Spotlight on 5 Inspiring Afghans Working with the UN

In 2015, the United Nations celebrated its 70th anniversary with a global series of events around the theme “Strong UN, Better World.” Afghanistan, which has had a long and important relationship with the UN, was one of the participating countries in these celebrations under the headline “UN70: Strong UN, Strong Afghanistan.”

In addition to a month-long series of activities held all around the country by and with the UN family in Afghanistan, an important part of the UN70 celebrations was a high-profile showcase of some of the outstanding Afghan professionals who had worked with or been assisted by the UN in recent years. A major part of the UN’s work in Afghanistan involves empowering Afghans to assist their country and their fellow citizens, and to help build a strong, self-reliant Afghanistan. Read on for a look back at five of the professionals who were recognized for their work and achievements during UN70.

 

Mohammad Dad: Youth Leader for Returnees

Like many others of his generation, Mohammad Dad grew up in refugee camps outside Afghanistan, and only returned to his homeland about nine years ago. Inspired by both the challenges and triumphs his family experienced while trying to build a new life for themselves in a country they hadn’t lived in for many years, he determined to do what he could to support fellow returning refugees. In 2012, Dad founded the Chonghar-Morghgeeren Youth Association (CMYA) with the assistance of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR). Based in the Paghman district of Afghanistan and serving roughly 15 villages in the area, CMYA has provided support, resources, and encouragement to more than 1,200 returnees, offering services like education, health care, and vocational training to help individuals find employment.

 

Habib Noori: Cultural Heritage Director

Habib Noori brings his extensive experience working with the Aga Khan Trust for Culture in Kabul, Badakhshan, and Herat to his current role as director of the Afghanistan Cultural Heritage Consulting Organization (ACHCO). Founded by Noori himself in 2011, ACHCO is a non-governmental organization that works to preserve Afghanistan’s rich cultural heritage for future generations. This is a critical issue, given that many of Afghanistan’s historic and cultural sites and monuments have either been destroyed or damaged by conflict, or are falling into disrepair without adequate upkeep. Noori’s personal specialization is the restoration of historic monuments; most recently, he oversaw the restoration of Herat’s Shahzada Abdullah mausoleum, a magnificent monument dating from the 15th century. ACHCO does not receive direct support from the UN, but works with the UN Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) on its heritage preservation projects.

 

Ghulam Nabi: Seed Production Company Director

A long-time resident of a village in eastern Afghanistan, Ghulam Nabi worked for many years as a teacher—a vocation he describes as a “sacred duty.” However, he observed that local farmers were in dire need of better seeds, which led him to consider what he could do to help. With technical and professional support from the United Nations Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO) and the Afghanistan Investment Support Agency (AISA), Nabi founded an agricultural business dedicated to improving seed quality and thus contributing to greater food security in Afghanistan. By working closely with farmers, Nabi is able to track seed performance and ensure that the best and strongest are identified and reproduced for future crops. So far, thanks to the work of Nabi and his company, yield has increased by more than 30%.

 

Mohammad Sediq Rashid: National De-Mining Director

Mohammad Sediq Rashid has been working to make Afghanistan a safer place through de-mining work for more than 25 years. Decades of war and conflict have left landmines and unexploded ammunition all around the country, making villages, cities, agricultural land, and roads unsafe to live in or use productively. De-mining is a vital activity not only to prevent loss of life, but also to allow for much-needed development projects, like more and better roads and new electricity plants. Having begun his career surveying minefields, identifying contaminated sites, and mapping and marking critical areas, Rashid has worked with the United Nations Mine Action Service (UNMAS) since 2000, and today heads the Mine Action Coordination Center of Afghanistan (MACCA). During the years that Rashid has been working in de-mining, it is estimated that about 80% of mine-contaminated areas have been cleared.

 

Nasrullah: Drug Rehabilitation Center Mentor

According to a survey conducted in 2009 by the Ministry of Public Health and the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), nearly 10% of adult Afghans between the ages of 15 and 64 use drugs regularly. Nasrullah was once one of them: after becoming addicted to drugs as a teenager, he sought help through the residential drug treatment program at the Nejat Center, a facility in Kabul supported by UNODC. Upon his recovery, Nasrullah decided to use his own experiences to help others. Today, he works as a mentor and teacher in the Nejat Center’s vocational training program for drug users in recovery.

5 Things You Need to Know about the Miraculous Love Kids

Although the situation has improved in recent years, the sight of kids on the street is still all too common in Afghanistan’s major cities. Some of these street children are orphans, living on the street because they have no other home, while others have taken to the streets to beg or sell food or trinkets in order to help support their families. Unfortunately, living on the street makes these children particularly vulnerable: according to UN figures, 923 Afghan children were killed in attacks in 2016. In addition, when children are working on the street, they are not attending school, which means they will face even greater barriers to a better future.

This is where charities like the Miraculous Love Kids come in. Perhaps the most hopefully-named charity in Afghanistan, the Miraculous Love Kids is one of a growing number of organizations dedicated to helping the nation’s street children. The Miraculous Love Kids is a music school founded by guitarist Lanny Cordola that offers guitar classes to street kids in Kabul, and for many of the young students, the experience has been life-changing. Here are five things you need to know about this special organization:

  1. The school was inspired by a tragic event.

Lanny Cordola, the Miraculous Love Kids’ founder, got his first taste of music’s power to help and heal people in need in 2010, when he was invited by a friend to collaborate with Central Asian musicians as part of a relief campaign for catastrophic flooding that was affecting the area. In his travels to visit various flood camps, Cordola witnessed the joy that these displaced people undergoing tremendous hardship experienced when they had the opportunity to hear and play music.

Cordola returned to California determined to work on making music that would give a voice to people in need, like those he’d met in the camps. And it was in this frame of mind that, in 2012, he heard about two young sisters who had been killed by a suicide bomber in Afghanistan as they sold trinkets on the street. Cordola was deeply moved by the story and reached out to contacts from his previous trip to see if he could get in touch with the girls’ family. Upon discovering that their mother and younger sisters were living in poverty with few resources, he was determined to do what he could to help. After repeated visits to Afghanistan, during which he raised enough money to move the family into a better home, Cordola noticed how interested the girls were in his guitar. The realization that music could help heal these young lives provided the initial spark for what is now the Miraculous Love Kids.

  1. Around 60 children attend the school.

Today, Lanny Cordola and other musicians teach roughly 60 children at the Miraculous Love Kids school. As part of the program, the children receive an allowance of between 50 and 100 Afghanis every time they come; this means that the kids (and their families) don’t lose out financially because the youngsters are in class rather than selling or begging on the street. In addition to studying guitar, the school’s students learn English and receive support for additional schooling.

  1. The school is a US-registered nonprofit.

The Miraculous Love Kids is formally registered as a 501(c)(3) organization in the US. Its main sources of financial support are private donations—many of which are made via the organization’s GoFundMe page. However, it also raises money by performing benefit concerts.

  1. Students have collaborated with one of the biggest legends in music.

The young musicians at the Miraculous Love Kids have a dedicated supporter that most Western artists could only dream about: Brian Wilson. The legendary Beach Boys front man is an old friend of Lanny Cordola, and when he learned about Cordola’s work with some of Afghanistan’s most vulnerable children, he reached out to see how he could help the group. The result is the Miraculous Love Kids’ first-ever professional collaboration: Brian Wilson sent voice and music tracks for his song “Love and Mercy” to the school to be mixed with the students’ own playing and singing. Proceeds from the sales of the song will go to support the school. In addition, Wilson has invited some of the students to visit and work with him in the US.

  1. The school’s founder, Lanny Cordola, is a former arena rock guitarist.

There are few people better equipped than Lanny Cordola to introduce Western rock music to Afghan street children. A guitarist from Southern California, Cordola has played with musicians in some of the most important rock groups in music history, including the Beach Boys and Guns N’ Roses. As a result of his work with the Miraculous Love Kids, Cordola has also been collaborating more and more with Afghan musicians like Wahid Qasimi. Cordola now lives full-time in Kabul.

6 Things You Should Know about Teach for Afghanistan

Teach for AfghanistanIn an effort to improve access to quality education, many countries have drafted talented young graduates to serve as teachers in areas that are underserved. Today, this model is taking off on a global scale due to the efforts of Teach for All, an international nonprofit that has spent the last decade working with local partners to connect motivated and inspiring teachers with students in some of the world’s most disadvantaged countries, including Afghanistan. Read on for six facts about this organization and its local affiliate, Teach for Afghanistan.

  1. Teach for All is a global network with local roots.

Teach for All believes that meaningful and sustainable change needs to be led by people rooted in their culture who understand the unique challenges and opportunities facing youth in their own communities. That’s why Teach for All doesn’t bring in teachers from elsewhere, but works with local partners to recruit and place community-oriented educators who themselves have experienced the inequities that they aim to address in the classroom.

  1. Teach for All supports teachers so that they can support students.

Teachers are most effective in the classroom when they have received comprehensive instruction and training, something that is not always the case in countries or regions with struggling postsecondary education systems. Teach for All supports participants by offering training and ongoing coaching opportunities so that teachers have the opportunity to develop the skills and knowledge that will enable them to contribute to their communities.

  1. Teach for All spans six continents and 46 countries.

Teach for All has network partners in countries ranging from Argentina and Armenia to Uganda and Ukraine. Since each one is locally led, there are some differences between networks. However, all of the partners share a commitment to a number of key program principles—such as accelerating alumni leadership and driving measurable impact—and to some common organizational design features that include building public and private sector partnerships and ensuring diverse representation and inclusiveness.

  1. Teach for All networks share five core values.

In order to maintain a sense of cohesiveness and shared purpose when working across borders, Teach for All networks are guided by five core values: a sense of possibility, or the belief in the potential of all children to realize their aspirations; a dedication to being locally rooted but globally informed; a commitment to constant learning and continuous education, reflection, and improvement; diversity and inclusiveness, which seeks to ensure full participation from people of all backgrounds; and interdependence, which recognizes our shared humanity and interconnectedness.

  1. Teach for Afghanistan is led by a former Teach for India volunteer.

school children

Rahmatullah Arman, the CEO of Teach for All’s global network partner Teach for Afghanistan, was first introduced to Teach for All as a volunteer in Pune, India, where he pursued postsecondary studies after having completed secondary school in Kabul. While at the University of Pune, where he earned a bachelor’s degree in international relations and a master’s degree in international human resources management, Arman ranked among the highest-achieving students and earned a number of national and international awards at various conferences and debates. After completing his studies in 2011, Arman returned to Afghanistan, where he served in several positions with government and private sector organizations. Eventually, however, he was so inspired by his volunteer experience with Teach for All—and so dismayed by the state of his home country’s education system—that he became determined to bring the organization’s mission and model to Afghanistan.

  1. Teach for Afghanistan’s first cohort was comprised of high achievers.

In 2013, Rahmatullah Arman launched Teach for Afghanistan with the support of Teach for All. At that time, Afghanistan was still struggling to recover from decades of civil conflict and challenging reconstruction. At the time, 3.6 million children were not attending school and 75% of students had dropped out by the age of 15. Moreover, half of the country’s teachers lacked qualifications. Despite this, Arman said in interviews that he was inspired by the hope and determination that he witnessed, such as schools crowded with students even though there were no chairs or desks, and families risking explosions or other security dangers just to take their children to school.

In the face of all this, Arman was determined to provide the children of Afghanistan with not only an education, but a high-quality one led by Afghans themselves. In order to achieve this goal, he set high standards for the first cohort of Teach for Afghanistan participants. Applicants were required to have a degree with marks of at least 75%, as well as communication skills and leadership experience. For the 80 available positions, Arman received 3,000 applications. All of the applicants fulfilled the criteria, and the majority were graduates of Afghan universities.