What You Need to Know about LEARN & Play

right to play logoChildren learn best through play. That’s the major principle behind Right to Play, a global organization that uses sports and games as tools to help teach kids the essential life skills they need to overcome challenges like poverty, conflict, and disease, and to create better futures for themselves and their communities.

Recently, in its capacity as secretariat to the Sport for Development and Peace International Working Group (SDP IWG, an initiative of the United Nations), Right to Play published a report showcasing a number of different SDP IWG initiatives and looking at the transformative effect these programs had on local children and their communities.

Among these programs was LEARN & play, a program launched in Kabul and Parwan province and spearheaded by the German development organization AfghanistanHilfe Paderborn. Read on to learn more.

What were the objectives of LEARN & play?

With more than half of Afghanistan’s entire population currently under the age of 18, initiatives that target children’s welfare and development are an absolutely vital part of the country’s rebuilding process. Street children are a special focus of many initiatives, as estimates indicate that in Kabul alone, as many as 20,000 children are living on the street with no permanent home or adult care.

The objectives of LEARN & play were to provide disadvantaged children in Kabul with the opportunity to attend school regularly and to participate in sports and games, to provide street children in particular with a safe environment for learning and skills development, and to teach them skills essential to future success like reading and writing and computer skills. The program also sought to teach participants about cooperation and conflict resolution skills through football.

How was the LEARN & play program designed?

The target demographic for LEARN & play was children aged 8 to 12 who were either living on the street, had been orphaned, or were from struggling single-parent homes. In Afghanistan, many children who fit this description have to help provide financial support for themselves and their families, and are therefore able to attend school. Furthermore, life on the streets carries many risks, including the greater likelihood that children will become involved in crime and drugs.

The LEARN & play initiative used football to attract children to the program; the idea being that the program’s participants would come for the football and stay for the academic training. As part of the program, children received one meal; three hours of academic lessons in fundamental subjects like reading, writing, computers, and English; and two hours of football practice.

All classes were taught by instructors approved by Afghanistan’s Ministry of Education and were held in the safe environment of buildings belonging to AfghanistanHilfe Paderborn, the program’s lead organization. Two centers for the program were established—one in Kabul and one in the eastern province of Parwan—and classes were held in shifts so that more children could attend. For maximum effectiveness, eligibility for the LEARN & play program required a five-year commitment from the participants.

What organizations were involved in the delivery of LEARN & play?

While AfghanistanHilfe Paderborn was responsible for overall administration and project coordination, a number of other groups provided additional support for LEARN & play. These included the Afghanistan Football Association, which organized football teams and tournaments; Handicap International, which provided training clinics for team coaches; Afghanistan’s Ministry of Education, which oversaw the teachers employed in LEARN & play’s non-formalized schools; and the Fédération Internationale de Football Association (FIFA), which provided financial support for the curriculum design of the program, as well as much-needed moral support for project staff.

What impact did LEARN & play have?

LEARN & play reached approximately 600 of Afghanistan’s most disadvantaged children: 400 in Kabul and 200 in Parwan province. At the start of the project, only about 10% of participating children were enrolled in a formal school; by the end of the project, that figure had grown to 60%.

Based on reports from project staff members, LEARN & play participants developed greater self-confidence and became more energetic and more cooperative as a result of their football training. Because of the teamwork involved in playing football, children also had plenty of opportunities to practice problem solving and positive conflict resolution, and to boost their communication and interpersonal skills by interacting with a diverse range of people, both peers and adults, with whom they would not likely have had contact before the program.

The children also enjoyed greater recognition from their neighbors and peers as a result of LEARN & play’s respected community status; street children and orphans are often marginalized in Afghan society. Finally, LEARN & play provided important health benefits for participants, both through the provision of a daily meal and through the regular physical activity at football sessions, which helped improve their strength, stamina, and coordination.

What You Need to Know about Traditional Islamic Gardens

For well over a thousand years, gardens have occupied a special place in Islamic culture. Viewed as an earthly symbol of paradise, Islamic gardens can trace their origins as far back as the 7th century, when Persian gardens were established. Today, beautiful examples of historic Islamic gardens can be found throughout the Middle East, Europe, and Asia, including the gardens of the Taj Mahal in India and the Alhambra palace in southern Spain.

In Afghanistan, the most famous example of a traditional Islamic garden is Bagh-e Babur, or “Babur’s Gardens”. The beautifully restored gardens in the heart of Kabul were originally designed and created by the Mughal emperor Babur approximately 500 years ago. Following a long period of neglect and disrepair, a comprehensive restoration of the gardens was launched in 2002 with the support of the Aga Khan Development Network. Today, Babur offers locals and tourists alike a glimpse of a peaceful and beautiful part of the Islamic cultural heritage.

Like most other traditional Islamic gardens, Bagh-e Babur carefully follows the key principles upon which all such gardens are based, incorporating the vital design elements common to Islamic gardens of all sizes. Read on to learn more about how these gardens were designed.

Basic Principles

Islamic gardens are much more than pleasant green spaces. They are sophisticated, living cultural artifacts that reflect key elements of Islamic tradition and culture. Following are seven important principles on which all Islamic gardens are based.

gardenDiversity—Islamic gardens are unique in that they bring together disparate elements while at the same time celebrating their distinctiveness. In particular, gardens explore and reflect the connection between urban and natural, tangible and symbolic, and physical and metaphysical.

Beauty—In the Islamic culture, beauty is a goal rather than a luxury. Aesthetic considerations are therefore of prime importance in garden design, encompassing everything from the types of plants that are chosen to how the garden structures are decorated.

Conservation—This is an important tenet of Islam. In garden design, it manifests itself in the careful consideration of how water in a garden is used and controlled.

Context—Islamic gardens should not be viewed in isolation. Rather, the gardens’ design should be created in response to the surrounding architecture and planning elements, ensuring that they will fit in harmoniously with their environment.

Individualism—While they are common spaces, Islamic gardens are designed to encourage visitors to have their own individual experiences with and their own responses to the design.

Multi-functionality—The ideal Islamic garden serves many purposes. It should provide food and water for visitors, as well as for the animals and birds that live in it. Its trees and shrubs should not only produce fruit and herbs, but also shade and scent. A range of both active and passive activities should be possible in the garden.

Moderation—Islamic gardens demonstrate restraint and moderation in that they are all about finding a balance between humans and nature.

Design Elements

A number of key design elements are common to all Islamic gardens, regardless of their size and location. They include:

Water—Water is at the heart—both literally and metaphorically—of Islamic gardens. Given that the gardens developed in arid countries and were typically designed by desert dwellers, water assumes an almost sacred importance. Indeed, water is actually a more important part of an Islamic garden than the plants. Many Islamic gardens feature a fountain at the center with four water courses radiating outwards. The water courses are often lined with green or blue tiles that enhance the interplay between water and light.

The number four—Four is an important number in the Islamic culture, representing the four directions and four elements that form the order of the universe. As such, traditional Islamic gardens are laid out in a quadripartite design. That is, they are shaped like a rectangle divided into four parts (the divisions are usually created by the water courses described above). The layout is traditionally referred to as “chahar-bagh,” a term derived from Persian and meaning “four gardens.”

Greenery and shade—The geometric lines of the traditional Islamic garden are softened by greenery, which is planted first and foremost to create shade. Fruit trees are some of the most common plants featured in Islamic gardens, as they not only provide crucial shade, but also nourishment and a pleasant aroma.

Walls and gates—An Islamic garden, much like paradise in the Islamic tradition, is an enclosed space protected by walls and accessible by gates. In physical terms, enclosing a garden serves three main purposes: it helps to keep out the encroaching desert and allows the area within it to be organized and maintained more effectively, it concentrates visitors’ attention on the garden rather than its surroundings, and it designates the garden as a special area separate from its environment.

What You Need to Know About the Aga Khan Development Network

The Aga Khan Development Network (AKDN) is one of the most important philanthropic organizations currently working in Afghanistan. To date, with the support of various donors and partners, AKDN has channeled nearly $750 million into Afghanistan’s rebuilding process.

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Read on for a look at some of the diverse areas of activity that have been supported by these vital contributions.

Education

AKDN works to prioritize all levels of education in Afghanistan, from pre-school and early childhood development through post-secondary learning. Some of the many educational initiatives that AKDN has helped implement in the country include the establishment of more than 200 government and community based pre-school centers in remote and rural areas as well as the corresponding establishment of two Teacher Resource Centers to provide support and training to local early childhood educators.

afghanistan education

Additionally, AKDN established an intervention program for the government of Afghanistan to help increase and expand national capacity to deliver, support, and promote quality education. It also provides scholarships to assist students at the post-secondary level in gaining a quality university or college education.

Health

Providing even basic health care for all of Afghanistan’s citizens has been a challenge in recent decades. With health care facilities having been damaged or destroyed by conflict, to say nothing of a doctor-patient ratio of just two doctors for every 10,000 people, it is extremely difficult for many Afghans to get the care they need. AKDN began work to address this problem in 2002, when the organization launched a program dedicated to building a more effective health care delivery system.

This program has taken a four-tiered approach to care delivery: volunteer community health workers are trained to provide health education and minor treatments; Basic Health Centers, typically established in remote or rural locations, offer essential curative care as well as maternal and child care; Comprehensive Health Centers offer diagnostic, treatment, and referral services as well as emergency maternal care; and Referral Hospitals provide secondary care and other specialized services.

Rural Development

The majority of Afghanistan’s citizens still live in rural areas; however, residents of these areas are often left behind by development activities that concentrate on less isolated and more densely populated regions. AKDN works to support and connect these rural communities through a range of different programs and activities.

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These efforts include: participatory governance programs, which aim to empower local communities to identify their own needs and create and implement their own development projects; programs on agriculture and natural resources management, which move beyond simply distributing agricultural commodities and instead focus on providing farmers with the tools and education they need for a sustainable livelihood; and initiatives to improve access to finance, so that rural communities and families without basic financial services can save for the future and protect their existing assets.

Humanitarian Assistance

Unfortunately, war and conflict are not the only difficulties that affect Afghanistan; the country is highly prone to multiple natural disasters as well. Earthquakes are a frequent occurrence in Afghanistan’s mountainous northern regions. Additionally, landslides often follow earthquakes, and floods are common in the spring due to heavy rains and melting snow.

AKDN works with Focus Humanitarian Assistance, which has been operating in Afghanistan since 1996, to help provide disaster relief efforts and to assist at-risk communities with preventative measures. Specific initiatives in this area include avalanche preparedness, which trains local villages on avalanche safety and establishes weather monitoring posts to gather data needed to predict the likelihood of avalanches striking; the management of emergency stockpiles, which can currently provide food and relief for over 2,000 families in some of Afghanistan’s highest-risk areas; and the creation of community emergency response teams, which help get relief as quickly as possible to areas hit by disaster without having to wait for mobilization efforts from farther away.

Cultural Development

AKDN takes its role in helping conserve and restore Afghanistan’s cultural heritage very seriously. To date, through its Aga Khan Trust for Culture branch, AKDN has restored and rehabilitated dozens of historic public buildings, public open spaces, pedestrian walkways, houses, and monuments in three Afghan cities, including the famous Babur’s Gardens in Kabul.

cultural development

Another important cultural initiative recently launched by AKDN is the establishment of two schools of classical Afghan music, one in Kabul and one in Herat. These institutions help revitalize Afghanistan’s rich musical tradition, which is currently in danger of disappearing.

Microfinance

As of 2013, it was estimated that only 9 percent of adult Afghans held an account at a formal financial institution. To address this challenge, AKDN was working to establish microcredit programs in Afghanistan as early as 2002.

In 2004, the organization launched First Microfinance Bank. It was the first of its kind under Afghanistan’s then-newly-developed regulatory structure as well as a pioneering force in connecting underserved Afghans with innovative and flexible microfinance products. These, in turn, help drive vital economic development, particularly in rural areas.