Spotlight on the Chihilsitoon Garden Restoration Project

The Aga Khan Trust for Culture (AKTC), one of the affiliate agencies of the Aga Khan Development Network, has a long history of supporting and working on cultural restoration and rehabilitation projects in some of Afghanistan’s most important cities. In fall 2018, AKTC celebrated the completion of its most ambitious project yet: the restoration of Chihilsitoon Garden, the largest historic public garden in Kabul. Read on for a closer look at this exceptional rehabilitation project.

What is Chihilsitoon Garden?

The historic Chihilsitoon Garden and Palace occupy a 12.5-hectare site in the Afghan capital of Kabul. Originally created as a royal garden in the 19th century, the park became state property in the early 20th century. During this part of its history, Chihilsitoon Garden welcomed visiting international dignitaries such as US President Dwight D. Eisenhower and Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev. Chihilsitoon Garden was severely damaged and looted during periods of unrest in Afghanistan, and the neglected site was left in disrepair for more than two decades.

The goal of the Chihilsitoon Garden rehabilitation project was to restore this once-beautiful site to its former glory and, in so doing, provide Kabul’s approximately 4.5 million residents with more space for recreational and communal activities, add much-needed green space to the city to help improve its air quality and climate, and provide the local population with jobs and the opportunity to acquire new skills. Now that the restoration is complete, the garden will be managed by the recently formed, independent Kabul Historic Gardens Trust (a new iteration of the Bagh-e Babur Trust, which has been sustainably operating the historic site of Babur’s Gardens for over 10 years).

What work was carried out during the Chihilsitoon Garden restoration?

The Chihilsitoon Garden restoration involved extensive rehabilitation work on virtually all aspects of the site. Particular projects included:

Extensive landscaping of outdoor space—The heart of the restored Chihilsitoon Garden site is a historic formal axial garden (a type of symmetrical design commonly used in traditional Islamic gardens), which is surrounded by areas of dense landscape and open lawns. Radiating outwards from this garden is a network of paths and trails that link and encompass a variety of spatial experiences, including group picnic areas; an outdoor amphitheater; and the historic formal promenade, which features the garden’s now-restored, fully functional original marble fountains. As part of this extensive landscaping work, more than 5,000 new trees were planted throughout the site.

The creation of new buildings and amenities for public use—One of the main functions of the restored Chihilsitoon Garden is to serve as a multi-purpose gathering place for communal events of all kinds. To this end, a number of new public buildings were constructed throughout the park, including an exhibition hall; a 300-seat auditorium; buildings for administration, maintenance, and visitor management; and a multi-purpose facility created inside the reconstructed historic Chihilsitoon Palace. To complement the garden’s historical legacy, these contemporary buildings were designed in keeping with traditional vernacular style and constructed using local building methods and materials. (Interestingly, the main building material used was rammed earth: highly suitable for the region’s climatic and ecological environment, rammed earth has been used for construction in Afghanistan for two millennia. In Chihilsitoon Garden, the newly constructed rammed earth buildings were reinforced with bamboo trees and steel rebar to improve earthquake resistance.)

The creation of sites and facilities for sports activities—Chihilsitoon Garden is also envisioned as the home of a variety of sports and outdoor recreation activities. A distinct zone in the restored park contains cricket batting areas, outdoor volleyball courts, and two mini football fields. A building with indoor changing facilities and showers was also constructed to improve the park’s capacity to host competitive sports matches.

Revenue-generating amenities—Part of the Chihilsitoon Garden restoration project was to build in sources of income generation that could eventually help the park to become financially self-sustaining. For example, the garden now includes retail units, food kiosks, and restaurants that can be operated or rented out to generate ongoing revenue. The garden is also home to a commercial horticulture nursery, which can generate revenue in addition to maintaining the stock of trees and plants within the garden.

Utility upgrades—Careful consideration was given to the question of utilities in the garden during the restoration. While provisions have been made for on-site utilities, the garden has been designed to necessitate limited use of water and electricity due to features like septic systems that filter wastewater through subsurface leach fields.

What other partners supported the Chihilsitoon Garden restoration?

The Aga Khan Trust for Culture worked closely with many partners and supporters to complete the restoration of Chihilsitoon Garden and Palace. These include Kabul Municipality, the Afghan Ministries of Culture and Urban Development, and many local communities in Kabul. Funding for the project was provided by the German Federal Foreign Office through the KfW Development Bank.

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.

Behind the Scenes: Spotlight on the Bayat Foundation’s Recent Activities

It’s been a busy winter for the Bayat Foundation. Over the last few months, Afghanistan’s largest private philanthropic organization has been hard at work on a number of different projects.

All the projects seek to fulfill the Foundation’s mission to deliver hope and support to some of the country’s most vulnerable people. These recent activities include:

A New Partnership with Plasticos Foundation

In December 2018, the Bayat Foundation announced that it had entered talks with Plasticos Foundation about future surgical training and treatment missions in Afghanistan. A non-profit, volunteer-run organization, Plasticos Foundation is dedicated to improving lives all around the world through reconstructive plastic surgery.

Plasticos Foundation provides free reconstructive surgery to people (primarily children) affected by burns, traumatic injuries, and congenital deformities. The Foundation also offers medical training and specialized education to doctors in developing nations, thus building local capacity for surgical intervention.

surgery

Initial discussions between the Bayat Foundation and Plasticos Foundation focused on the development of an integrated training program for Afghan medical staff. Programs would potentially be available for doctors, nurses, and other professionals.

The goal of this training would be to enhance Afghanistan’s ability to treat severe burns and physical injuries internally. This would be accomplished by improving Afghan medical professionals’ restorative and reconstructive surgical skills.

In addition to holding initial talks about how best to develop such a program, senior officials from the Bayat Foundation and Plasticos Foundation conducted an intensive three-day assessment of Afghan hospitals. Members of the assessment team included Dr. Sami Rahimi, the Bayat Foundation’s director of health initiatives; two VPs from the Bayat Group; Dr. Larry Nichter, the founder of Plasticos Foundation; and two other Plasticos Foundation doctors.

The assessment team toured the pediatric burn unit at Indira Gandhi Hospital in Kabul. There, team members were given detailed briefings from senior medical staff on treatment procedures. Additionally, the team toured the adult burn unit at Istaqal Hospital, also in Kabul.

The team was then received at the Afghan Ministry of Health. Extensive talks on the state of the Afghan health system were held with Afghan Minister of Health H.E. Ferozuddin Feroz.

Interviewed after the hospital assessment process, Dr. Larry Nichter described the experience as both informative and emotionally moving. He talked about the clear role that Plasticos Foundation could play in helping build Afghanistan’s surgical capabilities. He said he was looking forward to the first training and treatment mission.

At the conclusion of the visit, Plasticos provided the two Kabul hospitals with access to the Digital Medical Library from the Global HELP organization. This free, open access medical library is focused on children’s health. It works to connect underserved communities with the relevant healthcare information they need to help themselves.

A New Business Networking and Acceleration Program for Afghan Entrepreneurs

One of the most critical elements that will help ensure a stable and prosperous economic future for Afghanistan is a thriving private sector. However, the business environment in the country is still somewhat precarious. As a result, many aspiring entrepreneurs need a bit of extra support to get their ideas off the ground.

This is where the Bright Future Business Accelerator comes in. It is Afghanistan’s first networking and business development program geared towards young Afghan entrepreneurs.

tech

The Business Accelerator is an initiative of Bright Future Afghanistan. This is a consortium of four leading non-profits working in Afghanistan, including the Bayat Foundation and the Dutch humanitarian organization Cordaid.

The mission of the Business Accelerator program is to provide business education, skills training, and support to Afghan entrepreneurs, and to bring business owners together with potential investors, Afghan government representatives, and Afghanistan-based NGOs.

Ultimately, the program aims to help develop and sustain a vibrant network of small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs). This will help create millions of jobs in Afghanistan and accelerate the country’s economic development.

The Bright Future Business Accelerator was launched at a special event in Kabul in December 2018. It was attended by the owners of 20 Afghan SMEs, as well as microfinance executives, Afghan government officials, and NGO leaders.

The event featured a welcome address from Cordaid representative Jaap Van Hierden, networking sessions, and information panels on financing programs and Afghan government licensing procedures. The event was praised by attendees as a critical first step in helping set Afghan entrepreneurs on the path to success.

The 2019 Winter Aid Program

In January 2019, the Bayat Foundation marked the successful completion of its 12th annual Winter Aid program. An important part of the Foundation’s family assistance activities, the Winter Aid program provides emergency food and desperately needed winter clothing to thousands of vulnerable Afghans in Kabul and surrounding regions.

This year, in addition to warm jackets and other cold weather essentials, the program distributed more than 150,000 pre-packaged, easily-prepared meals to Afghan families in need. To ensure that the assistance reached as many people as possible, the Bayat Foundation’s chairman Dr. Ehsan Bayat led a dedicated distribution team. The team consisted of Bayat Foundation staff members and volunteers from local mosques and community organizations.