Spotlight on the Key Partners of the Bayat Foundation

For nearly two decades, the Bayat Foundation has been working to rebuild Afghanistan and to deliver hope and support to the country’s most vulnerable citizens. With a broad mission of improving the lives of Afghans, the foundation works across a number of different focus areas, engaging in projects that range from supporting post-secondary students to building maternity hospitals. Most recently, the Bayat Foundation has been involved in delivering food packages to families in need as part of its contribution to Afghanistan’s COVID-19 relief efforts.

In order to deliver these varied programs and services, the Bayat Foundation partners with a broad range of local and international organizations that offer focused expertise in different areas of humanitarian aid and development. Read on to learn about these important organizations.

Cordaid

A global humanitarian organization based in the Netherlands, Cordaid focuses on ending poverty and exclusion in countries such as Afghanistan. Supported by close to 300,000 private donors and connected to a worldwide partner network, Cordaid works to restore trust and cohesion in communities experiencing unrest, with the broader goal of improving essential services and stimulating inclusive economic growth. In 2019 alone, the organization reached 6.8 million people through health care interventions, facilitated access to education for 668,000 children, and offered $1.9 million in loans to small- and medium-sized enterprises to boost private sector development.

MATTER

The global nonprofit organization MATTER is driven by a vision of a world in which every person can lead a full and healthy life. A movement of people, businesses, and organizations, MATTER seeks to overcome one of the biggest modern challenges: a lack of access to health care and other resources necessary for healthy living. In pursuit of its goal of eliminating barriers to a healthier life, the organization engages in a number of activities in the US and around the world, such as redistributing medical supplies and equipment to underresourced hospitals and connecting children with healthy food options through its MATTERbox program.

Starkey Hearing Foundation

The Starkey Hearing Foundation has been one of the key partners of the Bayat Foundation since 2014, when the two organizations launched the Bayat-Starkey Afghanistan Hearing Care Mission. As the philanthropic arm of Starkey Hearing Technologies, the Starkey Hearing Foundation is committed to giving the gift of hearing to those in need. To do so, the foundation collaborates with governments, NGOs, and health care leaders worldwide to facilitate access to hearing care and technology for people with hearing impairments. Since its inception in 1984, the Starkey Hearing Foundation has reached more than 1.5 million people in over 100 countries.

Muslim Aid USA

A faith-based international charity, Muslim Aid USA works to support people and communities affected by natural disasters and unrest. In addition to providing emergency relief, Muslim Aid USA implements long-term development projects with the goal of helping vulnerable communities to build sustainable livelihoods. Driven by values such as compassion and justice, respect, and accountability, the organization is particularly focused on areas such as capacity building, economic empowerment, education, and women’s and children’s health.

Feed My Starving Children

A US-based nonprofit, Feed My Starving Children believes that hope begins with food. Nearly half of the deaths of children under 5 years old are the result of hunger and malnutrition. In order to combat this statistic, Feed My Starving Children teams up with food science and nutrition professionals to develop hand-packed meals. Moreover, it works with community-based distribution partners worldwide to ensure that they continue to reach the children who need them the most.

American University of Afghanistan

The American University of Afghanistan holds the distinction of being the only nationally accredited, private, not-for-profit post-secondary institution in Afghanistan. Committed to preparing future leaders, AUAF offers a non-partisan education to a co-ed student body. As a liberal arts institution, AUAF supports critical thinking and academic freedom among students and faculty alike, and it is committed to fostering a safe, inclusive, and respectful learning atmosphere. AUAF first opened its doors in 2006 with a cohort of 50 students. Today, the university enrolls over 1,700 students (both full- and part-time), and it has produced 29 Fulbright Scholars. In addition, AUAF maintains partnerships with some of the most respected institutions of higher education in the nation, including Stanford University, Georgetown University, and the University of California system.

Food for Kidz

Providing food to insecure communities in the US and regions around the world affected by natural disasters, war, and famine, Food for Kidz believes that change starts with the simplicity of a meal. In order to connect children and families in need with healthy and nutritious meals, Food for Kidz has developed a unique mobile packaging system. The organization provides all the necessary tools and support so that groups of volunteers—ranging from companies and schools to churches—can put together a package of life-sustaining food. Following a packaging event, Food for Kids connects with partner organizations to assess where the need is greatest, and then it ships and delivers the packaged food to those communities.

A Look at the New Program Helping Boost Literacy in Afghanistan

According to 2018 data from the UNESCO Institute for Statistics, 12 million people in Afghanistan—roughly one-third of the country’s entire population—lack basic literacy skills. This figure has been dropping over the last decade thanks to considerable efforts by government entities and NGOs. However, it’s clear that there is still a great deal of work to be done when it comes to improving literacy rates in Afghanistan.

One new initiative determined to tackle this challenge head-on is the Better Education System for Afghanistan’s Future (BESAF) project. A basic general literacy program geared towards some of Afghanistan’s most marginalized groups and communities, the BESAF project hopes to boost literacy levels for thousands of Afghans. Read on to learn more.

What is the BESAF project?

The Better Education System for Afghanistan’s Future project is a two-year program that will provide some 15,000 youth and adult learners around the country with courses in basic general literacy.

Taking place in 2021 and 2022, these courses have the immediate objective of increasing fundamental literacy skills among some of Afghanistan’s most disadvantaged and vulnerable people, including youth and adults in remote communities.

A broader goal of the BESAF project is to increase demand for and facilitate access to adult education, in order to better support Afghans who were unable to receive formal education during Afghanistan’s conflict years.

What is unique about the BESAF project?

One element that distinguishes the BESAF project from other literacy-building initiatives is that is places as much emphasis on teaching the teachers as it does on teaching the learners. One of the biggest challenges faced by education in general in Afghanistan is a lack of qualified teachers. In far too many learning situations, teachers are barely more educated or experienced than their students. The organizers of the BESAF project therefore made it a priority to ensure that their literacy courses would be taught by qualified, competent trainers.

To this end, the BESAF project began in late 2020 with a 10-day “training of trainers” workshop. A total of 124 master trainers—including program implementation managers, monitors, and district literacy managers —participated in the workshop.

They learned pragmatic tools and strategies for helping train and guide facilitators to effectively deliver literacy classes. The next step will, in turn, involve these master trainers providing further training to the hundreds of literacy facilitators who will be directly teaching and supporting BESAF learners.

Who is involved in the BESAF project?

Partners collaborating on the BESAF project include:

The UNESCO Office in Kabul

Re-opened in 2002, the UNESCO Office in Kabul has been working for nearly two decades to help the government of Afghanistan build and grow its educational, cultural, informational, and scientific capacity. The Office’s broad range of programs are frequently operated in collaboration with a diverse array of local and international partners and stakeholders.

The goal is to enrich the lives of Afghan citizens, create a stronger future for the country, and build peace within and beyond Afghanistan’s borders. The UNESCO Office in Kabul, together with the Afghan Ministry of Education, is responsible for implementing the BESAF project.

The Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency (Sida)

The primary funder of the BESAF project, Sida is the Swedish government’s agency for development cooperation. It works with a wide range of societal partners, including public and private sector agencies, civil society organizations, and research institutions.

Sida supports and carries out sustainable development initiatives in dozens of countries around the world. The agency’s broad goal is to help create conditions that will allow people experiencing poverty and oppression to improve their lives and livelihoods.

Why is the BESAF project important?

As the UNESCO Office in Kabul explains, education is the tool with which people can build the knowledge, skills, and competencies they need to cope with the many complex challenges of contemporary life. Literacy is the cornerstone of education.

In other words, before people can better themselves and their communities, before they can benefit from more specialized education, they must first become literate. Programs like the BESAF project are therefore critically important in that they help create the foundation on which all future learning and personal development can rest.

What other educational initiatives does UNESCO support in Afghanistan?

The BESAF project is just one way in which UNESCO supports education in Afghanistan. In recent years, the UNESCO Office in Kabul has worked closely with Afghanistan’s Ministry of Education to develop plans, policies, and tools for Technical and Vocational Education and Training (TVET). This program helps provide unemployed or underemployed adults with targeted training.

UNESCO has also played an instrumental role in helping Afghanistan create its third National Education Strategic Plan. The ambitious policy document lays out a comprehensive and cohesive vision for improving the state of education throughout the country.

Spotlight on the Unique Traditional Instruments of Afghanistan

New York City might not be the first place you’d think of in connection with Afghan music, but surprisingly enough, the city’s famous Metropolitan Museum of Art is home to one of the finest collections of traditional Afghan instruments in the world. Comprised of 29 different instruments, the collection was donated to the Met in 2015 by Mark Slobin, a former professor of music and American studies at Wesleyan University.

Slobin gathered the instruments between 1967 and 1972. During this five-year period, he traveled repeatedly to northern Afghanistan in order to conduct extensive research into Afghan music, culture, language, and general society. This fieldwork, along with the instruments themselves, would eventually prove to be more valuable than anyone anticipated.

Just a few short years later, the Soviet invasion of 1979 initiated a decades-long period of civil conflict in Afghanistan. During these challenging years, music became widely banned. Many musicians (and their instruments) either fled the country or were driven underground, and Afghanistan’s rich musical heritage fell into decline.

Slobin’s instrument collection—along with his in-depth research, which includes folk music recordings, films, and hundreds of music-related images—therefore stands as an important and rare glimpse into an aspect of Afghanistan’s culture that has been all but lost. As a result of Slobin’s work, the fascinating traditional Afghan instruments that visitors to the Met can see and learn about include:

The Qobuz

A type of fiddle widely used in northern Afghanistan, the qobuz is an ancient instrument of Turkic origin. The instrument is mentioned in the first comprehensive dictionary of Turkic languages, which was compiled in the 11th century. Shaped like a deep, curved ladle, the qobuz has a belly covered with camel or goat skin and two horsehair strings; a horsehair bow is used for playing, which generates a sound rich in overtones.

Believed to be a sacred instrument traditionally owned by shamans, the qobuz was popular during the 15th and 16th centuries for musical entertainment at Afghanistan’s royal courts. The qobuz featured in the Slobin collection at the Met was custom made for the popular Afghan folk musician Baba Naim.

The Dambura

Another traditional Afghan instrument of Turkic origin is the dambura (sometimes known as the dombra or dombyra). A type of lute typically made from a single block of wood, the dambura features a long, thin neck; a deep, oblong bowl; and two playing strings.

It is played either by plucking or strumming the strings. In some regions, musicians will also bang or strike the instrument while playing in order to produce a strong percussive sound.

The Waj

More formally known as a Kafir harp, the waj is a traditional arched harp, typically with either four or five strings, used by the Kafir people of northeastern Afghanistan’s Nuristan province. Interestingly, although similar harps were historically widespread throughout Central Asia and India, the waj is not found anywhere else in Afghanistan today.

The instrument features two main components: the soundbox, made from a hollow piece of wood covered with a thick, stretched animal skin; and the stringholder, which is a curved branch positioned on top of the soundbox. Traditionally, the waj is played at social gatherings, usually as an accompaniment to epic storytelling or heroic songs.

The Nai

One of the few wind instruments used in Afghan music, the nai (or ney) is an end-blown flute of Persian origin. The instrument is little more than a hollow tube, usually made from a piece of hollow cane or a large reed, with five or six finger holes and one thumb hole (some nai also feature decorative painting or carving). Given the nai’s basic, simple design, it’s hardly surprising to learn that the instrument is one of the oldest still in use. It has been played continually for roughly 5,000 years.

The Ghichak

A very popular instrument in Afghanistan’s central and northern regions, the ghichak is a type of two-stringed fiddle that is played with a kaman (a horsehair bow). Distinct from many other traditional Afghan instruments which are made of wood or natural materials, the body of the ghichak is made from a large metal tin, which gives the instrument its characteristic sound.

Looking Ahead: The Future of Afghan Music.

Happily, although Afghanistan’s musical heritage suffered greatly during the country’s conflict years, traditional music is once again on the rise in Afghanistan. In recent years, a number of local and international organizations have launched programs aimed at reviving Afghanistan’s musical traditions and bringing back the use of traditional instruments.

For example, the Aga Khan Trust for Culture’s Master-Apprentice Music Training Program sees hundreds of students learning to play traditional instruments under the tutelage of master musicians in Kabul and Herat. Likewise, the Afghanistan National Institute of Music, founded in 2010 by musicologist Dr. Ahmad Sarmast, provides children and young teens with training in general academics and music, with a particular focus on traditional Afghan music.

Featured Image courtesy US Embassy Kabul Afghanistan