Spotlight on the Swedish Committee for Afghanistan

The Swedish Committee for Afghanistan (SCA) has been in existence for more than 35 years. Its goal is to bring support and stability to Afghans who are struggling with the impact of war and violence on their country and their communities.

The organization is committed to maintaining operations in the country as long as necessary. The SCA currently serves as the second-largest channel for the development aid that is provided to Afghanistan by the Swedish government. Read on to learn more about the SCA and its activities in Afghanistan.

 

What is the SCA all about?

SCAlogoThe SCA was originally founded in response to the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan in 1979. In the early 1980s, the SCA was largely focused on raising funds for humanitarian support. It engaged in relief activities like providing essential health care and education to refugees and residents of occupied Afghanistan.

Over time, the SCA gradually expanded its work beyond the delivery of basic humanitarian services. It became a development organization with a much broader focus.

Today, the SCA’s vision is of an Afghanistan that is free from poverty, violence, and discrimination, where all citizens can live in dignity and enjoy equal opportunity and social justice. Supporting this vision are the SCA’s 12,000 members and individual donors in Sweden as well as the more than 6,000 Afghan employees who implement the SCA’s programs in 14 Afghan provinces.

 

What kinds of activities and programs does the SCA operate?

The organization aims to support some of Afghanistan’s most vulnerable groups, including children, people with disabilities, and rural and remote communities. The SCA operates programs and activities across four major focus areas:

 

  1. Healthcare

Access to healthcare and health outcomes in Afghanistan have improved in recent years. Despite this, the country’s health situation still remains a major challenge.

At present, the SCA is responsible for providing healthcare services and building healthcare capacity in Laghman province and Wardak province. In Afghanistan, it is typical for basic healthcare to be provided primarily by non-governmental organizations on a province-by-province basis.

Particular initiatives include conducting community-based health and hygiene education campaigns; training more health care providers, particularly midwives; and increasing health care access for people with disabilities.

Highlights from 2017 include: performing 2.6 million patient consultations; giving immunizations against diphtheria, tetanus, hepatitis b, and polio to 50,000 children under the age of 5; providing maternal care to more than 44,000 women; and establishing 31 more health clinics in the two provinces.

 

  1. Community Governance

In the Afghan countryside, many local communities have severely restricted opportunities for residents to effect change, make their voices heard, and assert their rights. This is the result of conflicts, corruption, and mismanagement at the municipal level.

To help empower these communities and their residents, the SCA works all around Afghanistan. It builds the capacity of local decision-making bodies and provides education and training to local authorities.

Highlights from 2017 include: providing support to nearly 370 community development councils, which in turn implemented 65 local projects; offering training in service delivery and community rights to members of local government; and conducting social audits of community projects in three provinces.

 

  1. Rural Livelihood

Rapid urbanization has taken place in Afghanistan over the last decade. Despite this, an estimated 75 percent of the country’s population still lives and works in rural areas. Unfortunately, many of these rural citizens, especially those in remote or isolated communities, are among Afghanistan’s most vulnerable people.

As a result of conflict, difficult environmental conditions, and natural disasters, poverty is endemic in most rural areas. As a result, the potential for long-term self-sufficiency is very limited.

To help rural citizens build secure livelihoods for themselves and their families and access new sources of income, the SCA facilitates the formation of self-help groups. These groups can save money together, develop business partnerships, and exchange knowledge and skills.

The SCA also provides practical, hands-on training in potentially income-generating activities such as poultry farming, vegetable farming, soap making, tailoring, and carpet weaving.

Highlights from 2017 include: forming over 200 new self-help groups; establishing 32 village-based saving and loan associations; granting micro-loans to more than 2,500 rural households; conducting an impact study revealing that previous loan recipients increased their household income by almost 29 percent.

 

  1. Education

Education is one of Afghanistan’s most important priorities. The SCA is just one of many organizations working to improve access to and quality of education for children all across the country. As a result of concerted efforts by these organizations and the government of Afghanistan, more Afghan children are attending school than ever. At present, nearly 70,000 children go to SCA-run schools.

Highlights from 2017 include: a 5 percent increase in the number of children enrolled in SCA primary schools; construction of seven new school buildings, 20 washrooms, and one resource center; the provision of special education to more than 1,600 children and adults with disabilities; and mainstream school inclusion for 600 children with physical disabilities and 2,000 children with intellectual and developmental disabilities.

How Is the Bayat Foundation Helping Afghans With Deafness?

bayatfoundationlogoFrom October 1-5, 2018, the Bayat Foundation proudly hosted the annual Bayat-Starkey Afghanistan Hearing Care Mission on the grounds of the Bayat Media Center in Kabul. Now in its fifth consecutive year, the Hearing Care Mission is one of the most important initiatives in Afghanistan that supports people affected by deafness or hearing impairments. Read on to learn more about this annual event that provides hope and healing to thousands of Afghans.

 

What is the Bayat-Starkey Afghanistan Hearing Care Mission?

Established in 2014 by the Bayat Foundation and the Starkey Hearing Foundation, the Hearing Care Mission works to bring the gift of hearing to the many thousands of Afghans who are living with deafness or hearing impairments. Held for several days each year, the Hearing Care Mission provides attendees with free hearing screenings, hearing aids, and other treatments and services. Bayat Foundation founder Dr. Ehsan Bayat estimates that since it was first launched, the Hearing Care Mission has served more than 7,000 people.

 

Why is the Hearing Care Mission important?

Deafness and other hearing impairments are a serious problem in Afghanistan. Estimates from the Afghanistan National Association of the Deaf suggest that approximately 34,000 children between the ages of seven and 18 are affected by deafness, blindness, or both. Unfortunately, deafness faces considerable stigma in Afghan society: people don’t always recognize it as a physical impairment, instead often believing that it is a reflection of a developmental disability or other cognitive impairment.

In addition, in a country where even basic health care can be difficult to come by, it is challenging for Afghans living with deafness to access treatment and services, let alone educational options that can accommodate their unique needs. For many Afghans affected by deafness, the Hearing Care Mission is therefore a rare opportunity to have their hearing needs attended to by medical experts, and to interact with people who understand and are experienced at communicating with people who are deaf.

 

What happened at this year’s Hearing Care Mission?

In 2018, the Hearing Care Mission opened with the October 1st Dedication Ceremony, which was attended by a number of senior Afghan government officials, NGO representatives, civic leaders, and other stakeholders. In his opening address, Dr. Bayat thanked the audience for their support and commitment to helping give the gift of hearing to thousands of Afghans.

During the five days of the Hearing Care Mission, a rigorous patient assessment and treatment process helped to deliver the best possible care to attendees. The process was overseen by several Bayat-Starkey Hearing Care Teams comprised of international audiologists and hearing care specialists, as well as trained and dedicated volunteers from the Bayat Foundation. Patients first underwent an intake process in which their vital signs were recorded and they received a thorough examination and cleaning of their ears and auditory system. Next, patients were given a set of fitted ear molds, made from clear and wear-resistant plastic, to house their new hearing devices.

After the intake process, patients were escorted by volunteers into the treatment area. Here, the Bayat-Starkey Hearing Care Teams fit each patient with personalized hearing aids. Provided completely free of charge, these devices allowed many of the patients to connect with the world through sound for the first time in their lives. At this year’s Hearing Care Mission, more than 1,240 people received care and treatment.

 

ears

 

Who is the Bayat Foundation’s partner on the Hearing Care Mission?

The Bayat-Starkey Afghanistan Hearing Care Mission is a joint venture from the Bayat Foundation and its partner, the Starkey Hearing Foundation. As the philanthropic arm of Starkey Hearing Technologies, one of the world’s leading manufacturers of hearing aids, the Starkey Hearing Foundation has been working to give the gift of hearing to those in need for more than 30 years. The Foundation has worked than 100 countries around the world, collaborating with governments, non-profit organizations, and health leaders to help increase access to hearing healthcare services. The Foundation estimates that through its various initiatives, which include programs like the Afghanistan Hearing Care Mission, it has helped provide more than 1 million people with much-needed hearing support.

 

How does the Hearing Care Mission fulfill the Bayat Foundation’s objectives?

In addition to education, water projects, and family support, healthcare is one of the central pillars of the Bayat Foundation’s mission and activities. Recognizing that many Afghans, particularly in rural and remote communities, have difficulty accessing essential healthcare services, the Bayat Foundation works to improve the quality and accessibility of healthcare throughout the country. Some of the health-related initiatives that the Bayat Foundation has led in the past include: the construction of a brand-new maternity, neo-natal, and surgical hospital in Kabul; the operation of a vision care clinic that provided free glasses and other treatment to Afghans with visual impairments; and various donations to institutions like Kabul Medical University.

These 6 Afghan Sites Have Appeared on the WMF Watch List

WMFlogoA private, non-profit organization headquartered in New York City, the World Monuments Fund (WMF) has been working to preserve, protect, and raise awareness about the world’s significant cultural and artistic treasures for more than five decades. One of the most important programs the WMF operates is the World Monuments Watch: launched in 1995, this global initiative identifies cultural heritage sites that are at risk and works to help raise the financial and technical support needed to preserve them.

To date, six cultural sites in Afghanistan have made appearances on the World Monuments Watch list. Read on to learn more about these treasured, but imperiled, historic locations.

 

Murad Khane, Kabul (2008 World Monuments Watch).

The story of the rehabilitation of the historic district of Murad Khane in the heart of Kabul is truly inspiring. When Murad Khane was included on the World Monuments Watch list in 2008, the neighborhood was in devastating shape after decades of conflict and neglect: beautiful historic buildings had fallen into complete disrepair, and the entire area was covered by garbage. Fortunately, the non-profit cultural organization Turquoise Mountain was at that time in the process of launching a comprehensive restoration project aimed at bringing Murad Khane back to its former glory. With the help and skills of thousands of local community members, Turquoise Mountain completely cleaned up the neighborhood, hauling away tons upon tons of garbage and carefully restoring the beautiful historic buildings that lay underneath. Today, Murad Khane is a vibrant artistic neighborhood, and the restoration project earned Turquoise Mountain the 2013 UNESCO Award of Distinction.

Murad Khane

Image courtesy Canada in Afghanistan | Flickr

 

Tepe Narenj, Kabul area (2008 World Monuments Watch).

In the Zanburak Mountains just south of Kabul sits Tepe Narenj, a Buddhist monastery established in the fifth or sixth century. An important testament to historic Buddhist influence in the region, Tepe Narenj is comprised of a number of stupas (in Sanskrit, a “stupa” is a mound-like structure containing relics, which are often the remains of Buddhist monks or nuns), individual meditation cells, several chapels, and numerous statues of the Buddha and Boddhisatva figures. Tepe Narenj was believed to have been destroyed by armies in the ninth century, but it was later rediscovered and was the first site in Afghanistan to be excavated after the Soviet conflict. The site was placed on the watch list as it is at serious risk of damage due to exposure to the elements.

 

Ghazni Minarets, Ghazni (2004 World Monuments Watch).

Soaring 20 meters above the arid landscape at the foot of the Hindu Kush Mountains, the minarets of Ghazni are a striking reminder of the great Ghaznavid Empire, which ruled a huge portion of Central Asia during the 11th and 12th centuries. The minarets are constructed of fired mud brick and covered with highly detailed terracotta decorations, including geometric designs and verses from the Quran. Today, the minarets themselves are structurally sound, though subject to periodic flooding, but the terracotta decorations are rapidly deteriorating as a result of exposure to rain and snow. Since the Ghazni minarets were placed on the watch list, a laser scan survey of the towers was conducted by architects from the US National Park Service’s Historic American Building Survey: this has provided a valuable record of existing conditions, and can serve as an important resource for future preservation efforts.

 

Buddhist Remains of Bamiyan, Bamiyan (2008 World Monuments Watch).

The 2001 destruction of the famous Buddhas of Bamiyan—colossal, extraordinary sculptures carved into the sandstone cliffs of the Bamiyan Valley—was a huge blow for cultural preservationists in Afghanistan. Today, efforts are being made to preserve other aspects of the site, and discussions are ongoing about the possibility of rebuilding the Buddhas. Learn more about what’s happening in the Bamiyan area here.

 

Haji Piyada Mosque, Balkh (2006 World Monuments Watch).

Also known as “Noh Gumbad” for the nine cupolas that once covered it, the Haji Piyada Mosque is not only Afghanistan’s oldest known Islamic building, it’s one of the earliest structures in the eastern Islamic world. Built in the late ninth century, the mosque is modest in size but architecturally rich, even though the cupolas have collapsed and only one supporting arch still stands. Its age makes the Haji Piyada Mosque a structure of unparalleled cultural and architectural significance, but at the time of its placement on the watch list, the structure was highly vulnerable to erosion, looting, and lack of proper maintenance. To assist with preservation efforts, the World Monuments Fund worked with UNESCO and other agencies to develop and implement a long-term conservation plan, which was completed in 2010.

 

Image courtesy Richard Layman | Flickr

 

Old City of Herat, Herat (1998 and 2010 World Monuments Watch).

A key stop along the ancient Silk Road, Herat is home to a spectacular assortment of medieval Islamic buildings, including the Qala Ikhtyaruddin citadel and the famous Friday Mosque. However, the entire Old City has suffered as a result of military conflict, looting, earthquakes and, more recently, pressures brought on by rapid development and intensive construction. Alongside the World Monuments Fund, many other organizations are working to implement protection and preservation efforts in Herat, most notably the Aga Khan Trust for Culture.