Afghan Program Supports Creativity and Cultural Diversity

UNESCOlogoIn recent years, Afghanistan has begun to recognize the important role that cultural heritage can play in developing a unified national identity that connects citizens beyond their perceived differences. For this reason, the government of Afghanistan created the National Program for Culture and Creative Economy (NPCE) with the support of the UNESCO office in Kabul. A broad initiative funded by a variety of donors, the NPCE covers eight vital thematic areas that are closely tied both to UNESCO’s areas of action in Afghanistan. In addition, they focus on the country’s needs and priorities as outlined in the government’s National Peace and Development Framework. Read on to learn more about these cultural and creative themes.


The Right to Culture

This thematic area focuses on the right to enjoy culture and creativity in conditions of equality and dignity without a fear of discrimination. Projects and initiatives in this category will focus on facilitating the right of all Afghans to access culture. Examples include supporting access to libraries, workshops, community and cultural centers, and other creative hubs; using cultural activities to help integrate returnees and refugees; and encouraging private sector partnerships to provide financial and other support to Afghanistan’s cultural sector.


Improved Higher Education for Culture and Creative Industries

While there is a national movement to re-center culture in Afghan society and to ensure that cultural heritage and creative industries are able to grow and thrive over the long term, this desire is hampered by the country’s lack of national cultural experts. Systemic and structured investments that target specific competencies are needed to fill these gaps. For instance, this thematic area could oversee the creation of new institutions such as schools of design or university departments for heritage conservation and management.


The Afghanistan Translation Movement

The goal of this thematic area is to launch a comprehensive knowledge movement in Afghanistan. Taking its name from the Islamic Golden Age—during which scholars gathered to translate the world’s classical knowledge into the Arabic and Persian languages—the Translation Movement aims to make the sources of today’s universal knowledge accessible to Afghan citizens in their own language. At a time when it is rare to find Dari or Pashto translations of university textbooks, for example, this thematic category strongly supports the right to culture and improvement in higher education.


Legal Framework and Policies for Culture

In order for Afghanistan’s creative and cultural industries to thrive—and for its vital cultural heritage to be protected and preserved—there must be streamlined and relevant policies and regulations in place under Afghan law. Through advocacy efforts and expert consultation, the NPCE is working to support the Afghan government through a full review and revision of existing cultural heritage laws.


Safeguarding the Cultural Heritage of Afghanistan

Afghanistan’s “built heritage”—its monuments, mosques, and ancient cities—are an important asset and testament to the country’s thousands of years of history. However, due to their isolation and dispersal, far too many cultural sites are not perceived as integral to the fabric of Afghanistan’s rapidly changing society. This thematic area aims to foster a new attitude toward built heritage by supporting and implementing projects (such as rehabilitation works in historical urban contexts) that benefit the community and, in doing so, demonstrate that cultural preservation can enhance development.


Architecture for Public Spaces

After decades of political and social upheaval that have affected all levels of society, Afghanistan is in the midst of a period of explosive growth: displaced people are returning to the country in large numbers, and more Afghans are transitioning from a rural to urban existence. This has taken a toll on Afghanistan’s cities, which are struggling to accommodate these sweeping changes without destroying built heritage. This thematic area of the NPCE works to support state and local urban planning authorities to preserve existing heritage on the one hand, and to promote better contemporary architecture on the other.


The Afghanistan Cultural Centers Network

Through this thematic category, UNESCO and the NPCE aim to use a networking strategy to resolve the disconnect that can arise over cultural development work at the policy and the project levels. Often, significant policy changes do not “trickle down” effectively to the local level, where they would be of most immediate benefit. Likewise, the short-term effects of project-level initiatives often do not make it past the local sphere to the policy level, where the lessons learned could be put to broader use. This thematic area aims to open up channels of information across local cultural centers in order to provide greater opportunities to better exchange ideas and influence policy creation.


The Afghanistan Creative Cities Network

In 2015, Bamiyan became the first city in Central Asia to join the UNESCO Creative Cities Network, an association of 116 international member cities committed to investing in creative industries and the creative economy. This thematic area aims to pave the way for more Afghan cities to join the network and benefit from its worldwide cooperation, intercultural dialogue, and support.

This Important Literacy Program Is Celebrating 10 Great Years

Earlier this year, UNESCO’s Enhancement of Literacy in Afghanistan (ELA) program celebrated its milestone 10th birthday. In 2008 UNESCO and Afghanistan’s Ministry of Education launched the large-scale ELA program to address the urgent challenge of improving Afghanistan’s seriously low literacy rates. Today, a decade later, ELA has helped more than 1.2 million Afghans acquire basic literacy and numeracy skills, along with new perspectives on education and new opportunities for a better future. Read on to learn more about this important program.


How did ELA get started?

According to Irina Bokova, the director-general of UNESCO from 2009 to 2017, literacy is the cornerstone for peace and development in the 21st century, underpinning all the essential skills—like knowledge acquisition, interpersonal communication, and social cooperation—that are at the very heart of modern society. But throughout Afghanistan’s decades of war, many Afghans were left out of the damaged formal education system, and mere survival was enough of a challenge for much of the country’s population. As a result, Afghanistan has one of the lowest literacy rates in the world, estimated at just 31 percent of the adult population (15 years of age and older). In addition, there is a sharp divide between literacy rates in urban and rural areas, with literate adults making up less than 2 percent of the population in some of Afghanistan’s most remote provinces.


school children


But with the greater stability that the country began to enjoy in the mid-2000s, literacy has re-emerged as an important national priority, which led to the development of the ELA program in 2008. The largest-scale literacy effort ever seen in Afghanistan, ELA was created with the ambitious aim of improving adult literacy, numeracy, and vocational skills levels in all of Afghanistan’s 34 provinces. Over the past 10 years, ELA has been funded by the governments of Japan, Sweden, Finland, and most recently, South Korea.


How was ELA implemented?

Since 2008, ELA has gone through three different phases of operation, with each phase growing in scale and scope. From 2008 to 2010, ELA I provided literacy courses to more than 250,000 youths and adults in nine different provinces; the central objective of this first phase was to promote literacy education and the acquisition of literacy skills as an important tool for poverty reduction and peacebuilding.

ELA II, which operated from 2010 and 2013, provided literacy courses to more than 325,000 youths and adults in 18 provinces and also offered vocational skills training to select literacy graduates. With this second phase, ELA aimed to provide learners with the opportunity and the tools to become more productive family members and citizens, as well as greater contributors to Afghanistan’s development.

Over the period of ELA’s third phase, which took place from 2014 to early 2018, the program provided literacy education to 630,000 youth and adults in all 34 Afghan provinces and worked more intensively with the Afghan government to build national capacity for implementing and leading literacy initiatives. The third phase of ELA also introduced a Skill-Based Literacy program, which focused on providing selected learners with important vocational skills.


How did UNESCO support ELA?

As a central partner in the ELA program, UNESCO provided support and interventions across a number of different focus areas, including:

Curriculum and materials development—UNESCO provided technical support to the Ministry of Education’s Literacy Department for the development of a comprehensive, harmonized curriculum framework for literacy education. This standardized framework allowed literacy providers all over the country to more easily meet the diverse needs of their learners. In addition, UNESCO supported the Literacy Department in developing a series of general literacy workbooks used for basic adult literacy education.



Monitoring and evaluation—The establishment, monitoring, and assessment of specific program outcomes is an important part of ensuring that ELA is functioning properly and achieving its intended objectives. UNESCO provided technical support to the Literacy Department as it worked to develop a Non-Formal Education Management Information System, which has since helped the department to collect, collate, analyze, and present program data more effectively and accurately.

Advocacy and communication—While providing literacy education is ELA’s main objective, an important part of achieving this goal involves promoting and raising the profile of literacy education among policymakers, opinion leaders, and other key stakeholders. UNESCO has spearheaded a number of important initiatives in literacy advocacy, such as the establishment of the UNESCO Bibigul Literacy Prize, which recognizes government and non-governmental organizations in Afghanistan for their outstanding work in providing adult literacy services.


What’s next for ELA?

After 10 years of successful operation, during which more than 1.2 million Afghans acquired critical basic literacy skills, ELA transitioned earlier this year into the Adult Literacy & Non-Formal Education program. Targeting youth and adults that have been left out of the formal education system, this new program is set to operate until 2022.

How Is IOM Supporting Afghans Who Return to the Country?

Pushed out of their nation of origin for reasons that include war and extreme poverty, Afghans have increasingly been returning home in recent years. From 2012 to 2017, nearly 3.5 million natives of the country made their way back into one of 15 Afghan provinces from abroad, according to the International Organization for Migration. This total includes more than 398,000 people migrating back to Afghanistan from Iran.

With the Iranian economy worsening, 2018 has seen these numbers spike even more. From January 1 to June 9, over 320,000 members of the Afghan diaspora migrated from Iran, a rate nearly double of that seen during the same period in 2017. Unfortunately, whether these individuals have been deported or chosen to cross back into Afghanistan of their own accord, many lack sufficient financial resources and require protection and support.


Reaching Out to Afghan Migrants in Need

IOMlogoThe International Organization for Migration (IOM) recognizes the challenges faced by returning Afghan migrants and is engaging in ongoing efforts to aid these individuals. Founded in 1951, IOM has a long history of assisting in efforts that benefit migrants.

In its earliest years, IOM focused on helping European governments identify where to resettle the approximately 11 million people displaced by World War II. The organization has expanded its mandate over the ensuing decades. Today, it holds distinction as the world’s foremost migration agency and is active in more than 150 countries.

These countries include Afghanistan, where IOM has maintained a presence since 1992. Among the organization’s largest missions, IOM Afghanistan commits itself to benefiting migrants and society by facilitating orderly and humane migration. Since 2007, the mission has specifically concentrated on supporting Afghans relocating from Iran. Through a network of transit and screening facilities located on the border between the two countries, IOM provides case management and humanitarian assistance to individuals whose gender, age, and health, among other factors, make them highly vulnerable.

For some of these highly vulnerable individuals, the issues they face are as serious as potential impending death. IOM estimates, in fact, that a minimum of 30 percent of all Afghans migrating from Iran require life-saving humanitarian aid. Unfortunately, as of May of 2018, the agency stands equipped to help only about 7 percent of these individuals.


Italian Donation Augments IOM Afghanistan’s Border Services

Recognizing the need for enhanced migration services in Afghanistan, Italy’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperated announced in May 2018 a donation of €1 million to IOM Afghanistan. The funding will help to pay for IOM’s humanitarian efforts in Afghanistan’s Nimroz and Herat provinces, both of which border Iran.

In Nimroz, the funding will specifically allow for the construction of a transit center. Through this facility, IOM will offer more effective registration and screening of migrants. In Herat, meanwhile, IOM health staff will undergo training that will enable them to provide psychosocial support to returning Afghans. The funding will further cover the cost of monitoring surveys used by IOM and its partners to shape humanitarian responses.


IOM Encourages Migration of Skilled Afghans from Iran

Of the 3 million Afghans living in Iran, many do not require humanitarian aid when relocating back home. In fact, they may have valuable qualifications that can potentially benefit their native country. Among these individuals is Foruzan Faghiri, a 29-year-old Afghan-born physicist who was profiled in June of 2018 by Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty.

Forced by war to flee to Iran when she was 3, Ms. Faghiri has gone on to find success in her adopted country. She invented an inexpensive, easy-to-use pollution monitor that has earned praise on both sides of the Afghanistan-Iran border. Yet, despite her accomplishments abroad, she still desires to return home to Afghanistan.

To help skilled individuals like Ms. Faghiri bring their expertise back to Afghanistan, IOM has created the Return of Qualified Afghans (RQA) program. Since its inception in 2001, the program has facilitated the homecoming of 1,665 members of the Afghan diaspora, including more than 600 Afghans who formerly resided in Iran.

These individuals, who have valuable qualifications in areas such as engineering, IT, and health care, return to Afghanistan with the intention of aiding in the recovery and development of their country of origin. This goal is shared by organizations like the Aga Khan Development Network.


RQA Program Celebrates Success, Earns Additional Funding

In 2017-18 alone, the RQA program enabled the return of 20 Afghans from Iran. To recognize this success, IOM held an event in Kabul in April of 2018.

At the event, participants in the RQA program shared their stories about relocating back to Afghanistan and being connected with positions at the country’s Ministry of Urban Development and Housing, Ministry of Energy and Water, and other agencies. Speakers reflected positively on their experience in the program and urged other members of the Afghan diaspora to participate.

Outside of celebrating the program and its participants, the event recognized the contributions of the government of Japan. Japan has funded the RQA program since 2008 and currently serves as the program’s sole sponsor. In remarks prepared for the event by Japan’s ambassador to Afghanistan, the East Asian nation announced that it will continue its support of the RQA program with a $1 million contribution in 2018-19.