A Look at 5 Charities That Aim to Help Afghans with Disabilities

A growing number of organizations are seeking to make life easier for Afghans with disabilities. Recognizing that Afghanistan is not the most easily accessible place for people with disabilities, these organizations aim to integrate these vulnerable individuals into Afghan society, which offers little in the way of infrastructure or systems to facilitate the daily lives of those with mobility difficulties or visual impairments. In addition, there are few services in Afghanistan that provide assistance and support to people with disabilities. However, the following organizations are seeking to ensure that Afghans with disabilities obtain the assistance that they need.

1. Humanity & Inclusion

Humanity and Inclusion

Formerly known as Handicap International (and still operating programs in Afghanistan under this name), Humanity & Inclusion (HI) has been working in Afghanistan for more than 30 years. Focused primarily on helping people injured by landmines, the organization accomplishes its mission in two ways. The first is through the direct provision of assistance and other support services. At its rehabilitation center in Kandahar, for example, HI offers physiotherapy sessions and produces support equipment such as prostheses and mobility aids. The second way is through extensive advocacy work: HI works with the government of Afghanistan and other national institutions to improve access to care for people with disabilities and to ensure that action plans based on the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities are properly coordinated. HI also supports local—often smaller—disability rights organizations by connecting them with potential partners and raising their concerns with local political leaders.

2. Tearfund

Tearfund

Based in the UK, Tearfund is a charity whose international work seeks to lift people out of poverty, overcome the effects of disasters, and deliver support to some of the world’s most vulnerable and marginalized populations. Since 1971, Tearfund has been supporting humanitarian work in Afghanistan. Active in 10 Afghan provinces, the charity partners with five local organizations to deliver its programming. One of its key focus areas is advocating for Afghans with disabilities. Through this work, Tearfund seeks to transform attitudes and end the stigma surrounding disabilities, as well as establish inclusive communities where people of different ability levels can live together on equal footing. In addition, the charity runs educational support programs and works with one of its local partners to help Afghanistan develop a more inclusive educational policy. As a result, more children with disabilities are now attending school than ever before.

3. Development and Ability Organization (DAO)

Development and Ability Organization

Founded in 2004, the Afghan-led DAO is one of the organizations recently certified by the Afghanistan Institute for Civil Society. A vocal advocate for disability rights, DAO aims to build a more inclusive society by increasing awareness of disability issues among the general public and the Afghan government. The organization’s current projects include physical rehabilitation activities, community dialogue initiatives, and the publication of a disability issues newsletter in three languages. In the future, DAO intends to expand its activities to include providing small support loans to people with disabilities and creating vocational training programs so that people vulnerable individuals can acquire vocational skills and earn an income.

4. Children in Crisis

Kids in Crisis

With the mission of bringing education, care, and protection to the world’s most vulnerable children, the UK nonprofit Children in Crisis has considerable experience working in remote regions. In Afghanistan, some of the “forgotten” children who are most in need are those with disabilities. Many families in Afghanistan simply don’t have the resources or knowledge to provide proper care and support to children with disabilities. As a result, it’s not uncommon for them to experience neglect, abuse, and even abandonment. In order to address this issue, Children in Crisis runs the In-Home Care Project, which aims to provide the families of children with disabilities with the resources and tools they need to become better caregivers. The program staff works with parents and family members to develop a personal care plan for each child and to provide initial medical care, physiotherapy, and materials. Ultimately, through the project’s training, families will be better equipped and capable of handling these responsibilities themselves.

5. Afghanistan International Foundation for the Blind (AIFB)

AFIB logo

Founded in 2009, AIFB is committed to its mission of improving and enhancing the lives of those Afghans in need affected by blindness. By collaborating and partnering with other international organizations, AIFB offers services and programs in the areas of education, health, rehabilitation, and community services for people affected by blindness and visual impairments. AIFB’s vision includes the use of Braille books and blind-based computer technologies in Afghan classrooms, services to help people with blindness to access employment and higher education, and support for prescriptions and health procedures.

Spotlight on the Art of Traditional Afghan Construction

Buildings in Afghanistan have been constructed using traditional methods for many centuries. Developed in response to Afghanistan’s unique building challenges—including extreme climate and weather conditions, frequent earthquakes, and varying availability of natural resources—these traditional techniques have withstood the test of time. Except for the incorporation of a few modern adaptations like plumbing and electricity, many Afghan buildings today are constructed in the same way that they have been for hundreds of years.

One excellent recent example of the use of traditional building methods on a large scale is the restoration of Kabul’s historic Murad Khani neighborhood by the nonprofit organization Turquoise Mountain. To bring the neglected buildings of this area back to their former glory, hundreds of artisans and community members used traditional construction techniques to restore and refurbish—and in some cases reconstruct— homes and other structures more than two centuries old.

The new Preserving Afghan Heritage platform, now available on Google Arts & Culture, offers visitors an absorbing look at the Murad Khani restoration, including a fascinating online exhibit on the traditional methods used during the project. As described in the exhibit, the steps involved in traditional Afghan building include the following:

The foundation

Creating a strong foundation is the first step in the traditional building process. Foundations, which are often dug out by hand, must be able to support the planned building. This means that taller buildings will require deeper foundations. Once the excavation is complete, the pit is filled in with stone and rubble, and then topped with another layer of stone. Roughly 40-60 centimeters high, this final layer ensures that the earth walls are elevated above ground level, which helps to protect them against the weakening effects of rain and snow.

The exterior walls

The main skeleton of the building is constructed using a technique known as senj, in which bricks are placed inside a timber frame. The timber skeleton is constructed first: vertical wooden poles are placed around the perimeter of the building about 60-70 centimeters apart and are then secured to the horizontal wooden beams of the floor and ceiling. Next, the spaces between the poles are filled with bricks. With the senj technique, the bricks are laid diagonally between the poles; after seven to 10 layers have been completed, the bricks are then laid in the opposite diagonal direction. These alternating directional layers help strengthen the walls of the building and improve its resistance to earthquakes.

Image by Jim Kelly | Flickr

The roof

To increase the stability of the roof, builders place layers of woven bamboo and willow branches onto the roof beams and secure them in place. Ghora gel, a mud mixture, is then applied to the branches to stabilize them and seal the roof. Note that the roofs and ceilings of traditional Afghan buildings are low to help keep interior rooms warmer during the cold winter months.

The interior walls

In a traditional Afghan building, the interior walls are built with the same senj technique used for the exterior walls. Vertical poles are placed to define the perimeter of the rooms and are then filled with diagonal layers of bricks.

Interior finishes

Once the electrical wiring has been installed, the interior walls are covered with a plaster made from mud, straw, and water. This plaster is left for a day to dry, after which the seemgel is added. Seemgel is a type of interior finish composed of screened mud, water, and lokh (a traditional Afghan construction material made of a mixture of clay and the downy fluff of reeds). Seemgel is applied to the interior walls in layers, with a drying time of two days required between layers. It is mainly used for buildings where the intention is to decorate the interior walls.

Windows and doors

Because it was challenging in the past to construct fixed windows with hinges, many traditional Afghan buildings use patayi screens instead. These are horizontal windows stacked on top of each other, which can be raised separately in order to control and direct air circulation in the room. In the summer, for example, the patayi screens are typically raised to maximize airflow and keep the interior cool. As for the door frames, these are deliberately kept very low so that visitors must bow when they enter, thereby showing respect for the house’s owners.

Decorative touches

Depending on the means of the owners, there are many different decorative touches that can adorn the finished interiors of traditional Afghan buildings. For example, the ceiling may be covered with carved wooden panels fixed directly to the roof beams; not just visually appealing, this has the practical benefit of preventing dust or dirt from the roof from falling into the rooms. It’s also common to set hand-framed, plaster niches into the interior walls so that ornaments and pictures may be displayed. Sensibly, there are usually two different heights of niches—the higher ones, out of the reach of children, are where more fragile items are kept.

An Amazing New Way to Explore Afghan Heritage

Afghanistan is a country with a rich history and a vibrant cultural legacy, but it hasn’t always been easy for people to discover and explore the country’s unique heritage. Fortunately, however, the recently launched Preserving Afghan Heritage platform on Google Arts & Culture offers an exciting new way for cultural enthusiasts all over the world to get up close and personal with Afghan heritage. This online treasure trove offers people all over the world the unparalleled opportunity to experience some of the finest examples of Afghan arts, crafts, and architecture, and to meet some of the artisans behind Afghanistan’s cultural renaissance. No plane ticket required; all you need is an Internet connection. Read on to learn more about this fascinating initiative.

What is Google Arts & Culture?

Originally launched in 2011, Google Arts & Culture aims to make global cultural heritage more accessible to the broader public. The initiative leverages sophisticated technologies, notably Google Street View and high-resolution photography equipment, to provide a new way for people to discover and explore individual artworks, collections, and famous historic sites. Visitors to Google Arts & Culture can take a virtual stroll through the halls of some of the world’s most famous museums, like London’s National Gallery or St. Petersburg’s Hermitage Museum, tour architectural treasures, such as Machu Picchu, and glimpse stunning artworks in extraordinary detail.

Who are the partners behind the creation of the Preserving Afghan Heritage platform?

Hosted on Google Arts & Culture, the newly created Preserving Afghan Heritage platform was developed and launched with the support of a number of other partners. The most important collaborator on the platform is Turquoise Mountain, the nonprofit NGO that has spent the past 13 years working to restore Kabul’s historic Old City, as well as revitalizing Afghanistan’s traditional arts and crafts industry by providing vocational training and business support to the next generation of Afghan artisans. As one of the founders and supporters of Turquoise Mountain is His Royal Highness the Prince of Wales, the Preserving Afghan Heritage platform was launched in late 2018 in celebration of his 70th birthday.

What kinds of experiences does the platform offer visitors?

The Preserving Afghan Heritage platform brings together a range of online exhibits, virtual tours, images and videos, 3D digital models, and articles on different aspects of Afghan art, culture, and history. Some of the exciting opportunities available to visitors to the platform include the following:

school children

Discover the historic Kabul neighborhood of Murad Khani—The transformation of Murad Khani is one of Turquoise Mountain’s most impressive achievements. Ranked by the World Monuments Fund as one of the world’s most endangered sites, this once-vibrant historic neighborhood had fallen into decay and disrepair after years of conflict. To save the area, Turquoise Mountain embarked on an extensive rehabilitation project that involved clearing the neighborhood of garbage and painstakingly restoring traditional buildings to their former glory. Today, Murad Khani is home to the Turquoise Mountain Institute for Afghan Arts and Architecture, the organization’s artisanal and vocational training facility, as well as many other community organizations and facilities. On the Preserving Afghan Heritage platform, visitors can learn about the restoration project and step into the bustling heart of the neighborhood with a 360-degree video of the Murad Khani bazaar.

Take a 3D tour of the Great Serai—One of the last remaining caravanserais (guesthouses or hostels) of its kind in Kabul, the Great Serai is the restored site in Murad Khani that now houses the Turquoise Mountain Institute. Through an incredible series of 3D models, visitors can explore the details of this amazing architectural site, from a bird’s eye view of the entire compound to a close-up of the interior rooms’ stunning carved plasterwork and walnut wood furniture.

Walk through classrooms at the Turquoise Mountain Institute—Google’s Street View technology takes visitors inside some of the classrooms at the Turquoise Mountain Institute where young artisans and craftspeople learn their trade. Visitors can stroll through the light-filled calligraphy classroom, with its wide wooden desks and walls covered with framed examples of calligraphic art, or the gem cutting and jewelry classroom, full of workbenches and specialized equipment for cutting and polishing precious stones.

Explore online exhibits of traditional Afghan arts and crafts—Visitors to the Preserving Afghan Heritage platform can gain a new appreciation for traditional Afghan arts and crafts through beautifully detailed online exhibits that offer a step-by-step guide to the methods used to produce works such as brilliantly colored carpets made from local yarn, the traditional and distinctively glazed glassware of Herat, pottery from Afghanistan’s finest clay, and the intricate latticed style of woodworking known as jali.

Meet the people of Murad Khani—At the heart of the neighborhood of Murad Khani are its people—not only the artisans and craftspeople of the Turquoise Mountain Institute, but also the children who attend Murad Khani primary school, the staff of the community’s Feroz Koh Family Health Center, and the merchants who sell their wares in the Murad Khani bazaar. The Preserving Afghan Heritage platform introduces visitors to some of the neighborhood’s amazing residents, helping them to quite literally see a different face of Afghanistan.