How One NGO is Making a Difference in Afghanistan

By focusing on the NGOs (non-governmental organizations) working within Afghanistan, one gets an idea of both how much is being done within the country and how much work there still is to do. ACTED (Agency for Technical Cooperation and Development) was formed in 1993 as a not-for-profit, private, and independent organization. Their mission is to address the specific needs of populations that have been affected by catastrophes, social crises, and war. Their vision is to ensure that all humans can live with dignity. ACTED invests in the potential of people and works for immediate change in the lives of people facing urgent needs. Specifically in Afghanistan, the organization operates in seven provinces and has expanded its influence and programs within the last few years in response to the growing needs of the population.

Emergency Assistance

displaced Afghans

Image by IOM | Flickr

Violence continues to affect communities in many areas of Afghanistan, and has led to the displacement of nearly 200,000 individuals. In addition, recurring natural disasters have increased the number of at-risk people within the country. Communities that are faced with urgent need for food, water, and shelter have been assisted by ACTED. The organization has provided money and vouchers, sanitation services, clean water, and shelter to people in need across seven Afghan provinces. The organization is currently involved in a 16-month project to improve water, sanitation, and hygiene (WASH) infrastructure in many Northern Afghan provinces. This work includes constructing wells and latrines, as well as providing emergency hygiene kits to displaced families.

Natural Disaster Recovery

According to recent studies by the United Nations, over 250,000 persons are affected by natural disasters within Afghanistan, such as floods, droughts, and earthquakes. Food and non-food items, cash, and vouchers have been distributed to offer support as part of ACTED’s mission. In conjunction with meeting urgent needs, the organization is also committed to long-term plans to rebuild infrastructure, repair water systems, and replace temporary shelters. In April 2016, the organization responded to severe flooding in Baghlan and Balkh provinces by offering basic hygiene supplies.

Marginalized Populations

Women, youth, and farmers are among the most marginalized people in Afghanistan. ACTED works to support these groups through both formal and informal education programs. They provide literacy classes, small business development training, vocational education, and support groups to help people develop the skills they need to provide for themselves and their families. By facilitating access to training in agricultural techniques and working to develop sustainable economic opportunities, ACTED helps marginalized individuals become better able to support their family and communities.

Gender-based Violence Reduction

In cooperation with local women’s organizations, ACTED is addressing gender-based violence, focusing on women and young girls. They provide crisis shelters, counseling, case management, and more to women who have been victims of gender-based violence. In addition, women and girls are receiving holistic education that can include literacy, job training, and other vital services.

The Link between Emergency and Rehabilitation

ACTED has been working in Afghanistan to help people deal with the after-effects of war and break the cycle of poverty. According to ACTED, interventions that take place as a response to a crisis or natural disaster must have long-term, sustainable support in order to be effective. Rather than focusing on short-term needs, ACTED brings together local community organizations to provide ongoing support once the crisis has passed. These organizations are led by local people who have a deep understanding of the needs of their communities and the most culturally appropriate ways to provide assistance.

The Developmental Approach

Through a multidisciplinary approach, ACTED can offer both developmental and humanitarian support. Their adaptive approach is helping to break the cycle of poverty and encourage sustainable development. ACTED’s assistance involves a multi-phase process:

Phase 1 offers household-level support that promotes self-reliance, helps families generate an income, and increases food security. When people receive this kind of support for their family unit, they are more able to help meet broader community needs.

Phase 2 expands the household support into an “ecosystem approach” to agriculture. By utilizing sustainable, climate-friendly agricultural techniques, communities can obtain a more reliable source of food and economic growth opportunities.

Phase 3 continues the expansion into private sector development through small business enterprise support. Urban development and rebuilding can sustain the growth of new businesses, which in turn provide jobs and income.

This three-phase process represents a gradual approach to rebuilding that emphasizes self-sufficiency. This approach also helps ensure that any changes that have been implemented don’t simply vanish when the immediate crisis is over and the aid organization leaves.

Focusing on long-term solutions rather than what appears to be a “quick fix” does not negate the need for emergency responsiveness. Particularly in countries that have experienced war or other crisis situations, the need for both is stark. Fortunately, ACTED and other international and Afghan NGOs stand ready to assist.

Behind the Scenes at Afghanaid

Despite the improved conditions within Afghanistan in recent years, decades of turmoil have left the nation in disarray. In an effort to address needs and shortfalls within the nation, non-governmental organizations (NGOs) have partnered with local organizations to provide assistance and much-needed services to the residents of Afghanistan.

As a result, the country has seen an improvement in the daily lives of many, but the situation is still far from ideal. Thousands of individuals are classified as “at-risk,” a designation that indicates the extreme levels of poverty that still exist.

The at-risk groups include women, children, widows, and other displaced groups of people who face an uncertain future. Fortunately, NGOs such as Afghanaid are working to provide hope and help.

The History of Afghanaid

afghanaidlogoAfghanaid began in 1983 as an outreach of the Afghanistan Support Committee work in London. After two years of working closely with Afghans, the charity became its own entity and went to work in earnest. Since its inception, it has worked in nearly every province within the country and provided services to over 1 million Afghans.

Crisis Response

The earliest years of Afghanaid’s existence were spent addressing war-relief efforts. As war escalated in the early 1990s, Afghanaid was on hand to offer support and assistance to survivors in the aftermath of conflict.

The loss of food production sites and a breakdown in distribution lines created a food shortage that left thousands hungry. Volunteers from Afghanaid entered the country, finding families and providing food for over 70,000 people during the famine.

In addition, the country’s damaged infrasture, ambulance and other rescue personnel had a difficult time navigating the streets to bring medical relief to injured and sick persons. Afghanaid worked to raise funds for supplies and other medical necessities that helped decrease the number of casualties. In a few short years, however, Afghanid transitioned from war relief to helping people rebuild their lives.

Vocational Training

Establishing vocational training programs, such as the tailoring project, provided sustainable work and training for displaced farmers who needed ways to provide for their families. As part of the tailoring project, participants were provided with training and equipment to establish businesses that made school uniforms for children.

Other vocational efforts included beekeeping, kitchen gardens, and more. Through training and mentorship, participants in the program learn business skills, develop group lending policies, and offer financial support to others in the program. Self-sustaining programs such as these are essential to the rebuilding of Afghanistan and allow individuals within the community to develop viable business skills.

Afghanaid Today

More than 20 years after its work began, Afghanaid is still a powerful source of support and resources to the people of Afghanistan. The programs that were initiated during the war have been expanded to encompass additional areas of concern and concentrate financial efforts in the areas most in need of help.

The organization identifies vulnerable households in need of financial assistance and support and provides them with a voice in their own development. In this way, it is giving Afghans inspiration to work towards a brighter future, and encouraging others to participate in the rebuilding process and work towards a brighter future.

It concentrates its aid programs on four primary areas of concern:

  1. Basic support
  2. Improving job security
  3. Emergency response
  4. Disaster relief

The organization’s goal is a peaceful, thriving Afghanistan, and it is working to ensure that all Afghans are able to enjoy the benefits that result from peace. To support that mission, it has an overreaching theme of gender rights and governance that are underscored in every aspect of aid it offers.

Governance

By supporting local governance, Afghanaid encourages all citizens of Afghanistan to get involved in local institutions and politics. It has introduced community-based concepts such as community monitoring, social audits, and assemblies.

These efforts help to develop links between the local community and district authorities. In addition, by strengthening individuals, family units become stronger, which in turn helps to build communities.

Strong communities lead to improved relationships with other communities, and the entire nation benefits. When seen as part of a larger whole, every individual who receives assistance from Afghanaid has a role to play – both today and in the future.

Groups like Afghanaid are essential to the future of Afghanistan. With its 30-year track record in the country, it has established itself as a reliable means of support and assistance, and is a trusted component of the rebuilding taking place in the nation.

Solving the Health Care Crisis in Afghanistan

The people of Afghanistan have faced unprecedented challenges, and they are still struggling to recover after decades of turmoil. Perhaps one of the areas of greatest concern to both humanitarian organizations and the people of Afghanistan is the lack of health care. As the country works to rebuild its infrastructure and to establish public facilities, health care remains a primary need, despite continued pressure from humanitarian organizations and governmental departments. An understanding of both the current health care crisis and the solutions in place will provide direction to organizations that wish to help and ensure that the nation receives the aid that it requires.

Why Is Health Care a Challenge?

medical equipmentAs recently as 2003, less than 10% of Afghanistan’s population had access to medical care. Today, nearly 70% of the population now has access to the health care they need, according to the Ministry of Public Health. Over 20,000 health care volunteers spread across 2,200 health care facilities are helping the Ministry of Public Health to deliver services to the nation’s population. With so many individuals working to provide health care, why then does the health care system appear to be in crisis? Some of the problems, experts say, are caused by too many organizations trying to provide assistance with no oversight to ensure that efforts aren’t duplicated and that projects are prioritized.

As a result, while much of the population now lives near a health care facility, the reality is that oftentimes it may not be operational. Recurring staffing issues, a lack of basic health care services, and limited drug availability have hindered the effectiveness of neighborhood care centers, forcing patients to travel long distances in search of assistance. Free health care for citizens may seem appealing, but only if it is available when they actually need it.

What Does the Current Health Care System Look Like?

People seeking urgent care are often unable to find it quickly or easily. Many patients report that they have travelled through areas where fighting is still taking place, traversed areas filled with land mines, experienced harassment on their journeys, or passed through checkpoints in order to obtain medical care. Since patients are often scared to travel at night, family members often set up vigils in the hopes that they survive in order to make it to the hospital.

Difficult circumstances that prevent patients from reaching the hospital have caused some to put off seeking medical care for as long as possible. Nearly half the patients surveyed at one medical facility had waited more than a week before going to a hospital, while 60% of those with a malnourished child waited over a month to seek medical attention.

Going forward, the country must work to establish secure health care facilities, earn the trust of the people, and provide those medical services that are most needed. Women, children, and the elderly have traditionally been among the groups most underserved in the field of health care, and efforts have focused on them with great success. Infant mortality rates have dropped dramatically, as have the number of women who have died during childbirth or as a complication of giving birth.

How Are Organizations Working to Remedy the Situation?

Humanitarian efforts, such as those led by Ehsan Bayat and the Bayat Foundation, concentrate on finding solutions to the health care crisis. Government leaders and health care providers are partnering with local communities to ensure that smaller, community-style health care facilities are adequately equipped and staffed to handle the majority of residents’ needs. As the basic needs of the people are met—including access to clean water, pre- and post-natal care for expectant mothers and babies, immunizations, and regular checkups—the people of Afghanistan are obtaining better health care than ever before.

In addition, humanitarian groups are seeking qualified workers to staff health care facilities. They are particularly interested in hiring female health care workers to provide services to women, further improving their quality of life. Pediatricians and other medical professionals who specialize in pediatrics are also in high demand, as the number of children who now have access to health care has skyrocketed.

By partnering with other organizations that are already working within Afghanistan, humanitarian medical efforts have a greater chance of success. The work within the country requires an understanding of both its current struggles and history. Partnerships with humanitarian groups ensure that people have access to clean water and healthy food. In a nation where malnutrition and hunger are prevalent, addressing these basic needs must be a priority. While the progress within the country has been remarkable, there is still much work to be done. Virtually every area of life within Afghanistan centers around the health and happiness of the people living there. By addressing the population’s health care needs, the country will be able to create jobs, people will be able to work and start families, and the entire nation will benefit as a result.