A Journey through 10 of the Most Beautiful Cities in Afghanistan

Standing for millennia at the crossroads of multiple peoples and cultures, Afghanistan has a unique cultural heritage that is as rich and diverse as it is ancient. In an area smaller than the US state of Texas, hundreds upon hundreds of spectacular monuments, remarkable archaeological sites, and stunning architectural creations are testimony to an extraordinary civilization. And there’s no better way to experience this wide array of cultural treasures than by exploring Afghanistan’s most beautiful cities, many of which are so full of history and heritage that they serve as living museums. Here are 10 you’ll want to learn more about.

 

  1. Kabul

Afghanistan’s largest city and its national capital, Kabul has existed for more than 3,500 years. It’s therefore hardly surprising that the city is home to some of the country’s most notable historic sites, including the legendary Babur’s Gardens. But don’t think that Kabul is entirely focused on the past: the city has recently embarked on a number of new architectural projects, like the Abdul Rahman Mosque, which was designed in the traditional Islamic style but was just built in 2012.

  1. Balkh

Often called “the mother of cities,” Balkh is considered by many to be one of the oldest cities in the world. Located in northern Afghanistan at the crossroads between the Middle East and eastern Asia, Balkh has a history of strong Buddhist influence, which is visible in the ruins of many Buddhist fortifications and constructions that still stand in the city today.

 

  1. Kandahar

The second-largest city in Afghanistan, Kandahar rests on the site of another city that Alexander the Great founded nearly 2,500 years ago. Today, Kandahar plays an important role in Afghanistan’s spiritual life: the city’s Friday Mosque, a deeply holy Islamic place of worship, is often called “the heart of Afghanistan.”

 

  1. Mazar-i-Sharif

Mazar-i-Sharif is home to the Blue Mosque, an absolutely stunning structure that was built in its present form more than five centuries ago. Frequently described as “an oasis for peace,” the mosque is so extraordinary that it’s not surprising to learn that it originated in a dream: according to legend, a Middle Eastern scholar dreamed that the bones of a cousin of the prophet Muhammad were resting in northwestern Afghanistan. Fascinated by this story, the sultan at the time built a shrine to honor this cousin, and the city of Mazar-i-Sharif gradually grew up around it.

 

  1. Herat

Located in western Afghanistan, Herat was one of the country’s most impressive ancient cities, and its legacy is all the more exceptional given that it has been destroyed and rebuilt several times during its history. Today, the Old City of Herat is home to a spectacular collection of medieval Islamic buildings, including the Great Mosque complex, which includes a craftsmen’s shop, where visitors can see artisans at work creating the tiles and mosaics used in the restoration and upkeep of the structure.

 

  1. Bamiyan

Another city whose development was strongly impacted by Buddhist expansion, Bamiyan is a rich archaeological mix of Persian, Greek, Turkish, Indian, and Chinese influence. At present, the city is best known as the former home of the famous Buddhas of Bamiyan—giant Buddha statues that were unfortunately destroyed in 2001. Since that time, another giant statue has been discovered, along with cave paintings from the 5th and 9th centuries.

 

  1. Bagram

Located north of Kabul, the town of Bagram may be small, but in ancient times it was an important stop for merchants traveling along the Silk Road from India. The town was originally a Persian settlement, but its development was later influenced by Greek styles of city planning and by Arab rulers; as a result, the art and architecture of the community reflect the typical Central Asian mix of styles that has been dubbed “Greco-Buddhist.”

 

  1. Samangan

This small town in northern Afghanistan was once a medieval caravan stop. Samangan is best known for its weekly market, an ancient tradition that continues to be extremely popular. The market specializes in traditional Afghan musical instruments built by local artisans.

  1. Jalalabad

This eastern city played an important role in the establishment of modern Afghanistan as it was used as a military campaign base by Ahmad Shah Durrani, the 18th-century ruler whom most regard as the founder of the contemporary Afghan state. Somewhat unusually for Afghanistan, Jalalabad boasts large green areas and surrounding water, which are an important element of the city’s unique beauty. There is also a great deal of striking architecture in Jalalabad, including the Mausoleum of King Amanullah Khan and the more modern Nangarhar University.

 

  1. Faizabad

The northeastern city of Faizabad has historically been cut off from the rest of Afghanistan due to poor road connections. As a result, the local culture is remarkably well preserved. Today, there are still two functioning bazaars in Faizabad, where residents trade diverse items from cloth and cutlery to tea and sugar.

6 Things You Should Know about Teach for Afghanistan

Teach for AfghanistanIn an effort to improve access to quality education, many countries have drafted talented young graduates to serve as teachers in areas that are underserved. Today, this model is taking off on a global scale due to the efforts of Teach for All, an international nonprofit that has spent the last decade working with local partners to connect motivated and inspiring teachers with students in some of the world’s most disadvantaged countries, including Afghanistan. Read on for six facts about this organization and its local affiliate, Teach for Afghanistan.

  1. Teach for All is a global network with local roots.

Teach for All believes that meaningful and sustainable change needs to be led by people rooted in their culture who understand the unique challenges and opportunities facing youth in their own communities. That’s why Teach for All doesn’t bring in teachers from elsewhere, but works with local partners to recruit and place community-oriented educators who themselves have experienced the inequities that they aim to address in the classroom.

  1. Teach for All supports teachers so that they can support students.

Teachers are most effective in the classroom when they have received comprehensive instruction and training, something that is not always the case in countries or regions with struggling postsecondary education systems. Teach for All supports participants by offering training and ongoing coaching opportunities so that teachers have the opportunity to develop the skills and knowledge that will enable them to contribute to their communities.

  1. Teach for All spans six continents and 46 countries.

Teach for All has network partners in countries ranging from Argentina and Armenia to Uganda and Ukraine. Since each one is locally led, there are some differences between networks. However, all of the partners share a commitment to a number of key program principles—such as accelerating alumni leadership and driving measurable impact—and to some common organizational design features that include building public and private sector partnerships and ensuring diverse representation and inclusiveness.

  1. Teach for All networks share five core values.

In order to maintain a sense of cohesiveness and shared purpose when working across borders, Teach for All networks are guided by five core values: a sense of possibility, or the belief in the potential of all children to realize their aspirations; a dedication to being locally rooted but globally informed; a commitment to constant learning and continuous education, reflection, and improvement; diversity and inclusiveness, which seeks to ensure full participation from people of all backgrounds; and interdependence, which recognizes our shared humanity and interconnectedness.

  1. Teach for Afghanistan is led by a former Teach for India volunteer.

school children

Rahmatullah Arman, the CEO of Teach for All’s global network partner Teach for Afghanistan, was first introduced to Teach for All as a volunteer in Pune, India, where he pursued postsecondary studies after having completed secondary school in Kabul. While at the University of Pune, where he earned a bachelor’s degree in international relations and a master’s degree in international human resources management, Arman ranked among the highest-achieving students and earned a number of national and international awards at various conferences and debates. After completing his studies in 2011, Arman returned to Afghanistan, where he served in several positions with government and private sector organizations. Eventually, however, he was so inspired by his volunteer experience with Teach for All—and so dismayed by the state of his home country’s education system—that he became determined to bring the organization’s mission and model to Afghanistan.

  1. Teach for Afghanistan’s first cohort was comprised of high achievers.

In 2013, Rahmatullah Arman launched Teach for Afghanistan with the support of Teach for All. At that time, Afghanistan was still struggling to recover from decades of civil conflict and challenging reconstruction. At the time, 3.6 million children were not attending school and 75% of students had dropped out by the age of 15. Moreover, half of the country’s teachers lacked qualifications. Despite this, Arman said in interviews that he was inspired by the hope and determination that he witnessed, such as schools crowded with students even though there were no chairs or desks, and families risking explosions or other security dangers just to take their children to school.

In the face of all this, Arman was determined to provide the children of Afghanistan with not only an education, but a high-quality one led by Afghans themselves. In order to achieve this goal, he set high standards for the first cohort of Teach for Afghanistan participants. Applicants were required to have a degree with marks of at least 75%, as well as communication skills and leadership experience. For the 80 available positions, Arman received 3,000 applications. All of the applicants fulfilled the criteria, and the majority were graduates of Afghan universities.

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.