Spotlight on the Swedish Committee for Afghanistan

The Swedish Committee for Afghanistan (SCA) has been in existence for more than 35 years. Its goal is to bring support and stability to Afghans who are struggling with the impact of war and violence on their country and their communities.

The organization is committed to maintaining operations in the country as long as necessary. The SCA currently serves as the second-largest channel for the development aid that is provided to Afghanistan by the Swedish government. Read on to learn more about the SCA and its activities in Afghanistan.

 

What is the SCA all about?

SCAlogoThe SCA was originally founded in response to the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan in 1979. In the early 1980s, the SCA was largely focused on raising funds for humanitarian support. It engaged in relief activities like providing essential health care and education to refugees and residents of occupied Afghanistan.

Over time, the SCA gradually expanded its work beyond the delivery of basic humanitarian services. It became a development organization with a much broader focus.

Today, the SCA’s vision is of an Afghanistan that is free from poverty, violence, and discrimination, where all citizens can live in dignity and enjoy equal opportunity and social justice. Supporting this vision are the SCA’s 12,000 members and individual donors in Sweden as well as the more than 6,000 Afghan employees who implement the SCA’s programs in 14 Afghan provinces.

 

What kinds of activities and programs does the SCA operate?

The organization aims to support some of Afghanistan’s most vulnerable groups, including children, people with disabilities, and rural and remote communities. The SCA operates programs and activities across four major focus areas:

 

  1. Healthcare

Access to healthcare and health outcomes in Afghanistan have improved in recent years. Despite this, the country’s health situation still remains a major challenge.

At present, the SCA is responsible for providing healthcare services and building healthcare capacity in Laghman province and Wardak province. In Afghanistan, it is typical for basic healthcare to be provided primarily by non-governmental organizations on a province-by-province basis.

Particular initiatives include conducting community-based health and hygiene education campaigns; training more health care providers, particularly midwives; and increasing health care access for people with disabilities.

Highlights from 2017 include: performing 2.6 million patient consultations; giving immunizations against diphtheria, tetanus, hepatitis b, and polio to 50,000 children under the age of 5; providing maternal care to more than 44,000 women; and establishing 31 more health clinics in the two provinces.

 

  1. Community Governance

In the Afghan countryside, many local communities have severely restricted opportunities for residents to effect change, make their voices heard, and assert their rights. This is the result of conflicts, corruption, and mismanagement at the municipal level.

To help empower these communities and their residents, the SCA works all around Afghanistan. It builds the capacity of local decision-making bodies and provides education and training to local authorities.

Highlights from 2017 include: providing support to nearly 370 community development councils, which in turn implemented 65 local projects; offering training in service delivery and community rights to members of local government; and conducting social audits of community projects in three provinces.

 

  1. Rural Livelihood

Rapid urbanization has taken place in Afghanistan over the last decade. Despite this, an estimated 75 percent of the country’s population still lives and works in rural areas. Unfortunately, many of these rural citizens, especially those in remote or isolated communities, are among Afghanistan’s most vulnerable people.

As a result of conflict, difficult environmental conditions, and natural disasters, poverty is endemic in most rural areas. As a result, the potential for long-term self-sufficiency is very limited.

To help rural citizens build secure livelihoods for themselves and their families and access new sources of income, the SCA facilitates the formation of self-help groups. These groups can save money together, develop business partnerships, and exchange knowledge and skills.

The SCA also provides practical, hands-on training in potentially income-generating activities such as poultry farming, vegetable farming, soap making, tailoring, and carpet weaving.

Highlights from 2017 include: forming over 200 new self-help groups; establishing 32 village-based saving and loan associations; granting micro-loans to more than 2,500 rural households; conducting an impact study revealing that previous loan recipients increased their household income by almost 29 percent.

 

  1. Education

Education is one of Afghanistan’s most important priorities. The SCA is just one of many organizations working to improve access to and quality of education for children all across the country. As a result of concerted efforts by these organizations and the government of Afghanistan, more Afghan children are attending school than ever. At present, nearly 70,000 children go to SCA-run schools.

Highlights from 2017 include: a 5 percent increase in the number of children enrolled in SCA primary schools; construction of seven new school buildings, 20 washrooms, and one resource center; the provision of special education to more than 1,600 children and adults with disabilities; and mainstream school inclusion for 600 children with physical disabilities and 2,000 children with intellectual and developmental disabilities.

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.

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.