3 Things You Need to Know about the Afghan Institute of Learning

afghaninstituteoflearningThe Afghan Institute of Learning (AIL) aims to create a brighter future for Afghanistan through a focus on education. In 1995, Dr. Sakena Yacoobi founded AIL to address what she perceived as a systemic problem. She observed that Afghans in need were not able to access basic education and health services and were subsequently less able to support themselves, a situation that impacted Afghan society as a whole. Furthermore, Dr. Yacoobi believed that the only way to address this problem was to adopt a holistic approach. As a result, AIL is built firmly on grassroots principles, and its work is guided by the belief that major societal change occurs at the community level by transforming lives. To date, more than 14 million Afghans have benefitted from AIL’s offerings. Here’s what you need to know about this visionary organization:

 

1. It offers a wide range of programs and services.

When AIL was founded, it focused primarily on basic education and health initiatives. However, AIL’s scope of offerings has grown considerably over the years, and the organization now provides a wide variety of programs and services across a number of different areas. Following are some examples of AIL’s projects:

Learning Centers—AIL’s unique Learning Center model is the cornerstone of its educational endeavors. Learning Centers are schools or other educational facilities that typically serve Afghanistan’s rural communities or urban neighborhoods that are underserved. They offer a wide range of classes and educational opportunities, ranging from university-level classes and literacy courses to workshops focused on crafts such as calligraphy and carpet-weaving. A community demand-driven project, Learning Centers are established specifically at the request of individual communities. Communities that want a Learning Center collaborate closely with AIL to plan, fund, and operate them. The ultimate goal is that each Learning Center will eventually become self-sufficient. Since 1996, AIL has opened or supported over 340 Learning Centers.

Teacher training—One of the challenges that has hampered the progress of Afghanistan’s educational system has been a lack of qualified, trained teachers. AIL works to fill this gap through intensive, small-group teacher training workshops. Subjects covered include the pedagogical basics of teaching, the creation of a good classroom environment, the development of curricula and lesson materials, and testing and evaluation.

Cultural programs—Preserving Afghanistan’s cultural heritage and reviving its cultural sector are important priorities for many organizations, including AIL. Since 2011, AIL has been working with local government officials in Herat to develop and implement a series of cultural projects and programs. They include the establishment of a library and research center at the Gawhar Shad Musalla Complex, a historic mausoleum, and a workshop series on traditional Afghan arts and crafts where master craftsmen teach skills such as miniature painting and tile-making at the recently restored Herat Citadel.

Legal services—In 2015, AIL established a Legal Clinic Project in Herat to provide indigent Afghans with legal support. Located near Herat’s courts and staffed by five experienced lawyers, the Legal Clinic Project helps people with legal difficulties who lack sufficient financial resources to access legal representation. Its mission is guided by five core values.

 

afghanistan education

 

2. Its mission is guided by five core values.

AIL founder Dr. Sakena Yacoobi firmly believes that the people her organization serves are the ones who know best what their own needs are, and that trust is the key to building relationships that lead to sustainable change. Consequently, she has placed these five core values at the heart of AIL’s work and mission:

Listening—According to Dr. Yacoobi, the most important thing that an organization can do to serve people in need is to listen. Only by listening is it possible to learn what is needed to improve a particular situation.

Community support—The full support of each community member is essential in developing programs that lead to lasting change. True transformation occurs when communities are part of the solution rather than simply recipients of charity.

Leadership—AIL is all about helping each person to achieve their goals by providing them with the tools and resources they need for success. In doing so, AIL demonstrates what it means to be a leader.

Evaluation and reflection—Assessing what has worked and what has not for new programs and initiatives is a vital component of AIL’s work. Building on successes and learning from losses helps communities to move closer toward their goals.

Innovation—While successful projects bring joy and fulfillment, AIL believes that innovation never ends. There is always something new to try or a new idea that provides inspiration.

 

3. Its founder has received widespread recognition.

AIL’s founder, Dr. Sakena Yacoobi, has received widespread international recognition. Through her tireless work with AIL, Dr. Yacoobi has earned recognition from leading institutions around the world. Among her many honors are the Opus Prize, the WISE Prize for Education, the Harold W. McGraw Prize in Education, and the Sunhak Peace Prize. In addition, she has received six honorary doctorates from various institutions.

ECOA Is an Afghan Environmental Organization You Need to Know about

ECOAIf Afghanistan is to have a stable and prosperous future, environmental conservation must be a vital part of the country’s ongoing development. This is the philosophy behind the Ecology and Conservation Organization of Afghanistan (ECOA), a fully Afghan-owned and -operated nonprofit NGO. Founded in 2010, ECOA works to protect and rehabilitate Afghanistan’s environment and alleviate poverty in the country through sustainable natural resource management and community-based development initiatives. Read on to learn more.

 

What are ECOA’s mission and vision?

“Protect, connect, and support” are the three key watchwords of ECOA’s mission. In order to secure a sustainable future for Afghanistan’s land and people, ECOA works to conserve biological diversity, promote the sustainable use of renewable natural resources, reduce pollution and wasteful consumption, and build sustainable livelihoods.

All of these efforts are geared toward realizing ECOA’s future vision of a prosperous Afghan society that embraces stewardship of and responsibility to nature. As ECOA imagines it, by 2050 Afghanistan will have accomplished a number of goals. First, it will have conserved biodiversity in all of its ecosystems and understood that economic development cannot come at the cost of a net loss of biodiversity while embracing and implementing sustainable social and economic patterns and eliminating—or mitigating—serious ecological threats.

 

Who runs ECOA?

While there are a number of environmental and conservation organizations operating in Afghanistan, ECOA is distinctive in that it is one of the few to be entirely Afghan-run. The organization’s core team consists of the following:

Sardar Amiri, founder and head of operations—Amiri is a native of Afghanistan’s Bamyan region. His passion for environmentalism was inspired in part by his love of the Baba mountains, where he loves to hike.

Islamudin Farhank, project support officer—Another Bamyan native, Farhank has a background in political science. He aims to use his knowledge to support environmental policymaking that benefits Afghanistan’s vulnerable communities.

Mohammad Din, finance officer—In addition to his passion for hiking and ecology, Din is dedicated to environmental conservation. He believes that preserving the environment is an essential part of preserving the wealth of current and future generations.

Habiba Amiri, executive director—A co-founding member of ECOA and a native of Bamyan, Amiri also enjoys the wilderness of the Baba Mountains. She is dedicated to improving family livelihoods through ECOA projects.

In addition to the operational team, ECOA is supported by a variety of donors and partners. These include Afghanistan’s National Environmental Protection Agency, the Global Environment Facility, the United Nations Environment Programme, the Government of Finland, and the British Ecological Society.

 

What kinds of projects has ECOA implemented?

ECOA has created and carried out a wide range of projects since its establishment in 2010. In general, the organization’s approach prioritizes community participation: As it implements projects, ECOA typically takes on the role of facilitator, providing training, support, and coordination to communities in their conservation and environmental efforts.

These are some of the projects that ECOA has developed:

The Bamyan Environmental Conservation Center (BEC)—Currently in development, the BEC is a vital hub for all of ECOA’s activities. The multi-purpose indoor and outdoor space will serve as a nexus for environmental education and knowledge sharing tailored to the different knowledge, experience, and needs of diverse local stakeholders.

The BEC is home to a fully cataloged physical and online library on nature conservation and natural resource management; exhibition rooms for educational displays, workshops, discussions, and theater and film events; regular demonstrations of green technologies and sustainable livelihood options; and an herbarium and medicinal plant garden.

Beekeeping Empowerment Education Sustainability (BEES)—This project was implemented under the umbrella of a large-scale program targeting Bamyan’s agriculture sector. The aim of the program was to provide local farmers with innovative agricultural technologies and business support to help them transform their livelihoods. ECOA’s contribution involved working with a number of agriculture cooperatives to establish a community-based beekeeping industry, with the goal of alleviating poverty at the grassroots level. As with all of ECOA’s work, the BEES project sought to empower local community members by encouraging meaningful involvement at every stage, from sourcing raw materials to marketing the products of the beekeeping process.

The Darwin Initiative—As part of the Darwin Initiative, a mechanism funded by the UK government that helps emerging economies meet their Convention on Biological Diversity objectives, ECOA operated a program in the Bamyan region to help prevent environmental degradation and other problems through sustainable fuel interventions. Bamyan province is an important area for biodiversity as it is home to many unique species of plants, shrubs, and trees, but the rural people who live in the area use these species for firewood. This harvesting disrupts the natural structure of the plant community and can lead to serious environmental consequences; in addition, the open fires contribute to indoor air pollution and human health issues.

To help address this problem, ECOA implemented a number of sustainable fuel interventions, such as providing local communities with specially designed clean cookstoves as well as bio-briquettes and solar water heaters (to reduce the demand for firewood).

Spotlight on the SMILE Project from Concern Worldwide

concernworldwideA bare and rocky hillside in Afghanistan’s remote northeast is possibly the last place you would expect to see a thriving forest of fruit trees. But thanks to the support of the global charity Concern Worldwide and the efforts of a dedicated community, this is exactly what you’ll find in Kozur, a small village in the Rustaq district, close to the Tajikistan border. Read on to learn more about the unique project that is helping transform the lives of thousands of rural Afghans.

 

The challenge

The environment in which Kozur village is situated is harsh and hostile. The village sits in a flood plain and has repeatedly suffered losses of homes, land, and animals to frequent flash floods. Heavy snowfall is frequently a problem in the winter, as is lack of rainfall in the summer; when these environmental conditions are combined with the naturally poor soil fertility in the region, the result is an environment that makes it very difficult to grow good crops or raise healthy livestock. In addition, Kozur, like many other communities in the Rustaq district, was decimated by the 1998 earthquake that claimed the lives of more than 4,500 people.

As a result of all these factors, a cycle of poverty has taken hold in Kozur and has proved very difficult to break. The life of Hakim, a 60-year-old local volunteer with Concern Worldwide (whose name has been changed for security purposes), reveals the struggles that many Kozur villagers have had to contend with: with a wife and four children to support, Hakim spent many years working away from home, often as a laborer in the Darqad district’s rice fields, where he was paid in rice or sometimes cash. Although he has land in Kozur, he did not have enough income or agricultural knowledge to grow anything other than onions and potatoes. Often, he and his family would have to choose between selling the produce or eating it: they would go hungry if they sold the produce, but if they ate it, they would not have the money for firewood and other basic staples to survive the winter.

According to Hakim, what made all the difference to him and his family was the strong sense of community spirit in Kozur. During lean periods, neighbors would help each other as best they could with gifts of food or cash, particularly when there were families with children to be supported. And it is precisely these community values of generosity and cooperation that are now helping transform Kozur’s fortunes through Concern Worldwide’s SMILE project.

 

The project

Afghanistan children

Image courtesy Todd Huffman | Flickr

Funded by the European Union and implemented by Concern Worldwide and community volunteers like Hakim, the SMILE project—Sustainable Management for Improved Livelihoods and Environment—is aligned with some of Concern’s top priorities, including reducing poverty by increasing access to food and improving livelihoods by providing individuals and communities with the tools and training they need to change their own lives.

The main focus of the SMILE project has been the creation and maintenance of a community forest of almond, apricot, pistachio, and mulberry trees. Like Hakim, many villagers did not previously know how to utilize their land to get the most value from it; Concern’s solution was to provide the village with the training and tools needed to grow and market higher-value crops. To launch the SMILE project, Concern provided technical guidance, training sessions, saplings, alfalfa seeds, and cement, and constructed a number of check dams to protect the newly planted forest (later in the project, the Concern team also installed an extra reservoir to improve irrigation).

In their turn, the villagers prepared the land, planted the saplings, and excavated and helped build the reservoir and water pipelines. On an ongoing basis, they maintain the forest through regular pruning and inspections for disease and pests. Volunteers like Hakim, who have completed additional training in forest management techniques, act as stewards and keepers of the forest.

 

The outcomes

The Kozur community forest is a true community project in the best sense of the term. Everyone in the village works together to pick and prepare the produce during harvest time, and all profits from the forest go straight back to the community (rather than to individuals) for improvement projects like water systems and pumps. Alongside these community benefits, villagers are able to use the new skills and tools they have acquired through the project to enhance their own personal livelihoods. Hakim, for example, has transformed his former plots of onions and potatoes into a fruit tree nursery that provides him with saplings that he can sell at the market: the money he makes has allowed him to build a house and provide for his family’s educational and medical needs. And just as his neighbors helped him when times were difficult, Hakim now helps his neighbors by providing them with fruit tree cuttings, donating saplings to local schools and mosques, and conducting community training sessions.