5 Charities Helping Make Afghanistan a Better Place to Be a Kid

Modern Afghanistan is not an easy place for a child to grow up. As is all too often the case, war hits children especially hard; reports from recent years estimate that more than 1 million children across Afghanistan have been left orphaned or abandoned as a result of decades of civil conflict.

However, many charitable organizations, both within Afghanistan and internationally, are working hard to build a better, brighter, and safer future for Afghanistan’s children. Read on for a look at five organizations that are putting Afghan kids first.

  1. The Aschiana Foundation

aschiana logoAn example of how productive partnerships can be between the international community and grassroots organizations on the ground in Afghanistan, the Aschiana Foundation is a US-based organization dedicated to supporting Afghanistan’s most vulnerable children. The Aschiana Foundation was established in 2004 by a group of people—including expatriates, diplomats, and military spouses—who had seen for themselves the incredible challenges facing the country’s young children, many of whom were working on the streets of Kabul in an attempt to eke out a living.

Inspired by the work of the local organization Aschiana, which was created in 1995 by Yousef Mohamed, an Afghan engineer, the founders of the Aschiana Foundation were determined to find an effective way to support his efforts to provide education, training, and opportunities to Afghan children excluded from the school system due to financial or other barriers. Today, the support that the Foundation provides to Aschiana in Afghanistan helps tens of thousands of Afghan children find refuge and escape from life on the street.

  1. Save the Children

save the children logoAs its name implies, Save the Children has been a major force in protecting and providing for Afghanistan’s children. At present, the organization’s activities are governed by its three major priorities. The first is to stand up for children’s rights: Save the Children works with local communities, religious leaders, government ministries, and other NGOs to build national child protection networks and provide social workers to support children whose rights are in danger of being violated. The second priority is the improvement of vital health services: Save the Children operates many mobile health clinics with the support of doctors, trained midwives, and community health workers, focusing particularly on reducing child deaths by identifying malnourished children and providing feeding centers where these children can receive life-saving treatment. The final priority, one shared by many other organizations, is education: Save the Children works with the Afghan government to create and implement community-based classes that facilitate access to education for those children who have been shut out of formal schooling.

  1. Afghan Connection

afghan connection logoThis UK-based charity was founded in 2002 by Dr. Sarah Fane, who had spent several years working in Afghanistan as a wartime doctor. Initially established as a medical charity focused on vaccination programs, Afghan Connection has evolved to become an important supporter of education projects in Afghanistan’s northeastern region; the charity’s goal is to concentrate on making the strongest possible impact on a single area.

To date, Afghan Connection has built 42 new schools in the region, serving many remote and rural communities where access to education has been extremely difficult. It has also funded more than 500 teacher training courses to help improve the quality of education that Afghan children receive. Sports programs, and cricket in particular, are another important activity for Afghan Connection; the organization works to build pitches, establish cricket camps, and train coaches so that as many children as possible can reap the benefits of participating in team sports.

  1. Child Soldiers International

child soldiers international logoIn countries impacted by war and violence, the use of child soldiers on all sides of the conflict is becoming an increasingly common practice, and Afghanistan is no exception. Child Soldiers International works to build awareness of child recruitment in Afghanistan by performing critical research and field work that keeps this pressing issue at the forefront of the international agenda. The organization also lobbies for practical changes in law and policy that can support the Afghan government and its partners in meeting the challenges of combating child recruitment.

  1. Afghan Mobile Mini-Circus for Children

Afghan MMCC logoAfghanistan’s children need access to critical services, such as education, but they also require fun and playtime. Afghan Mobile Mini-Circus for Children (MMCC) brings these two worlds together with its unique use of circus arts as a teaching tool. Dedicated to empowering young people and working with the philosophy that children are the ones who know the best way to communicate with other children, MMCC brings child-led educational performances and workshops to young people all across Afghanistan. Since 2002, the organization has reached nearly 3 million audience members in 25 Afghan provinces and has leveraged the joyous atmosphere of the circus to engage children and youth on key topics like health and hygiene, landmine awareness, and peace.

What You Need to Prepare Afghan Food at Home

While Afghanistan’s rich and flavorful cuisine is gradually becoming better known outside the country’s borders, it may still be some time before everyone is fortunate enough to have a delicious Afghan restaurant right around the corner from their home. However, if you’re a gourmand who doesn’t want to wait, don’t worry: many of Afghanistan’s tastiest dishes can be made at home with just a few extra additions to your regular shopping list. Read on for an overview of everything you’ll need to try your hand at making Afghan food at home.

  1. Herbs, spices, and flavorings

mintThe complex flavors of Afghan cuisine come from the liberal use of herbs, spices, and flavorings. These seasonings are often used in dishes that need to be cooked for long periods of time, allowing the flavors to blend and deepen. Some of the most important seasonings to have in your pantry include:

  • Cardamom—A relative of the ginger family, cardamom is available in green, brown, or black pods. Cardamom adds a distinctive flavor to rice and curries. If you don’t have a way to grind spices yourself at home, you can also find ground cardamom in the spice section of your grocery store.
  • Turmeric—Another member of the ginger family, turmeric is characterized by its deep, rich yellow color. Turmeric brings an earthy, peppery flavor to curry-style dishes.
  • Mint—One of the most popular herbs in Afghan cooking, dried mint is often added during cooking or sprinkled over the top of finished dishes as a garnish.
  • Rosewater—Distilled from rose petals, rosewater is commonly used to flavor many Middle Eastern dishes, especially desserts.

Other important herbs and spices that you probably already have on hand include cumin, cinnamon, pepper, ginger, and chilies.

  1. Pantry staples

  • Rice—The centerpiece of almost every Afghan meal is rice. Afghan cooks are very particular about the type of rice that should be used depending on the dish being prepared. Fragrant and delicately flavored basmati rice, which is probably the least processed variety you can find, is an absolute must-have for your pantry. If you have the space, you’ll also want an additional long-grain variety, as well as a short-grain type.
  • Legumes—Dried legumes such as chickpeas, lentils, and split peas are a very popular and versatile ingredient in Afghan cooking. They are often used to “fill out” meat dishes, as they are less expensive than fresh meat. In addition, they can be served fried and salted, as well as coated with sugar as a sweet accompaniment for tea.
  • Ghee—One of the most commonly used cooking fats in Afghan cuisine is ghee, or clarified butter. You can buy commercial ghee or you can make it yourself by simply melting a pound of unsalted butter over low heat in a saucepan and skimming away the milk solids as they separate. To ensure the ghee is as clear as possible, strain it through a cheesecloth before storing in a clean jar.
  • Besan—Also known as “gram flour,” it is made from ground chana dal, a type of small chickpea. It is often used to make traditional Afghan bread.
  1. Fresh ingredients

  • onionOnions—Some form of onion can be found in just about every savory Afghan dish. Most dishes rely on a cooked onion mixture known as piaz e surkh kada, in which onions are finely minced and then cooked in plenty of oil until they are a deep golden brown color. Some Afghan cooks make up big batches of piaz e surkh kada in advance so it’s ready to use whenever the cook needs it. Many recipes also call for leeks, scallions, or a type of onion called “gandana” that looks similar to a leek and can be found in specialty markets.
  • Yogurt—Afghan cuisine makes extensive use of thick, natural-style yogurt as a thickener for curries and stews, as a base for sauces and dips, and even as a drink. Plain-flavored Greek-style yogurt is a handy option to keep in your fridge.
  • Cilantro—Fresh cilantro—or coriander, as it’s also known—is used extensively in Afghan cooking, not only in cooked dishes, but also as a garnish or as a kind of chutney. It’s often referred to as “Afghan parsley”.
  1. Equipment

  • Sutak—Since rice is such an essential part of Afghan cuisine, it’s important to ensure that it’s properly cooked. A sutak is a thick cotton cover that’s placed either over a pot of just-cooked rice or between the pot and the lid during cooking. This helps to absorb excess steam and prevents the rice from sticking together or becoming gluey. One thick folded tea towel will work well as a substitute.
  • Seekh—Kebabs, a beloved Afghan dish often made with chunks of lamb, are cooked over a charcoal grill using seekhs—long flat skewers made of stainless steel.

 

What Are BRAC’s Most Important Focus Areas in Afghanistan?

Guided by its vision of a world free from poverty, exploitation, and discrimination, Building Resources Across Communities (BRAC) has been empowering poor and marginalized people and communities since it was established in Bangladesh in 1972. Today, BRAC is the world’s largest development organization, operating across 11 countries and touching the lives of one out of every 55 people on our planet.

BRAC has been working in Afghanistan since 2002, when it launched its first programs in post-conflict Kabul. Within seven years of its establishment in the country, BRAC was the largest NGO operating in Afghanistan, with a range of projects and initiatives focused on the following four priority areas:

Capacity development

BRAC logoImproving the competencies of government, civil, and private organizations is a critical part of Afghanistan’s journey toward resilience and empowerment. To address this need, BRAC launched its capacity development program in Kabul in 2003. The program consists of a suite of training courses for people and institutions involved in Afghanistan’s development process, including government ministries, local and international NGOs, UN organizations, and donor agencies. The idea behind the program’s establishment was to help provide the agents of Afghanistan’s development with the necessary tools to carry out their mission more effectively and with the highest degree of professionalism.

Designed to be engaging, participatory, flexible, and results-oriented, the training courses cover four key subjects: management and development, finance and accounts, health, and education. The capacity development program employs experienced professionals from around the world on both a part- and full-time basis to provide the best possible level of coaching to participants. As of September 2016, the program had developed 166 different course offerings and had provided training to over 61,000 people, of whom more than 19,000 were government and NGO staff.

Education

Reforming and improving Afghanistan’s education system is a major goal for the majority of local and international NGOs working in the country, and BRAC is no exception. BRAC’s education program actually reaches seven countries in total, making it the world’s largest private, secular education system; it was launched in Afghanistan in 2002.

In broad terms, the education program aims to bring systemic reform to Afghanistan’s schools and school system, working to improve students’ access to education and their academic performance. Using a community-based approach to education, BRAC schools offer a second chance to children who have been left behind by the formal education system due to barriers like poverty, displacement, discrimination, or violence.

Leveraging innovative teaching methods and materials, the BRAC system acts as a complement to Afghanistan’s mainstream school system through initiatives like need-based training and student mentoring. In addition, the community-based approach brings broader benefits, such as strengthening rural or isolated communities by providing them with their own school, and helping local governments become more aware of and more responsive to educational challenges.

In 2015 alone, BRAC opened 666 new community-based schools and 250 pre-primary schools. That same year, nearly 30,000 children graduated from 962 BRAC schools around the country. Teacher training is also an important part of BRAC’s education work. In 2015, 1,734 government school teachers received training from BRAC, as did 1,501 mentors working with students at 100 hub schools.

afghanistan school

Health

Decades of civil conflict have severely compromised the delivery of health care services to Afghans across their country. Since 2002, BRAC has partnered with Afghanistan’s Ministry of Public Health to help the government provide basic health care services to its citizens, with a particular focus on achieving the UN’s sustainable development goals of reducing child mortality, improving maternal health, and fighting infectious diseases like malaria and tuberculosis. Afghanistan has one of the world’s highest rates of tuberculosis infections.

BRAC’s health program brings together services across the full spectrum of care, including preventive, promotive, curative, and rehabilitative initiatives. Using trained frontline community health promoters, BRAC works to bridge the gap between underserved communities and formal healthcare systems, thus making it easier for disadvantaged, socially excluded, and isolated populations to access the basic care they need. In 2015, an estimated 1.3 million Afghans received health care through BRAC initiatives.

Rural development

Since 2003, BRAC has worked as a facilitating partner with Afghanistan’s Ministry of Rural Rehabilitation and Development (MRRD) on its National Solidarity Program (NSP). Created to address some of the most severe problems affecting Afghan infrastructure—including a lack of capacity, in terms of both personnel and knowledge, at grassroots administrative bodies—the NSP seeks to empower and support Afghan communities in identifying, planning, managing, and monitoring their own development projects. A key aspect of the NSP is facilitating the democratic election of community development councils, who play an integral role in launching projects in their own communities.

Already MRRD’s biggest community development initiative in Afghanistan, the NSP is also reputed to be the second-largest program of its kind in the world. BRAC supports the NSP by assisting community development councils with all aspects of their projects, including the use of NSP block grants intended for rural infrastructure development, and connecting these projects with other potential funding sources. In 2015, 614 infrastructure sub-projects were completed, and eight-month training programs were provided to more than 10,000 members of community development councils.

10 Things to Know about Skateistan on Its 10th Birthday

It’s been 10 years since Skateistan, the award-winning international charitable organization that empowers young people through a surprising combination of skateboarding and education, was first launched in Kabul. In celebration of this milestone birthday, here are 10 things to know about this unique non-profit.

  1. Its founder didn’t set out to establish a charity.

skateistan

Image by we_free | Flickr

When Skateistan’s founder, Australian skateboarder Oliver Percovich, came to Kabul in early 2007, he wasn’t specifically interested in charitable or humanitarian work. His main objectives at the time were to stay connected with his then-girlfriend, who had a job in Kabul, and to continue his own work as a research scientist. But as soon as he started taking to the city’s streets on the skateboards he had brought with him, Percovich saw the great potential that skateboarding could have to build confidence and connections among Afghanistan’s large youth population. At the time, nearly half of Afghanistan’s entire population was under the age of 15.

  1. The first Skateistan sessions were very informal.

For the first year or two of Skateistan’s existence, its “programming” mainly consisted of Percovich holding informal skateboard sessions with street kids in Kabul. This early version of Skateistan had a basic website, and relied on a few small overseas donations to support its efforts. It was during these early days that Percovich realized how much the children would benefit from better access to education. Skateistan’s mission of connecting young people with educational opportunities via skateboarding was thus born.

  1. Skateistan has developed its own “Theory of Change.”

The connection that Percovich saw between skateboarding and education was later developed into Skateistan’s formal “Theory of Change,” an operating philosophy that was created over the course of one year using collaborative input from stakeholders, students, and staff. In essence, the theory is that if Skateistan provides fun, quality programs and safe places to experience them, then youth will be motivated to attend regularly and will consequently make new friends and take on leadership roles. As a result, they will have a stronger social support system, more life skills, and a greater level of engagement with the society around them. This theory is echoed in Skateistan’s slogan: “Youth come for skateboarding and stay for education.”

  1. One of skateboarding’s main benefits is that it is free of stigma.

One of the main reasons why skateboarding has proved so successful among Afghan youth is that, because it was virtually unknown as a sport until recently, it didn’t carry the stigma that often surrounds participation in other activities. In Afghanistan, there are often societal pressures around who can participate in sports such as football or bike riding, but because those don’t exist for skateboarding, the sport is widely accessible to all youth.

  1. Skateistan operates three different programs.

At present, Skateistan’s activities are centered on three main programs. “Skate and Create” combines an hour each of skateboarding instruction and education in the arts. “Back to School” is an accelerated learning program for youth not currently in school; in this program, kids attend daily educational tutoring sessions on national curriculum subjects, and are enrolled in a public school after completing the program. Finally, “Youth Leadership” is a way for promising Skateistan students to take their involvement to the next level. As Youth Leaders, students assist Skateistan educators, plan local events, and build their skill sets through taking ownership and responsibility.

  1. Skateistan’s facilities are an important part of its work.

Not only does Skateistan offer the programs described above, the organization has also been instrumental in bringing new skateboarding and educational infrastructure to Afghanistan. In Kabul, a skatepark with classrooms attached was built with the support of international donors and the Afghanistan Olympic Committee. Later, a facility three times that size was constructed in the northern Afghanistan city of Mazar-e-Sharif.

  1. Youth with disabilities are big participants in Skateistan.

Skateistan is committed to supporting underserved youth with its programming, and children with disabilities are a main focus group for the organization. A great advantage of skateboarding is that it can be practiced in some form or other by almost everyone, regardless of ability level, making it an ideal activity for youth with different physical capabilities.

  1. Skateboard art has played a big role in supporting Skateistan.

To provide financial support for Skateistan’s activities, Charles-Antoine Bodson (of the social enterprise The Skateroom) came up with the idea of creating and selling skateboard art. To date, some of the biggest names in street and contemporary art have participated, including the Belgian street artist ROA and Los Angeles-based Paul McCarthy.

  1. Skateistan now operates beyond Afghanistan.

In addition to facilities in Kabul and Mazar-e-Sharif, Skateistan also offers programs and operates facilities in Phnom Penh and Sihanoukville in Cambodia, and Johannesburg in South Africa.

  1. Thousands of youth have been supported by Skateistan.

More than 1,600 youth between ages 5 to 17 are attending one of Skateistan’s global programs.

What You Need to Know about Babur’s Gardens in the Heart of Kabul

Although Central Kabul may not be the first place where you would expect to see hundreds of springtime roses in bloom, that’s exactly what you’ll find at Bagh-e Babur, also known as Babur’s Gardens. The largest public green space in Kabul—with a history that stretches back more than five centuries—Babur’s Gardens are not only a beautiful and peaceful oasis, but one of the finest living examples of Afghanistan’s commitment to renewing and restoring its cultural heritage. Read on to learn more about this beloved Kabul landmark.

History

Babur History

Image courtesy Wikipedia

Babur, the founder of the eponymous gardens, was born in 1483. A descendent of Genghis Khan and the nomadic leader and conqueror Tamerlaine, Babur became the first Mughal emperor and the head of a dynasty that ruled much of South Asia for two centuries. The Mughal empire consolidated Islam and advanced the reach of Persian arts and culture in the region.

In 1504, Babur captured Kabul, which served as his capital for two decades. An avid gardener and nature enthusiast with a passion for flowers and landscape, Babur was personally involved in the design and creation of at least 10 gardens in the city during his time there. The site now known as Bagh-e Babur—one of the oldest surviving Mughal gardens—was previously the location of a monumental building dating back to the third century BC.

Babur died in 1530 in the Indian city of Agra. Prior to his death, he expressed a wish to be buried in Kabul. Around 1544, his widow finally transferred his body to that city, where he was interred in Babur’s Gardens. Historians and archaeologists speculate that the presence of remains of older tombs in the building on which these gardens were constructed may have inspired Babur’s decision to be buried there rather than at one of his many other gardens. As the home of Babur’s tomb, Bagh-e Babur became a symbolic and venerated site during the reign of the Mughals.

Spaces for physical and spiritual refreshment

Gardens hold a special place in Islamic culture. Echoing the ancient concept of paradise as a garden, Islamic gardens are designed as spaces for physical and spiritual refreshment. Key elements of such gardens include flowing water, shade, lush foliage, and perimeter walls. In addition, Islamic gardens follow specific principles in layout, design, and function.

Like other Islamic gardens, the 11-hectare Bagh-e Babur was originally laid out in the charbagh—or “four garden”—pattern: a classical arrangement that divides the enclosed space of the garden into clearly defined quarters through a series of rising terraces intersected by a central watercourse. The prominent central axis of the garden provided a multi-directional vista, and the trees, herbs, and flowers were all carefully chosen.

Decline and restoration

Gardens of Babur

Image by Wikipedia

After the Mughal dynasty lost control of Kabul, Babur’s Gardens fell into disrepair. Repeated alterations were carried out on the site. One of the largest and most disruptive building programs was implemented by Amir Abdur Rahman in the late 19th century. His structural interventions, which included new buildings and landscaping, significantly changed the visual concept and feel of the garden. However, the alterations did not last long, as King Nadir Shah removed the structures in the early 1930s. During this period, the gardens were open to the public complete with European-style teahouses and restaurants. It was this version of the gardens—which sustained heavy damage as a result of looting and vandalism during the long years of civil conflict—that was preserved until the early 2000s.

In 2002, with the support of the Aga Khan Development Network, a comprehensive restoration of Babur’s Gardens was launched. Over the next five years, the majority of the physical work was completed. Improvements included re-establishing the character of the water channels, planted terraces, and pavilions; creating a swimming pool and caravanserai complex; and replanting local species of trees and plants favored by the reigning Mughals when the garden was first built. The plants ranged from roses and pistachios to the distinctive purple-flowered Judas trees.

The future of the gardens

Today, Babur’s Gardens provide a safe, secure, and peaceful urban green space for Kabul’s residents. Since it reopened to visitors in 2008, Babur’s Gardens have attracted more than 3 million visitors who come to enjoy the gardens and the ticketed events and performances that take place there, such as festivals of Pashtun dancing and even Shakespeare performances. At present, the gardens are managed by the Bagh-e Babur Trust with participation from Afghanistan’s Ministry of Information and Culture, the Kabul Municipality, and the Aga Khan Trust for Culture. The idea is that the revenue from admissions to Babur’s Gardens will help the Bagh-e Babur Trust to achieve long-term financial stability and maintain the garden’s landscaping and monuments.