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.

Fascinating Facts About Afghanistan’s Most Famous Poet You Need to Know

Of all the threads that make up the tapestry of Afghanistan’s rich culture, poetry is one of the most important. The history of poetry in Afghanistan dates back thousands of years; even today, Afghans live and breathe poetry in a way that few other people do.

While Afghanistan has produced countless powerful and passionate poets over the centuries, none are more famous than Rumi. He was a 13th-century poet and theologian who continues to fascinate readers all over the world more than 700 years after his death.

There is some debate around which nation or country Rumi “belongs” to – his exact birthplace is not known, with some scholars saying it was in present-day Afghanistan and others claiming it was present-day Tajikistan. He also spent much of his life in in present-day Turkey. Regardless, Afghans have always held him in their hearts as their own beloved poet. Read on for fascinating facts about this legendary figure.

 

Jalāl ad-Dīn Muhammad Rūmī

By İncelemeelemani – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=32889117

 

He came from a long line of preachers.

Rumi’s father and grandfather were both well-known Muslim preachers and Sunni jurists. Baha Valad, Rumi’s father, often led prayers at the local mosque, and was very disciplined about following religious rules and regulations. He was also deeply influenced by Sufism, the mystical branch of Islam that Rumi himself strongly identified with in his later years (in addition to his poetry, Rumi wrote several works of Sufi philosophy).

 

He reportedly saw angels as a boy.

After the poet’s death in 1273, many stories about his childhood and early life began to emerge, including the report that he had visions of angels as a small boy. While these episodes agitated the young Rumi, his father reassured him by saying that the angels appeared to him in order to offer favors. Many scholars view stories like these as a valuable clue to the interest in religion, spirituality, and poetic imagination that Rumi would become known for.

 

 

He spent much of his life away from his homeland.

Around the year 1210, Rumi’s father made the decision to move the family away from the town where Rumi was born, likely in response to the imminent invasion of Genghis Khan’s armies. After this move, Rumi never saw his homeland again.

Instead, he spent much of his life as a migrant, moving with his family through Uzbekistan, Iran, Syria, Saudi Arabia, and finally Turkey, where he lived for the last 50 years of his life. This experience exposed Rumi to a wide variety of languages and religious traditions. It also contributed to his embrace of the impermanence of things, which is reflected in much of his poetry.

 

One of his most important relationships was with his great teacher Shams of Tabriz.

By the time he was in his late thirties, Rumi was settled in Konya, Turkey. Despite being known as a respected jurist, scholar, and preacher, he wasn’t wholly satisfied with his life. It is at this point that he met Shams of Tabriz, a mystic and a religious seeker.

The two fell immediately into philosophical conversation, and each recognized a kindred spirit in the other. Over the next three years, the two men pursued what scholars describe as an “electric friendship,” during which time Shams of Tabriz introduced Rumi to the idea of considering music and poetry spiritual practices.

 

Rumi’s poetry was sparked by Shams’ disappearance.

The friendship between Rumi and Shams of Tabriz was counter to the social norms of the time and was a source of great strain for Rumi’s family and community. After their period of closeness, Shams of Tabriz disappeared from Rumi’s life. Scholars are still uncertain whether Shams left of his own volition or whether he was killed, possibly by a jealous son of Rumi’s. Whatever the reason behind Shams’ disappearance, Rumi turned to poetry in order to cope with his grief and suffering.

 

Much of Rumi’s poetry is regarded as a fusion of the sensual and the devotional.

Perhaps not surprisingly given that they are rooted in the loss of a beloved friend and spiritual teacher, Rumi’s poems often mix sensual and religious themes and imagery. His most famous work, the Mathanvi (also known as the Masnavi), is a spiritual epic – a six-book mystical poem that attempts to teach followers of Sufism how to become one with God. His thousands of other poems (including ghazals, or lyrical rhymed poems, and robaiyat, or four-line rhyming poems) explore both earthly and spiritual passion.

 

Rumi is credited with creating the dance of the whirling dervishes.

The dance of the whirling dervishes is a unique form of religious ceremony in which Sufis aim to connect to God by listening to spiritual music and spinning in circles. According to legend, this practice can be traced back to Rumi, who heard the rhythmic sound of metalworkers striking their hammers as he walked through a marketplace one day. At the same time, the workers were chanting “La ilaha ilallah” (or “There is no god but Allah”), and Rumi was so overcome with joy that he reached out his arms and began spinning in a circle.

A Look at the Amazing Online Library Helping Afghan Teachers

The most important investment that can be made in Afghanistan’s future is in teaching and learning. That’s the philosophy behind Darakht-e Danesh: a free and accessible online library of resources for Afghan educators that was launched in 2013. Read on to learn more about this amazing educational initiative that is helping transform the work of teachers all across Afghanistan.

 

What is the Darakht-e Danesh library?

Darakht-e Danesh libraryIn Dari, one of Afghanistan’s official languages, “Darakht-e danesh” means “knowledge tree,” and that’s exactly what this project aims to be. The Darakht-e Danesh Online Library for Educators is a unique repository of open educational resources geared toward anyone involved in furthering and improving education in Afghanistan, from teachers and teacher trainers to administrative staff and literacy workers. All kinds of open-source resources and materials suitable for use in Afghan classrooms are available through the library, including lesson plans, pedagogical tools, workbooks and exercises, experiments, reading texts, and curricula. Furthermore, to make the library as accessible and useful as possible for the Afghans who need it most, resources are available in both Dari and Pashto, as well as English.

 

Why is the Darakht-e Danesh library needed?

There have been huge advances in education in Afghanistan since 2001. Millions of children are back in school, new teacher training colleges are opening, and a reformed curriculum has been implemented nationwide. All of this progress has occurred under the umbrella of the National Education Strategy for Afghanistan, which was created by the government of Afghanistan in collaboration with a number of development partners, and which outlines educational policy objectives and initiatives for strengthening Afghanistan’s schools.

But for all these improvements, significant challenges still remain, and one of the biggest is a discouraging lack of resources. Few schools have amenities like libraries or science labs, a majority of students don’t have access to (or can’t afford) textbooks, and there is little material provided to teachers to help them cover the curriculum. In addition, when quality educational resources are obtainable, they are rarely available in Dari, Pashto, or other local languages. As for the teachers themselves, many educators in Afghanistan have no formal teacher training, nor any post-secondary education, though many organizations are presently working to change this.

The idea behind the Darakht-e Danesh library, therefore, is to provide much-needed resources and support to teachers—after all, investing in teachers is one of the best ways to invest in students. The aim of Darakht-e Danesh is to increase access to quality resources in local languages for Afghan educators, through an easy to use, centralized system. Another important goal is to encourage teachers to explore and consult a wide variety of resources in their educational practice, adapt available tools to their own situations, and share their own resources with fellow teachers around the country.

 

How does the Darakht-e Danesh library work?

To use the Darakht-e Danesh library, you must first sign up via the library’s simple, online registration form. Once registered, all you need is an Internet connection to freely browse, download, and use any of the resources in the online collection. For example, teacher educators can download resources from the site to use in teacher training colleges, while teachers can browse and print out lesson plans for their classrooms or workbooks for their own professional development activities. All resources are fully open source, and can all be freely copied and distributed. In addition, as the Darakht-e Danesh library operates on the principle of sharing, users are strongly encouraged to add to the online repository by uploading their own tools and resources.

At present, the Darakht-e Danesh collection boasts resources across a broad range of categories. Teachers can find educational information on subjects such as applied sciences, life sciences, mathematics, and language arts.

 

How can I support the Darakht-e Danesh library?

There are a number of important ways for people within and beyond Afghanistan to support the Darakht-e Danesh online library. These include:

Sharing resources—As mentioned above, helping expand the collection of Darakht-e Danesh is one of the best ways to support the project. Afghan teachers are encouraged to share Dari or Pashto digitized resources that they use in their own classrooms: typed lesson plans, tests, activities, games, experiments, or any other teaching resources that have proved helpful are all good additions to the online repository. Original ideas or those learned from speaking to or watching other teachers are welcome! The idea behind such resource sharing is to multiply the impact by allowing the resources to be used in many different classrooms at the same time.

Translation—The more local languages that educational resources are available in, the more accessible and the more useful they will be to all Afghans. Bilingual educators or volunteers, particularly Pashto speakers, are eagerly sought by the Darakht-e Danesh team to grow the collection by translating existing materials.