat Media Center in Kabul. Attending the debate were the four members of the selection committee: Stef Blok, the Netherlands Minister of Foreign Affairs; Tadamichi Yamamoto, the UN Secretary-General’s Special Representative for Afghanistan; Adela Raz, Afghanistan’s Deputy Foreign Minister of Economic Cooperation; and Sofia Ramyar, the executive director Afghans for Progressive Thinking, a professional organization for youth.

Following the debate, Ramiz Bakhtiar was selected as Afghanistan’s Youth Representative to the United Nations for 2018. The 28-year-old put himself through school by working as a street vendor, and today he is employed by the Dubai-based media firm MOBY Group. Bakhtiar is passionate about highlighting the struggles that Afghan youth face today and helping to build a brighter future for his contemporaries.

Why is it important for Afghanistan to have a Youth Representative to the UN?

According to the United Nations Population Fund, nearly two-thirds of Afghanistan’s population, or 63.7%, are under 25 years of age. Representing the promise of a new Afghanistan, this large, emerging cohort seeks peace, stability, and prosperity, but must contend with significant challenges, particularly when it comes to essential needs like health, education, and employment. Having a Youth Representative to the UN—someone like Ramiz Bakhtiar—who can show global leaders the face of Afghanistan’s new generation and give a voice to the unique issues they are facing—is an important way for Afghan youth to gain recognition and support in the fight for a better future.

What’s ahead for Afghanistan’s Youth Representative to the UN?

One of Ramiz Bakhtiar’s most important responsibilities as Afghanistan’s Youth Representative to the UN will be to meet and engage with other young Afghans and hear their ideas for building a country that is tolerant, peaceful, and forward-looking. Specifically, Bakhtiar will canvass his peers for their views on the UN, politics, and what role the UN should play in Afghanistan’s future development. Social media platforms are expected to be a key part of Bakhtiar’s efforts to engage young people in Afghanistan, gather their opinions, and share his activities.

So far, Bakhtiar has already made significant progress in engaging with Afghanistan’s young people, and in September 2018, he became the first-ever Afghan youth to address the United Nations Security Council during the 73rd General Assembly session. In his address, Bakhtiar highlighted the problems facing Afghan youth and potential solutions. He also described his peers’ goal of transforming Afghanistan into a hub of regional connectivity and a rich cultural, artistic, and historic resource for the world.

Spotlight on the Swedish Committee for Afghanistan

The Swedish Committee for Afghanistan (SCA) has been in existence for more than 35 years. Its goal is to bring support and stability to Afghans who are struggling with the impact of war and violence on their country and their communities.

The organization is committed to maintaining operations in the country as long as necessary. The SCA currently serves as the second-largest channel for the development aid that is provided to Afghanistan by the Swedish government. Read on to learn more about the SCA and its activities in Afghanistan.

 

What is the SCA all about?

SCAlogoThe SCA was originally founded in response to the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan in 1979. In the early 1980s, the SCA was largely focused on raising funds for humanitarian support. It engaged in relief activities like providing essential health care and education to refugees and residents of occupied Afghanistan.

Over time, the SCA gradually expanded its work beyond the delivery of basic humanitarian services. It became a development organization with a much broader focus.

Today, the SCA’s vision is of an Afghanistan that is free from poverty, violence, and discrimination, where all citizens can live in dignity and enjoy equal opportunity and social justice. Supporting this vision are the SCA’s 12,000 members and individual donors in Sweden as well as the more than 6,000 Afghan employees who implement the SCA’s programs in 14 Afghan provinces.

 

What kinds of activities and programs does the SCA operate?

The organization aims to support some of Afghanistan’s most vulnerable groups, including children, people with disabilities, and rural and remote communities. The SCA operates programs and activities across four major focus areas:

 

  1. Healthcare

Access to healthcare and health outcomes in Afghanistan have improved in recent years. Despite this, the country’s health situation still remains a major challenge.

At present, the SCA is responsible for providing healthcare services and building healthcare capacity in Laghman province and Wardak province. In Afghanistan, it is typical for basic healthcare to be provided primarily by non-governmental organizations on a province-by-province basis.

Particular initiatives include conducting community-based health and hygiene education campaigns; training more health care providers, particularly midwives; and increasing health care access for people with disabilities.

Highlights from 2017 include: performing 2.6 million patient consultations; giving immunizations against diphtheria, tetanus, hepatitis b, and polio to 50,000 children under the age of 5; providing maternal care to more than 44,000 women; and establishing 31 more health clinics in the two provinces.

 

  1. Community Governance

In the Afghan countryside, many local communities have severely restricted opportunities for residents to effect change, make their voices heard, and assert their rights. This is the result of conflicts, corruption, and mismanagement at the municipal level.

To help empower these communities and their residents, the SCA works all around Afghanistan. It builds the capacity of local decision-making bodies and provides education and training to local authorities.

Highlights from 2017 include: providing support to nearly 370 community development councils, which in turn implemented 65 local projects; offering training in service delivery and community rights to members of local government; and conducting social audits of community projects in three provinces.

 

  1. Rural Livelihood

Rapid urbanization has taken place in Afghanistan over the last decade. Despite this, an estimated 75 percent of the country’s population still lives and works in rural areas. Unfortunately, many of these rural citizens, especially those in remote or isolated communities, are among Afghanistan’s most vulnerable people.

As a result of conflict, difficult environmental conditions, and natural disasters, poverty is endemic in most rural areas. As a result, the potential for long-term self-sufficiency is very limited.

To help rural citizens build secure livelihoods for themselves and their families and access new sources of income, the SCA facilitates the formation of self-help groups. These groups can save money together, develop business partnerships, and exchange knowledge and skills.

The SCA also provides practical, hands-on training in potentially income-generating activities such as poultry farming, vegetable farming, soap making, tailoring, and carpet weaving.

Highlights from 2017 include: forming over 200 new self-help groups; establishing 32 village-based saving and loan associations; granting micro-loans to more than 2,500 rural households; conducting an impact study revealing that previous loan recipients increased their household income by almost 29 percent.

 

  1. Education

Education is one of Afghanistan’s most important priorities. The SCA is just one of many organizations working to improve access to and quality of education for children all across the country. As a result of concerted efforts by these organizations and the government of Afghanistan, more Afghan children are attending school than ever. At present, nearly 70,000 children go to SCA-run schools.

Highlights from 2017 include: a 5 percent increase in the number of children enrolled in SCA primary schools; construction of seven new school buildings, 20 washrooms, and one resource center; the provision of special education to more than 1,600 children and adults with disabilities; and mainstream school inclusion for 600 children with physical disabilities and 2,000 children with intellectual and developmental disabilities.