Spotlight on the International Rescue Committee in Afghanistan

A global organization dedicated to responding to the world’s most challenging humanitarian crises, the International Rescue Committee (IRC) has been helping people rebuild their lives after conflict and natural disaster for more than 80 years. And while the IRC currently operates in more than 30 countries around the globe, it’s in Afghanistan that the organization’s efforts have been the most longstanding.

Read on to learn more about the IRC, its history in Afghanistan, and what the organization has planned for its future efforts in the country.

 

What is the International Rescue Committee?

IRC logoA non-governmental humanitarian aid, relief, and development organization, the IRC provides both emergency aid and long-term assistance to refugees and others displaced or affected by war, persecution, and natural disaster. By focusing on key areas like health, safety, education, economic well-being, and decision-making power, the IRC works to help the world’s most vulnerable people survive and recover from crises and gain control of their futures.

 

How long has the IRC been working in Afghanistan?

Within weeks of the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan in 1979, the IRC was on the ground helping support the waves of Afghan refugees flooding into neighboring countries. The organization has continued to provide Afghanistan with relief and development assistance ever since. Some key dates and highlights from the IRC’s more than 30 years in Afghanistan include:

1980 – John Whitehead, then the board president of the IRC, journeyed to the makeshift refugee camps springing up just beyond the borders of Afghanistan. The situation he witnessed, in which more than 5 million Afghans had fled their homeland only to encounter terrible living conditions outside it, proved to be the catalyst for the creation of more permanent IRC operations in the country.

1988 – This year saw the official establishment of IRC operations in Afghanistan, although by this time the IRC had already been operating an extensive relief program in Afghan refugee camps for some years. Mobile clinics and dispensary tents, vocational and self-help programs, and comprehensive educational programs were some of the IRC’s most important contributions to improving the lives of Afghans displaced by conflict.

1989 – Following the Soviet withdrawal from Afghanistan, many aid agencies also left the country. The IRC was one of the few organizations to remain and to continue operating under the new regime. Working with a dedicated team of Afghan national staff members, the IRC helped with significant rebuilding efforts, including making repairs to roads and irrigation systems and establishing public health and sanitation facilities.

Early 2000s – Following yet another regime change at the start of the new millennium, millions of returning refugees and internally displaced Afghans began to make their way back to their homes. During this period, the IRC intensified its efforts to help Afghanistan rebuild and repair critical infrastructure.

2007 – Education has always been an important tool for the IRC to help people affected by crisis to regain control over their lives and build a better future for themselves. In Afghanistan in 2007, for example, the IRC trained more than 1,000 new teachers, and helped roughly 11,000 students enroll in 400 schools. In addition, nearly 2,000 people graduated from IRC-supported vocational programs.

 

What’s next for the IRC in Afghanistan?

Now that Afghanistan is beginning to establish and sustain modest but important gains, the IRC’s experience and expertise are more critical than ever. In 2017, the IRC published a strategic action plan for Afghanistan, outlining its program priorities through 2020 and detailing the key focus areas and actions that will help Afghanistan move into a new era of stability and prosperity. Particular desired outcomes of this plan include:

Education – Building on its extensive experience in coordinating community-based education for children, the IRC aims to ensure that Afghan children aged 6 to 14 have the opportunity to fully develop their literacy, numeracy, and social-emotional skills. Achieving this goal will involve training more teachers, supplying educational materials to classrooms, and partnering with the Ministry of Education to create an evidence-based assessment program to determine the quality of Afghan education services.

Health – Because inadequate sanitation and water supply access are leading causes of disease, the IRC plans to build safe and accessible water and sanitation facilities in the nine Afghan provinces in which the organization currently operates. Community-oriented hygiene awareness and disease prevention programs will also help curtail the spread of illness.

Economic well-being – All Afghans should have the opportunity to earn an income that is sufficient to meet basic needs, build assets, and save for the future. To this end, the IRC will continue to offer skills-based training and apprenticeship programs that prepare participants for skilled, high-demand jobs in Afghanistan’s new economy.

Power and decision-making – The IRC aims to ensure that Afghan citizens have the knowledge and power to influence the decisions that affect them. Community education programs around critical issues like property rights and land expropriation are a key component of this objective.

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.