A Look at the Amazing Online Library Helping Afghan Teachers

The most important investment that can be made in Afghanistan’s future is in teaching and learning. That’s the philosophy behind Darakht-e Danesh: a free and accessible online library of resources for Afghan educators that was launched in 2013. Read on to learn more about this amazing educational initiative that is helping transform the work of teachers all across Afghanistan.


What is the Darakht-e Danesh library?

Darakht-e Danesh libraryIn Dari, one of Afghanistan’s official languages, “Darakht-e danesh” means “knowledge tree,” and that’s exactly what this project aims to be. The Darakht-e Danesh Online Library for Educators is a unique repository of open educational resources geared toward anyone involved in furthering and improving education in Afghanistan, from teachers and teacher trainers to administrative staff and literacy workers. All kinds of open-source resources and materials suitable for use in Afghan classrooms are available through the library, including lesson plans, pedagogical tools, workbooks and exercises, experiments, reading texts, and curricula. Furthermore, to make the library as accessible and useful as possible for the Afghans who need it most, resources are available in both Dari and Pashto, as well as English.


Why is the Darakht-e Danesh library needed?

There have been huge advances in education in Afghanistan since 2001. Millions of children are back in school, new teacher training colleges are opening, and a reformed curriculum has been implemented nationwide. All of this progress has occurred under the umbrella of the National Education Strategy for Afghanistan, which was created by the government of Afghanistan in collaboration with a number of development partners, and which outlines educational policy objectives and initiatives for strengthening Afghanistan’s schools.

But for all these improvements, significant challenges still remain, and one of the biggest is a discouraging lack of resources. Few schools have amenities like libraries or science labs, a majority of students don’t have access to (or can’t afford) textbooks, and there is little material provided to teachers to help them cover the curriculum. In addition, when quality educational resources are obtainable, they are rarely available in Dari, Pashto, or other local languages. As for the teachers themselves, many educators in Afghanistan have no formal teacher training, nor any post-secondary education, though many organizations are presently working to change this.

The idea behind the Darakht-e Danesh library, therefore, is to provide much-needed resources and support to teachers—after all, investing in teachers is one of the best ways to invest in students. The aim of Darakht-e Danesh is to increase access to quality resources in local languages for Afghan educators, through an easy to use, centralized system. Another important goal is to encourage teachers to explore and consult a wide variety of resources in their educational practice, adapt available tools to their own situations, and share their own resources with fellow teachers around the country.


How does the Darakht-e Danesh library work?

To use the Darakht-e Danesh library, you must first sign up via the library’s simple, online registration form. Once registered, all you need is an Internet connection to freely browse, download, and use any of the resources in the online collection. For example, teacher educators can download resources from the site to use in teacher training colleges, while teachers can browse and print out lesson plans for their classrooms or workbooks for their own professional development activities. All resources are fully open source, and can all be freely copied and distributed. In addition, as the Darakht-e Danesh library operates on the principle of sharing, users are strongly encouraged to add to the online repository by uploading their own tools and resources.

At present, the Darakht-e Danesh collection boasts resources across a broad range of categories. Teachers can find educational information on subjects such as applied sciences, life sciences, mathematics, and language arts.


How can I support the Darakht-e Danesh library?

There are a number of important ways for people within and beyond Afghanistan to support the Darakht-e Danesh online library. These include:

Sharing resources—As mentioned above, helping expand the collection of Darakht-e Danesh is one of the best ways to support the project. Afghan teachers are encouraged to share Dari or Pashto digitized resources that they use in their own classrooms: typed lesson plans, tests, activities, games, experiments, or any other teaching resources that have proved helpful are all good additions to the online repository. Original ideas or those learned from speaking to or watching other teachers are welcome! The idea behind such resource sharing is to multiply the impact by allowing the resources to be used in many different classrooms at the same time.

Translation—The more local languages that educational resources are available in, the more accessible and the more useful they will be to all Afghans. Bilingual educators or volunteers, particularly Pashto speakers, are eagerly sought by the Darakht-e Danesh team to grow the collection by translating existing materials.

Spotlight on the International Rescue Committee in Afghanistan

A global organization dedicated to responding to the world’s most challenging humanitarian crises, the International Rescue Committee (IRC) has been helping people rebuild their lives after conflict and natural disaster for more than 80 years. And while the IRC currently operates in more than 30 countries around the globe, it’s in Afghanistan that the organization’s efforts have been the most longstanding.

Read on to learn more about the IRC, its history in Afghanistan, and what the organization has planned for its future efforts in the country.


What is the International Rescue Committee?

IRC logoA non-governmental humanitarian aid, relief, and development organization, the IRC provides both emergency aid and long-term assistance to refugees and others displaced or affected by war, persecution, and natural disaster. By focusing on key areas like health, safety, education, economic well-being, and decision-making power, the IRC works to help the world’s most vulnerable people survive and recover from crises and gain control of their futures.


How long has the IRC been working in Afghanistan?

Within weeks of the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan in 1979, the IRC was on the ground helping support the waves of Afghan refugees flooding into neighboring countries. The organization has continued to provide Afghanistan with relief and development assistance ever since. Some key dates and highlights from the IRC’s more than 30 years in Afghanistan include:

1980 – John Whitehead, then the board president of the IRC, journeyed to the makeshift refugee camps springing up just beyond the borders of Afghanistan. The situation he witnessed, in which more than 5 million Afghans had fled their homeland only to encounter terrible living conditions outside it, proved to be the catalyst for the creation of more permanent IRC operations in the country.

1988 – This year saw the official establishment of IRC operations in Afghanistan, although by this time the IRC had already been operating an extensive relief program in Afghan refugee camps for some years. Mobile clinics and dispensary tents, vocational and self-help programs, and comprehensive educational programs were some of the IRC’s most important contributions to improving the lives of Afghans displaced by conflict.

1989 – Following the Soviet withdrawal from Afghanistan, many aid agencies also left the country. The IRC was one of the few organizations to remain and to continue operating under the new regime. Working with a dedicated team of Afghan national staff members, the IRC helped with significant rebuilding efforts, including making repairs to roads and irrigation systems and establishing public health and sanitation facilities.

Early 2000s – Following yet another regime change at the start of the new millennium, millions of returning refugees and internally displaced Afghans began to make their way back to their homes. During this period, the IRC intensified its efforts to help Afghanistan rebuild and repair critical infrastructure.

2007 – Education has always been an important tool for the IRC to help people affected by crisis to regain control over their lives and build a better future for themselves. In Afghanistan in 2007, for example, the IRC trained more than 1,000 new teachers, and helped roughly 11,000 students enroll in 400 schools. In addition, nearly 2,000 people graduated from IRC-supported vocational programs.


What’s next for the IRC in Afghanistan?

Now that Afghanistan is beginning to establish and sustain modest but important gains, the IRC’s experience and expertise are more critical than ever. In 2017, the IRC published a strategic action plan for Afghanistan, outlining its program priorities through 2020 and detailing the key focus areas and actions that will help Afghanistan move into a new era of stability and prosperity. Particular desired outcomes of this plan include:

Education – Building on its extensive experience in coordinating community-based education for children, the IRC aims to ensure that Afghan children aged 6 to 14 have the opportunity to fully develop their literacy, numeracy, and social-emotional skills. Achieving this goal will involve training more teachers, supplying educational materials to classrooms, and partnering with the Ministry of Education to create an evidence-based assessment program to determine the quality of Afghan education services.

Health – Because inadequate sanitation and water supply access are leading causes of disease, the IRC plans to build safe and accessible water and sanitation facilities in the nine Afghan provinces in which the organization currently operates. Community-oriented hygiene awareness and disease prevention programs will also help curtail the spread of illness.

Economic well-being – All Afghans should have the opportunity to earn an income that is sufficient to meet basic needs, build assets, and save for the future. To this end, the IRC will continue to offer skills-based training and apprenticeship programs that prepare participants for skilled, high-demand jobs in Afghanistan’s new economy.

Power and decision-making – The IRC aims to ensure that Afghan citizens have the knowledge and power to influence the decisions that affect them. Community education programs around critical issues like property rights and land expropriation are a key component of this objective.

A Journey through 10 of the Most Beautiful Cities in Afghanistan

Standing for millennia at the crossroads of multiple peoples and cultures, Afghanistan has a unique cultural heritage that is as rich and diverse as it is ancient. In an area smaller than the US state of Texas, hundreds upon hundreds of spectacular monuments, remarkable archaeological sites, and stunning architectural creations are testimony to an extraordinary civilization. And there’s no better way to experience this wide array of cultural treasures than by exploring Afghanistan’s most beautiful cities, many of which are so full of history and heritage that they serve as living museums. Here are 10 you’ll want to learn more about.


  1. Kabul

Afghanistan’s largest city and its national capital, Kabul has existed for more than 3,500 years. It’s therefore hardly surprising that the city is home to some of the country’s most notable historic sites, including the legendary Babur’s Gardens. But don’t think that Kabul is entirely focused on the past: the city has recently embarked on a number of new architectural projects, like the Abdul Rahman Mosque, which was designed in the traditional Islamic style but was just built in 2012.

  1. Balkh

Often called “the mother of cities,” Balkh is considered by many to be one of the oldest cities in the world. Located in northern Afghanistan at the crossroads between the Middle East and eastern Asia, Balkh has a history of strong Buddhist influence, which is visible in the ruins of many Buddhist fortifications and constructions that still stand in the city today.


  1. Kandahar

The second-largest city in Afghanistan, Kandahar rests on the site of another city that Alexander the Great founded nearly 2,500 years ago. Today, Kandahar plays an important role in Afghanistan’s spiritual life: the city’s Friday Mosque, a deeply holy Islamic place of worship, is often called “the heart of Afghanistan.”


  1. Mazar-i-Sharif

Mazar-i-Sharif is home to the Blue Mosque, an absolutely stunning structure that was built in its present form more than five centuries ago. Frequently described as “an oasis for peace,” the mosque is so extraordinary that it’s not surprising to learn that it originated in a dream: according to legend, a Middle Eastern scholar dreamed that the bones of a cousin of the prophet Muhammad were resting in northwestern Afghanistan. Fascinated by this story, the sultan at the time built a shrine to honor this cousin, and the city of Mazar-i-Sharif gradually grew up around it.


  1. Herat

Located in western Afghanistan, Herat was one of the country’s most impressive ancient cities, and its legacy is all the more exceptional given that it has been destroyed and rebuilt several times during its history. Today, the Old City of Herat is home to a spectacular collection of medieval Islamic buildings, including the Great Mosque complex, which includes a craftsmen’s shop, where visitors can see artisans at work creating the tiles and mosaics used in the restoration and upkeep of the structure.


  1. Bamiyan

Another city whose development was strongly impacted by Buddhist expansion, Bamiyan is a rich archaeological mix of Persian, Greek, Turkish, Indian, and Chinese influence. At present, the city is best known as the former home of the famous Buddhas of Bamiyan—giant Buddha statues that were unfortunately destroyed in 2001. Since that time, another giant statue has been discovered, along with cave paintings from the 5th and 9th centuries.


  1. Bagram

Located north of Kabul, the town of Bagram may be small, but in ancient times it was an important stop for merchants traveling along the Silk Road from India. The town was originally a Persian settlement, but its development was later influenced by Greek styles of city planning and by Arab rulers; as a result, the art and architecture of the community reflect the typical Central Asian mix of styles that has been dubbed “Greco-Buddhist.”


  1. Samangan

This small town in northern Afghanistan was once a medieval caravan stop. Samangan is best known for its weekly market, an ancient tradition that continues to be extremely popular. The market specializes in traditional Afghan musical instruments built by local artisans.

  1. Jalalabad

This eastern city played an important role in the establishment of modern Afghanistan as it was used as a military campaign base by Ahmad Shah Durrani, the 18th-century ruler whom most regard as the founder of the contemporary Afghan state. Somewhat unusually for Afghanistan, Jalalabad boasts large green areas and surrounding water, which are an important element of the city’s unique beauty. There is also a great deal of striking architecture in Jalalabad, including the Mausoleum of King Amanullah Khan and the more modern Nangarhar University.


  1. Faizabad

The northeastern city of Faizabad has historically been cut off from the rest of Afghanistan due to poor road connections. As a result, the local culture is remarkably well preserved. Today, there are still two functioning bazaars in Faizabad, where residents trade diverse items from cloth and cutlery to tea and sugar.