Spotlight on Afghanistan’s New Generation Organization

As Afghanistan works to rebuild after decades of unrest, it will have many challenges to face in the future. Fortunately, the country has access to an invaluable resource that will help it meet those challenges head on: its youth.

In Afghanistan, people under the age of 25 comprise nearly two-thirds of the country’s total population, according to the United Nations Population Fund. And despite—or perhaps because of—the difficult circumstances into which they were born, these youth are proving to be some of the most resilient, resourceful, and determined people on the planet.

As an example of what Afghanistan’s youth can and do achieve when they decide to take their future into their own hands, we should look no further than Afghanistan’s New Generation Organization. One of many Afghan organizations launched and led by young people, this Kabul-based NGO has grown from a movement of young activists in a single province to a country-wide network of passionate young change agents. Read on to learn more about the organization and how it is working to make the world a better place for all Afghans.

What is Afghanistan’s New Generation Organization, and how does it work?

Afghanistan’s New Generation Organization

Afghanistan’s New Generation Organization (ANGO) is a grassroots network that works across Afghanistan to encourage and inspire young people to take an active role in building a better future for themselves and their country. Through long-lasting programs and initiatives that are specifically tailored to youth, ANGO strives to mobilize and empower young people, encourage tolerance and acceptance, and create an engaged and hopeful young generation that is prepared to lead Afghanistan toward a peaceful and prosperous future.

What are ANGO’s beliefs?

A set of core beliefs and principles underlie all of ANGO’s work and activities. They include the following:

Nurturing hope—One perpetual consequence of unrest is a sense of hopelessness among individuals and communities. A desire to revive this lost hope is at the heart of ANGO’s work.

Empowerment—Empowering Afghanistan’s young people is a critical step in creating a future that will inspire pride among all Afghans.

Inclusiveness—A just society is one that listens to and brings together all of its people from all circumstances and walks of life.

Critical awareness—Information and resources are essential tools for analyzing and resolving issues in a peaceful way.

Accountability—ANGO holds itself accountable to its partners and beneficiaries, striving to ensure that projects are carried out to the highest professional standards.

What are the focus areas of ANGO?

ANGO’s activities and programs fall into four key focus areas, each of which is an important reflection of the organization’s beliefs as described above. These focus areas include the following:

Civic engagement and advocacy—ANGO’s civic engagement and advocacy unit works to engage both youth and adults in civic and volunteer programs and events. Engagement in public discourse is a key element of this focus area. By speaking with and to others about the issues that matter to them, young people will learn how to take ownership of them and effect change in a more impactful way.

Citizen journalism—There are many untold stories in Afghanistan, and ANGO is tapping into the power of citizen journalism to shine a light on those hidden tales. ANGO seeks to provide Afghan youth with the media and communications tools and skills that they need to express themselves, share their views and grievances, and make important contributions to public discourse around future development and reconstruction in Afghanistan.

Social inclusion—Afghanistan is home to many different groups of people. ANGO’s social inclusion initiatives help people of diverse backgrounds come together, find common ground, and develop a foundation for long-lasting tolerance and peace.

Capacity building—Many Afghan youth have a desire and drive to change things, but need help when it comes to developing the skills and knowledge required for the work. ANGO’s capacity-building activities help to address this gap, providing training in key areas such as leadership, media literacy, civil rights and responsibilities, and the use of information technology.

What kinds of projects does ANGO undertake?

Some examples of specific projects that ANGO undertakes include:

Society of Youth—ANGO maintains Afghanistan’s largest network of volunteers and young leaders, more than 170 people strong. These volunteers take on a wide range of civic engagement projects that include clothing drives, emergency aid support, and tree planting.

Afghan Voices—Established in 2010, Afghan Voices offers key media skills training to the country’s young people. Alumni from the Afghan Voices program have produced media work for organizations such as Global Fund and National Geographic, and have received national and international awards for media, such as documentary films.

60 Second Film Festival—Centered on the theme of peaceful coexistence, the 60 Second Film Festival offers an important platform through which aspiring filmmakers and engaged audiences can come together to share ideas and spark dialogue.

5 Things You Need to Know about the Abu’l Fazl Shrine

If you walk through the bustling bazaar in the recently restored Kabul neighborhood of Murad Khani—whether in person or online via the amazing Preserving Afghan Heritage platform on Google Arts & Culture—you’ll soon spot a distinctive blue minaret rising above the other buildings. This is the Abu’l Fazl Shrine, a beloved Murad Khani landmark and an important place of worship for Shia Muslims. Read on for a look at five fascinating facts about this unique site.

1. The shrine is named for a grandson of the Prophet Muhammad.

The shrine takes its name from Abbas Abu’l Fazl, an important historical figure who was the son of Ali, the fourth Muslim caliph. A cousin and son-in-law of the Prophet Muhammad, Ali became caliph in 656 and reigned until his assassination in 661. This period, one of the most tumultuous in Muslim history, eventually led to the splitting of Islam into two main sects: Sunnis and Shias. Shia Muslims, who were known as the “party of Ali” in early Islamic history, believed that Ali and his descendants were the rightful leaders of the Islamic community. However, after Ali’s assassination, his main rival, Muawiya, became caliph. When Muawiya’s son Yazid succeeded his father in 680, Ali’s sons, including Hussein, refused to accept the legitimacy of the new caliph, thus creating a division between the two factions.

2. The shrine commemorates a critical event in Muslim history.

The struggle between Ali’s sons and the supporters of Yazid over the question of who should hold leadership in the Islamic community eventually led to one of the most pivotal events in Muslim history: the massacre at Karbala, which took place in 680, the same year that Yazid became caliph. Stories about the event vary, but most accounts agree that Hussein, who was on his way to a city in what is now modern-day Iraq with a fairly small retinue, was set upon near the city of Karbala by Yazid’s much larger army. This army massacred Hussein’s entire party, including his half-brother Abu’l Fazl, and publicly executed Hussein—the shrine of Abu’l Fazl was built in commemoration of the brothers’ deaths. This devastating event permanently cemented the split between Sunni and Shia Muslims and gave rise to the longstanding feelings of betrayal and martyrdom that still persist in the Shia community. (Today, about 15 percent of the global Muslim population is comprised of Shia Muslims.)

3. Many pilgrims visit the shrine during the religious festival of Ashura.

While people worship at the Abu’l Fazl shrine all year round, the shrine sees the largest number of visiting pilgrims during the religious festival of Ashura. An important day for all Muslims, but especially for Shia Muslims, Ashura takes place on the 10th day of Muharram, which is the first month of the Islamic lunar calendar.

For Shia Muslims, Ashura is a commemoration of the massacre at Karbala, and of the martyrdom of Hussein, in particular. The day itself is marked by prayers, fasting, and many mourning rituals, processions, and passion plays that re-enact Hussein’s death. Some Shias emulate Hussein’s suffering through acts of self-flagellation or bloodletting, although this is increasingly discouraged by some contemporary Shia leaders, who instead urge worshippers to donate blood in recognition of Hussein’s sacrifice.

4. The shrine is important to the Murad Khani community for other reasons.

In addition to being the most sacred site of worship for Shia Muslims in Kabul, the Abu’l Fazl shrine plays an important role in the everyday lives of the residents of Murad Khani. Many people who live in the neighborhood believe that their residence there is intrinsically linked to the continuing health of the shrine and that their lives receive the blessing of the shrine’s power. On a more practical level, the shrine has given rise over the years to a thriving local economy—after the construction of the shrine, a sprawling bazaar sprang up to take advantage of the business brought to the area by the large numbers of visiting pilgrims.

5. The shrine was once saved from destruction by a dream.

The importance of the Abu’l Fazl shrine hasn’t always been recognized, however. According to a local anecdote as described in the 2015 book Religion and Urbanism: Reconceptualizing Sustainable Cities for South Asia, during the 1933-1973 reign of King Zahir Shah, urban planners wanted to destroy the shrine to accommodate a paved road directly through the Murad Khani neighborhood. Fortunately, the king changed his mind after a holy man visited him in his dreams and warned him not to demolish the shrine. The very next morning, the king visited the site and told workers to leave the shrine alone. Community elders often tell this story to illustrate the power the shrine is believed to have, as well the blessings it is said to bring to the neighborhood.

Spotlight on the Aga Khan Agency for Habitat

Aga Khan Agency

Through its various branches and agencies, the Aga Khan Development Network (AKDN) is responsible for a wide range of development projects and initiatives in Afghanistan, from the restoration of culturally significant public spaces to the creation of improved health care facilities and resources. Today, we take a look at one of the AKDN’s agencies, the Aga Khan Agency for Habitat (AKAH), which is responsible for helping Afghanistan and its people to cope with one of the most devastating challenges that they face: natural disasters.

How Afghanistan Is Affected by Natural Disasters

Due to its geographic location, years of environmental degradation, and a number of other factors, Afghanistan is highly susceptible to severe and recurring natural hazards and disasters. Given that Afghanistan is located in a high seismic activity zone, earthquakes are frequent, particularly in the northern and northwestern parts of the country. Since 2000, about nine major earthquakes have occurred. Earthquakes of all sizes often trigger landslides, which can have a destructive impact. In the spring, melting snow and heavy rains commonly cause flooding all over the country, and the effect of these floods can be particularly severe when they are preceded by periods of drought.

The devastation caused by these high rates of natural disasters place a huge burden on Afghan citizens, who struggle to stay resilient in the face of such emergencies due to factors such as severe poverty and poor infrastructure. According to data from the World Bank, natural hazards and disasters in Afghanistan have affected 9 million people and caused more than 20,000 fatalities since 1980, and those figures are only expected to rise given the increasing threat of climate change and its anticipated impact on natural disasters.

An Overview of the Aga Khan Agency for Habitat

AKAH, which was previously known as Focus Humanitarian Assistance, is one of the most important entities dedicated to resilience in the face of natural disasters in Afghanistan. AKAH engages with Afghan communities, primarily those in remote mountainous areas and rural regions, to build and support their capacity to cope with natural disasters and other complex emergencies.

AKAH’s broad approach focuses on predicting where and how natural disasters and emergencies could impact homes, communities, and livelihoods; identifying the structural and non-structural interventions that could help prevent or mitigate these disasters; and supporting communities and local and national governments to reduce their vulnerability to risk.

Focus Areas of the Aga Khan Agency for Habitat

In order to help Afghans better prepare for and cope with the effects of natural disasters and emergencies, AKAH operates a range of programs and initiatives across several different focus areas. They include the following:

Disaster Risk Reduction – For over a decade, AKAH has operated a disaster risk reduction (DRR) and emergency preparedness program in Afghanistan’s mountainous communities. The program’s model consists of community-based DRR activities; safety initiatives for public facilities such as schools and hospitals; capacity building efforts for local governments; and national advocacy for wide-ranging DRR policies and programs. One of the most important elements of the program is the communities that play a hands-on role in their own protection and preparedness. For example, community members conduct a Hazard Vulnerability Risk Assessment to identify evacuation routes and safe refuges, as well as to establish their own community-based emergency response teams.

Capacity Building – Providing support to communities in creating and maintaining community-based emergency response teams (CERTs) is one of AKAH’s most important capacity-building initiatives. Through this program, AKAH helps to ensure that CERTs are established in the communities that need them most and that these teams are properly equipped and trained. For example, CERTs receive AKAH-supported training in areas such as first aid, search and rescue, health and hygiene, communication and coordination, and early warning systems.

Community-Based Interventions – AKAH works directly in areas that are most likely to be affected by natural disasters in order to help these high-risk communities mitigate hazards and respond effectively when necessary. Some of the particular interventions that AKAH has carried out over the years include: the creation of village disaster management plans for over 400 villages; more than 100 small-scale structural risk mitigation projects, which includes clearing flow channels of debris and terracing against avalanches; the development of school disaster management committees in schools, as well as school seismic retrofitting projects in five schools; and the development of three community-based flood early warning systems in riverside areas.

External Partnerships – In order for a response to natural disasters to be most effective, it’s important to have strong communication and coordination among the various entities involved in relief efforts. AKAH helps to achieve this by building strong external partnerships with other programs, agencies, and government ministries, as well as by taking a central role in disaster management coordination. AKAH is one of the primary response institutions in Afghanistan’s Provincial Disaster Management Committee; an active member of Afghanistan’s Disaster Risk Reduction platform; a co-chair of the Disaster Risk Reduction Clusters for Food Security and Agriculture; and a partner of many other institutions, including Afghanaid, Save the Children, the Asian Disaster Preparedness Center, and a variety of United Nations agencies.