Spotlight on How AFCECO Cares for Afghanistan’s Orphans

In times of war, children are often the ones who end up paying the highest price. Sadly, this tough history lesson is one that Afghanistan is all too familiar with: decades of civil conflict have deprived multiple generations of Afghan children of parents, relatives, and role models, making for a challenging and uncertain future for both the children and the country itself.

Fortunately, over the past 10 to 15 years, more and more groups have stepped into the breach to provide support, care, and education for Afghanistan’s war orphans. One of these organizations is the Afghan Child Education and Care Organization (AFCECO), a Kabul-based, Afghan nonprofit dedicated to helping orphaned refugees and other vulnerable Afghan children. Read on to learn more about AFCECO’s mission, its activities, and what you can do to help.

What is AFCECO?

AFCECO_LogoAFCECO is a nonprofit organization, officially registered since 2008 with the Government of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan, with a mission to serve some of Afghanistan’s estimated 1.6 million orphans. To fulfil this mission, AFCECO operates orphanages all around the country. However, rather than the cold and institutional environment that the word “orphanage” might suggest, AFCECO homes are inclusive and caring, welcoming children from all regions and walks of life, and teaching equality and respect alongside other practical skills like reading and writing. Ultimately, the goal of AFCECO is to support Afghanistan’s next generation and ensure that these children have the skills and opportunities they need to play an active part in building a brighter future for themselves and their country.

How did AFCECO get started?

For AFCECO’s founding director Andeisha Farid, the question of helping children affected and displaced by war is a very personal one: she herself was born during Afghanistan’s war years and raised in refugee camps, and eventually found escape from her difficult circumstances through education. With a strong belief in the power of children to change the course of their country, Farid founded her first orphanage—or “parwarishga,” which means “foster haven”—in 2004. Her work soon came to the attention of CharityHelp International, an organization that assisted Farid in financing her projects through child sponsorships. Thanks to this support, Farid was able to grow AFCECO to its current status: a collection of nine orphanages around Afghanistan that serve hundreds of children and also provide valuable employment for widows and university students.

What are AFCECO’s values?

As mentioned above, one of AFCECO’s core goals is to help the next generation of Afghan citizens grow into resilient, thoughtful, and productive members of society. To achieve this, AFCECO concentrates on teaching children critical values, including: respect for each other’s differences, including differences of circumstance, ideas, or religion; respect for freedom of thought; listening and tolerance; the importance of justice and democracy; respect for the environment; an appreciation for teamwork and common goals; and a sense of integrity, honesty, and caring.

What programs does AFCECO offer?

Within the framework of its orphanages, AFCECO offers a number of different programs and extracurricular activities to help supplement the basic education that the children receive at local public schools. These include a music program, which sees talented young musicians honing their craft under the instruction of dedicated professionals at the Afghanistan National Institute of Music. There’s also an athletics program, which helps improve children’s physical fitness (a top priority for AFCECO) and gives them the chance to learn about teamwork and competition through participation in nationwide sports tournaments. In addition, healthcare clinics ensure the health and well-being of the residents of each orphanage, and an e-coaching program pairs students with online volunteer educational coaches for additional support and tutoring.

What partners does AFCECO work with?

One of the biggest partners that has helped make AFCECO’s work possible is CharityHelp International (CHI), a global organization that harnesses the power of online connectivity to foster, promote, and sustain close, long-term relationships between individual donors all around the world and organizations in emerging nations that are in need of support. This helps provide many charitable organizations with ongoing, sustainable development financing for their activities. For AFCECO, CHI has furnished the organization’s Child Sponsorship Program with much-needed communications technology and development and administrative support. In addition, CHI is helping AFCECO with a new initiative, the Support and Networking Program, which offers vital resources and mentorship to Afghan business and social entrepreneurs.

What can I do to help AFCECO?

One of the most important ways that concerned supporters can help AFCECO’s work and mission is by making a donation to the organization. AFCECO accepts international donations in a number of different areas: through the sustainability fund, which allows donors to become “sustaining sponsors” by contributing to the ongoing, fixed costs of operating an orphanage; through the child sponsorship program, where donors can make regular contributions to support the basic needs of a child living at one of AFCECO’s orphanages; and through one-time donations in any amount which help AFCECO cover a variety of necessary costs and expenditures.

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.

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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.

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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.

This Is How Wheelchair Basketball Improved Orthopedic Treatment in Afghanistan

A growing sports program is providing people affected by regional conflict in Afghanistan with dignity, confidence, and hope for the future.

Since the first wheelchair basketball tournament was held in 2012, rehabilitators have found that developing organized sports programs for people in wheelchairs can change lives. Leisure activities are not always emphasized in Afghanistan, but therapists are bringing sports into the forefront of treatment.

History of Wheelchair Sports in Afghanistan

wheelchair sportsPeople in wheelchairs in Afghanistan began organizing to play basketball before an official organization existed. In 2009, a new team asked for someone from the United States to teach them how to play, and Jess Markt, a player for the New York Rollin’ Knicks in the National Wheelchair Basketball Association, responded to the request. In November of that year, he went to Afghanistan with plans to work with the team for one week.

Markt, who became a paraplegic at age 19 after his spine was severed in a car crash, said the experience in Afghanistan was life-changing. He subsequently deepened his involvement with the new wheelchair basketball team there. He collaborated with the International Committee of the Red Cross and Motivation UK to have basketball wheelchairs sent to Afghanistan and publicize the new sport nationwide. The work became known as the Afghanistan Wheelchair Basketball Project.

“Wheelchair basketball has the ability to remove the distinction of disability,” Markt told the online magazine Folks. “It gives these young men the idea that they can accomplish more than what society thinks they can.”

Therapy through Leisure

Since 2011, Markt has worked with Alberto Cairo, who leads the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) orthopedic program in Afghanistan, to integrate wheelchair basketball and therapy for people who have lost limbs or can no longer use limbs due to injury. Cairo, a physical therapist from Italy, helps people learn to use prosthetic limbs or re-use their limbs.

Cairo recently told NPR that in Afghanistan, people with disabilities are often fiercely protected by their families. While that means families are vigilant about caring for loved ones with disabilities, they may shield them from developing outside hobbies careers, or friendships. For many, developing skills on the basketball court has provided them with new purpose that spills into other parts of their lives. Many look forward to basketball practice, which provides fun and an otherwise unheard-of opportunity to play a sport.

Markt described one Afghan man who was injured as a child in the war and had “no active life” as an adult because his family did not expect him to contribute. At age 29, the man began playing wheelchair basketball and eventually joined the national team.

Wheelchair basketball helped the man envision a new path for himself. He took out a microloan through a Red Cross program and opened an automotive parts and repair business. He is now a key member of his community, and he returned his relief card that entitled him to a monthly food allocation because of his disability. He stated he no longer needed it because he had a job.

This man is not alone. Markt said that wheelchair basketball has given many players the confidence to start businesses or find jobs.

Taking on the World

wheelchair sportsThe ICRC organized the first wheelchair basketball tournament in Afghanistan in 2012, an event that Cairo said at the time would have been “unimaginable” before. Cairo noted that the players had been transformed physically and psychologically, becoming “much stronger in many ways.”

Now, more than 500 people now play recreational basketball in seven Red Cross rehabilitation centers across Afghanistan. Players compete in tournaments across the country, and the national teams have traveled to other countries such as Japan to compete and take part in international wheelchair basketball training. The national teams are hoping to compete in the Paralympics, even though they haven’t won any international tournaments yet.

In the 25 years that Cairo has worked in Afghanistan, he has hired several hundred patients to assist in ICRC’s rehabilitation centers. Cairo has helped more than 100,000 people, including more than 150 patients who have learned to play wheelchair basketball.

The Future of Rehab

Cairo and Markt continue to partner to advance rehabilitation efforts for citizens of Afghanistan. They recently toured the United States to talk about their work, including the latest technology in their field and their expanding work in other countries in the developing world.

Innovations are being made in wheelchair design, spinal cord regeneration, and prosthetics. Additionally, the ICRC is still building centers around the world to meet a “relentless” demand for prosthetics, treatment, and rehabilitation.

In Afghanistan, ICRC centers treat thousands of patients each year while also addressing issues with security and on-going conflict. Even with these challenges, ICRC’s innovations, including its home-based therapy and wheelchair basketball, are transforming lives across Afghanistan.