A Look at the Amazing Online Library Helping Afghan Teachers

The most important investment that can be made in Afghanistan’s future is in teaching and learning. That’s the philosophy behind Darakht-e Danesh: a free and accessible online library of resources for Afghan educators that was launched in 2013. Read on to learn more about this amazing educational initiative that is helping transform the work of teachers all across Afghanistan.

 

What is the Darakht-e Danesh library?

Darakht-e Danesh libraryIn Dari, one of Afghanistan’s official languages, “Darakht-e danesh” means “knowledge tree,” and that’s exactly what this project aims to be. The Darakht-e Danesh Online Library for Educators is a unique repository of open educational resources geared toward anyone involved in furthering and improving education in Afghanistan, from teachers and teacher trainers to administrative staff and literacy workers. All kinds of open-source resources and materials suitable for use in Afghan classrooms are available through the library, including lesson plans, pedagogical tools, workbooks and exercises, experiments, reading texts, and curricula. Furthermore, to make the library as accessible and useful as possible for the Afghans who need it most, resources are available in both Dari and Pashto, as well as English.

 

Why is the Darakht-e Danesh library needed?

There have been huge advances in education in Afghanistan since 2001. Millions of children are back in school, new teacher training colleges are opening, and a reformed curriculum has been implemented nationwide. All of this progress has occurred under the umbrella of the National Education Strategy for Afghanistan, which was created by the government of Afghanistan in collaboration with a number of development partners, and which outlines educational policy objectives and initiatives for strengthening Afghanistan’s schools.

But for all these improvements, significant challenges still remain, and one of the biggest is a discouraging lack of resources. Few schools have amenities like libraries or science labs, a majority of students don’t have access to (or can’t afford) textbooks, and there is little material provided to teachers to help them cover the curriculum. In addition, when quality educational resources are obtainable, they are rarely available in Dari, Pashto, or other local languages. As for the teachers themselves, many educators in Afghanistan have no formal teacher training, nor any post-secondary education, though many organizations are presently working to change this.

The idea behind the Darakht-e Danesh library, therefore, is to provide much-needed resources and support to teachers—after all, investing in teachers is one of the best ways to invest in students. The aim of Darakht-e Danesh is to increase access to quality resources in local languages for Afghan educators, through an easy to use, centralized system. Another important goal is to encourage teachers to explore and consult a wide variety of resources in their educational practice, adapt available tools to their own situations, and share their own resources with fellow teachers around the country.

 

How does the Darakht-e Danesh library work?

To use the Darakht-e Danesh library, you must first sign up via the library’s simple, online registration form. Once registered, all you need is an Internet connection to freely browse, download, and use any of the resources in the online collection. For example, teacher educators can download resources from the site to use in teacher training colleges, while teachers can browse and print out lesson plans for their classrooms or workbooks for their own professional development activities. All resources are fully open source, and can all be freely copied and distributed. In addition, as the Darakht-e Danesh library operates on the principle of sharing, users are strongly encouraged to add to the online repository by uploading their own tools and resources.

At present, the Darakht-e Danesh collection boasts resources across a broad range of categories. Teachers can find educational information on subjects such as applied sciences, life sciences, mathematics, and language arts.

 

How can I support the Darakht-e Danesh library?

There are a number of important ways for people within and beyond Afghanistan to support the Darakht-e Danesh online library. These include:

Sharing resources—As mentioned above, helping expand the collection of Darakht-e Danesh is one of the best ways to support the project. Afghan teachers are encouraged to share Dari or Pashto digitized resources that they use in their own classrooms: typed lesson plans, tests, activities, games, experiments, or any other teaching resources that have proved helpful are all good additions to the online repository. Original ideas or those learned from speaking to or watching other teachers are welcome! The idea behind such resource sharing is to multiply the impact by allowing the resources to be used in many different classrooms at the same time.

Translation—The more local languages that educational resources are available in, the more accessible and the more useful they will be to all Afghans. Bilingual educators or volunteers, particularly Pashto speakers, are eagerly sought by the Darakht-e Danesh team to grow the collection by translating existing materials.

Spotlight on the First National Park in Afghanistan

Although natural conservation hasn’t been a top priority for Afghanistan over the last few decades, now that the country is enjoying greater stability and prosperity, that has begun to change. The Afghan government is becoming increasingly aware of the importance of safeguarding the country’s natural heritage. With the support of a variety of international NGOs, it has taken some significant steps in recent years to protect and preserve key natural areas.

A major victory came in 2009, when Afghanistan celebrated the creation of its first ever national park. The Band-e-Amir lakes in the central Afghan province of Bamiyan have long been recognized as an area of natural beauty. Now that they have been designated as a national park, it will be easier for the country to manage sustainable tourism more effectively, preserve and protect at-risk species, and work to reverse environmental damage already done in the area.

Visitors agree that Band-e-Amir is so breathtaking that it has to be seen to be believed, but you can still get a feel for the park with these five facts:

 

  1. Band-e-Amir is one of the world’s most spectacular travertine systems.

Located in a desert area high up in the Hindu Kush mountain range, the six stunning, sapphire-blue lakes of Band-e-Amir were formed by mineral-rich water gradually seeping out of faults and cracks in the surrounding mountains. Over time, the water deposited layer upon layer of travertine, or hardened mineral, at different points on the lake bed. These layers eventually grew into the massive natural dams that now contain the lake water.

Interestingly, local lore gives an alternative explanation for how these mineral dams came into existence. Legend says that the dams that hold the lakes in place were thrown into their positions by the prophet Muhammad’s son-in-law, Hazrat Ali. The high mineral content of the water is also responsible for the incredible colors of the lakes, which can range from light turquoise to a deep, icy blue.

Band-e-Amir Lakes | Image by Johannes Zielcke | Flickr

  1. The dams of Band-e-Amir’s lakes all have names.

All of the five dams that contain Band-e-Amir’s six lakes have names. There is the Groom’s Dam, the Mint Dam, the Dam of the Slaves, and the somewhat puzzlingly named Dam of Cheese. The most famous and most visited dam, however, is Band-i-Haibat, or the Dam of Awe. This dam is 1,500 feet wide and two miles long, and its waters are believed to have healing properties (that is, if you can withstand their icy temperatures!).

 

  1. Band-e-Amir has long been a popular tourist destination.

These beautiful lakes have been a popular destination for travelers ever since the 1950s. The area experienced a peak in visitor numbers during the 1970s. Naturally, tourism was virtually non-existent during the conflicts of the 1980s and 90s. However, more and more people, domestic and foreign tourists alike, have been visiting Band-e-Amir in recent years. People are drawn to the region not only by the lakes, but also by nearby tourist magnets like the valley of Bamiyan.

The national park designation proved to be a significant boost for tourism. At present, the park can receive as many as 5,000 visitors a day in the high season. While there are some facilities currently in place for tourists, including restrooms and recreational paddle boats that can be rented for use on the lakes, the Afghan government hopes to establish more extensive amenities in the future, including guesthouses and shops.

Band-e-Amir

Band-e-Amir | Image by Afghanistan Matters| Flickr

  1. Band-e-Amir is home to plenty of wildlife.

Although habitat destruction and poaching have certainly taken their toll on the flora and fauna of Band-e-Amir, the park is still home to an impressive array of wildlife. More than 150 species of birds have been recorded – including the Afghan snow finch, which is thought to be the only bird found exclusively in Afghanistan – leading to the designation of Band-e-Amir as an Important Bird Area by BirdLife International.

Additionally, wild goats known as Ibex and wild sheep known as urials as well as wolves, foxes, and fish are all common sights within the park. But perhaps most remarkable is the fact that Band-e-Amir is home to more species of wildcat than the whole of sub-Saharan Africa, including some extremely rare examples. In 2015, a sensor-activated camera captured a photograph of a Persian leopard, which was long believed to be extinct in the region.

 

  1. The Wildlife Conservation Society is supporting Afghanistan in managing the park.

The Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS) has played an important role in helping Afghanistan successfully implement and manage its first-ever national park. WCS staff members have provided support with tasks like delineating the boundaries of the park, conducting preliminary wildlife surveys, developing a park management plan, and hiring and training local rangers.

As for the rangers themselves, a big part of their responsibilities involves working with local communities and the provincial government to mitigate the impact of park residents on the fragile natural habitat. For example, 500 fuel-efficient stoves have been distributed to families living in and near the park area, which greatly reduces their need to chop down park trees for firewood.

DAI in Afghanistan – Spotlight on 5 Important Projects

A global company wholly owned by its employees, Development Alternatives, Inc. has been working to bring fresh ideas and alternatives to the field of international development since its incorporation in 1970. Known today simply as DAI, the company partners with development agencies, private corporations, national governments, and philanthropies to create and implement innovative solutions to social and economic development challenges in some of the world’s most vulnerable nations.

At present, DAI has more than 3,300 employees worldwide, and it has active projects in more than 80 countries. In Afghanistan, DAI works with international funders on a broad range of development projects, from agricultural initiatives to programs that support small businesses. Projects currently in progress include:

  1. The Regional Agricultural Development Program (RADP-East)

This initiative is focused on the agricultural sector in eastern Afghanistan. Farmers and agribusinesses in this part of the country could stand to benefit significantly from Afghanistan’s growing economy and expanded opportunities for international trade. However, many of them still face considerable challenges like unreliable irrigation, inadequate cultivation techniques, and a lack of knowledge about how to connect with new markets. All of these have a negative impact on productivity and profitability.

The RADP-East program aims to address these issues with a value chain facilitation strategy that uses value chain analysis and training initiatives to help improve crop yields and identify new markets where rural Afghan farmers can sell their harvests.

Sample activities conducted under RADP-East include conducting a rigorous evaluation of regional agricultural value chains; leveraging strategies like SMS marketing, radio publicity, and “farmer field day” initiatives to increase awareness of regional agribusiness and connect farmers to new buyers; and providing financial support to organizations that work with farmers to improve business management and operations practices, like farm service centers, agricultural depots, and grower associations.

Afghanistan farm

 

  1. The Agricultural Credit Enhancement Program (ACE)

For over 25 years, farmers in Afghanistan could not access agricultural credit, and this severely restricted the expansion of the farming sector. Under the auspices of the ACE program, DAI helps to manage a major international grant awarded to Afghanistan’s Ministry of Agriculture, Irrigation, and Livestock. It makes credit available to farmers during the farming season, with repayment due after the harvest.

A wide range of farming participants are eligible for these loans, including small commercial farmers, high-value crop producers, agricultural product processors and exporters, and agriculture-related businesses. The ACE program also offers technical assistance and support, as well as learning and advocacy initiatives around agricultural finance, to ensure that farmers who receive loans have the best possible chance of success.

  1. The Strong Hubs for Afghan Hope and Resilience Program (SHAHAR)

Afghanistan’s municipal governments will play a critical role in building civil society and providing a better future for Afghanistan in the years ahead. However, although many municipalities have improved over the last decade, few are currently performing at the level necessary to support their citizens during a time of ongoing change.

The SHAHAR program aims to change this by providing targeted financial assistance to municipal governments, municipal advisory boards, and Afghanistan’s General Directorate of Municipal Affairs (GDMA). This assistance specifically supports improvements to municipal financial management, citizen consultation, and service delivery in urban areas.

Additional activities include organizing national, regional, and district conferences where municipalities can share best practices and lessons learned as well as working with municipal officials to prepare and implement capacity building plans. SHAHAR’s central goal is to create well-governed, fiscally sustainable municipalities that are capable of meeting the needs of Afghanistan’s growing urban populations.

  1. The Assistance to Legislative Bodies of Afghanistan Program (ALBA)

Designed to help both of Afghanistan’s houses of Parliament increase their self-reliance, the ALBA program provides issue-based assistance, training, and capacity-building support to members of Parliament (MPs) and staff as they address current bills and policies.

This support aims to boost outreach work done by Parliament and increase dialogue between MPs, citizens, civil society, and media; enable parliamentary staff to enhance their work in the areas of budget analysis and legislative research; and improve Parliament’s capacity to serve as an effective and independent oversight body for the executive branch.

  1. The Assistance in Building Afghanistan by Development Enterprise Program (ABADE)

The ABADE program is focused on economic growth in Afghanistan. Specifically, its focus is on increasing domestic and foreign investment, stimulating employment, and increasing sales of Afghan products. There are three main components to ABADE.

The first is the provision of grants to small- and medium-sized businesses and business alliances. This financial support allows businesses to plan more effectively and to take calculated risks on innovative ideas. The second component is the provision of technical support and business advice to growing companies. The third aims to incite broader improvements to the business environment.

DAI’s involvement with ABADE falls under this third component. DAI works with partner businesses and alliances to identify specific regulatory and procedural barriers, then collaborates with relevant ministries to remove or ease those barriers.