A Look at 7 of the Organizations Certified by the AICS

Established in 2015, the Afghan Institute for Civil Society (AICS) works to build a stronger, more robust civil society in Afghanistan by helping to improve the credibility of the domestic civil society sector. Through its flagship program, a certification process for civil society organizations (CSOs), AICS independently evaluates and certifies Afghan CSOs against internationally recognized standards and best practices for internal governance, financial management, program delivery, and other key operational areas.

This certification process plays an important role in promoting transparency within the sector and increasing public trust in local CSOs. In addition, AICS-certified CSOs can benefit from support and networking opportunities that boost organizational capacity and performance and help to improve the sector as a whole.

As of June 2018, 27 Afghan CSOs had received AICS certification. These organizations include:

Afghanistan Civil Society Forum

The establishment of the Afghanistan Civil Society Forum (ACSFo) resulted from the first-ever Afghan Civil Society Conference, which was held in Germany in 2001. With a mission to facilitate the process of citizen and state building and to help develop a democratic and vibrant society based on citizenry values, ACSFo operates programs nationwide across four key areas: advocacy and coordination, capacity building, public outreach, and media and the rule of law. Some of the organization’s achievements include a literacy project that reached 15 million Afghans between 2003 and 2005, and the establishment of more than 180 youth advocacy committees.

Development and Ability Organization

There is very little support for people living with disabilities in Afghanistan, but the Development and Ability Organization (DAO) has been working to change that since its founding in 2004. DAO raises awareness of the issues facing people with disabilities and advocates for disability rights. To date, DAO’s programs have focused on physical rehabilitation, vocational training, and income generation for people living with disabilities. In addition, the organization publishes a bi-monthly magazine in three languages that highlights emerging disability and health issues.

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Afghan Amputee Bicyclists for Rehabilitation and Recreation

Afghan Amputee Bicyclists for Rehabilitation and Recreation (AABRAR) is another organization focused on people living with disabilities and other vulnerable populations. Founded in 1992, AABRAR works with people with disabilities—particularly those whose disability resulted from an injury from Afghanistan’s conflict years—and provides support for them to recover physically and emotionally and to increase their socio-economic participation in Afghan life. In addition, the organization works to build the capacity of local civil society organizations to both support and integrate people with disabilities.

Coordination of Rehabilitation and Development Services for Afghanistan

Established in 2002, Coordination of Rehabilitation and Development Services for Afghanistan (CRDSA) envisions a future in which Afghanistan is a fully developed country where all Afghans can lead their lives free of poverty and with dignity. By focusing on sustainable livelihoods, the reintegration and protection of returning refugees, and the promotion of human rights, CRDSA hopes to make this vision a reality. In addition to operating its own programs—such as vocational training and technical support for agriculture and livestock workers—CRDSA also awards grants to other civil society organizations in Farah and Badghis provinces.

Help the Afghan Children

Many of those who have suffered the most from Afghanistan’s years of conflict are children. Help the Afghan Children (HTAC) focuses on empowering young children and their communities through innovative educational programs. For example, HTAC’s peace education program has helped train nearly 100,000 students on the values of peace, cooperation, patience, respect, non-violence, and self-confidence. The organization also works to enhance the livelihoods of vulnerable families through vocational and skills training programs, and provides essential humanitarian aid to Afghans around the country.

Nai – Supporting Open Media in Afghanistan

An open, independent media sector is an essential element of a bright future for Afghanistan. Nai, which was established by Afghan media activists in 2005, aims to foster the development of such a sector by helping build and train the country’s pool of skilled and educated journalists. Through its newly established media institute, Nai provides coaching to existing journalists, and offers technical support to those hoping to make a start in Afghanistan’s media sector. The organization also helps rural communities run their own local media outlets. Finally, Nai works hard to protect journalists’ rights in Afghanistan by lobbying for the reform of media-related laws and regulations, and by raising awareness of the important role an independent media has to play in Afghanistan. Visitors to Kabul can see some of the fruit of Nai’s labors in the center of the city: a street there has been renamed “Freedom of Speech Road.”

Central Afghanistan Welfare Committee

Since 1989, the Central Afghanistan Welfare Committee (CAWC) has been working to improve the lives of people in rural and remote communities in Afghanistan. Its activities focus on the essentials of life in these regions: literacy, basic health and education, sanitation and hygiene, agriculture development and animal husbandry, infrastructure development, and water management are just some examples of CAWC’s many programming areas. In recent years, energy security has been a particular priority, with many CAWC projects focusing on renewable energy initiatives like solar panels, wind turbines, and micro-hydropower dams.

A Look at the Winning Design Ideas for the National Museum of Afghanistan

As it prepares to mark its 100th birthday this year, the National Museum of Afghanistan is celebrating the past with its eyes firmly on the future. Originally founded in 1919 as a collection of objects from Afghanistan’s historic royal families, the National Museum of Afghanistan has been in its current home (a former municipal building) since 1931. Over the decades, the National Museum has seen and withstood a great deal, including the dramatic expansion of its collections as a result of archaeological work undertaken by the French Archaeological Delegation in Afghanistan. In addition, the museum has sustained serious damage from vandalism and looting during periods of unrest in the country.

Today, the National Museum of Afghanistan is planning for the development of a new facility: a modern building that will showcase Afghanistan’s rich history and complex contemporary identity in a 21st century context. As a first step toward this goal, the National Museum hosted the International Architectural Ideas Competition in 2012 to solicit bold ideas for the future facility, which will be located adjacent to the museum’s existing premises. The design brief was a somewhat unusual one. Based on the assumption that most of the participants in the competition would not be able to travel to Kabul in person, the design brief contained extremely detailed and comprehensive information about the building site, including images, drawings, diagrams, and descriptions. Submission criteria included a requirement for a visionary but culturally sensitive design, an emphasis on sustainability and the use of renewable energy, and careful attention to Kabul’s unique urban planning requirements.

A special jury—chaired by Afghanistan’s Minister of Information and Culture and composed of international architects, archaeologists, museum planners, and design professionals—considered a total of 72 design proposals from 31 countries, and announced the results at an awards ceremony in Kabul in September 2012. While considerable financing will still be needed to proceed with the construction of the new facility, the National Museum of Afghanistan and its partners (including major institutions such as UNESCO) are committed to this important project. Read on for a look at the winning design proposal, as well as the second and third prize entries and the honorable mentions.

First Prize: AV 62 Arquitectos (Spain)

According to the jury report, the Spanish design team of AV 62 Arquitectos achieved an excellent balance between form and function with its prize-winning entry, which is conceived as a deceptively simple shell arranged on a grid. The design’s distinctive, yet understated exterior appearance works in harmony with the surrounding context, and the interior spatial forms are responsive to the type of materials that will be displayed within them, making the design an inviting and welcoming one that encourages circulation and interaction with both the interior and exterior displays. The jury further praised the practicality of the design (which would be affordable and relatively simple to construct using local materials and labor), as well as its simplicity, flexibility, and approachable scale. Some of the most unique aspects of this design concept include an internal courtyard and ceiling baffles, which make effective use of Kabul’s intense natural light; parallel brick vaults on the roof; and the use of traditional materials such as decorative ceramic tile. In addition, the jury felt that the additions proposed by this design were the best at connecting the existing museum with the new facility.

Second Prize: Mansilla + Tuñón Arquitectos (Spain).

“Demonstrative” and “monumental” were some of the adjectives that the jury used to describe the design from Mansilla + Tuñón Arquitectos, which was awarded second prize in the competition. Expressed as a series of spatial volumes arranged in a grid formation, the exterior profile of the design is larger and more sculptural than the first-place entry and is clearly visually responsive to the backdrop of the nearby mountains. While the jury appreciated this larger vision, they also felt that the construction costs for this design would be significantly higher. Furthermore, they felt that some aspects of the design, such as its relationship with the existing museum and the design references to historic Afghan architecture, could have been more fully developed.

Third Prize: fs-architekten, Paul Schröder Architekt (Germany)

The jury praised the strong, dramatic, and creative architectural statement of this free-form design, which earned third prize in the competition. The sculptural massings and volumes that comprise the design allude to the adjacent mountains and transform the building into a destination in its own right. The design idea demonstrates integrity when it comes to the collections to be housed. Strong, protective walls surround different exhibition rooms, while lighter, linear circulation spaces between high walls evoke the public routes of the region’s historic cities. From a practical perspective, however, potential problems with this design include its size, complexity, and monumentality, particularly the inclusion of a large glazed atrium space.

Honorable Mentions

Three honorable mentions, each of equal ranking, were awarded to IAN+ architecture & engineering (Italy), Lawrence and Long Architects (Ireland), and Luisa Ferro, Architect (Italy).

Featured Image by Ninara | Flickr

A Look at One of Afghanistan’s Most Endangered Animals

Afghanistan is one of the few countries in the world that the elusive snow leopard calls home. The secretive big cat inhabits the high mountains of Central Asia—some of the most remote landscapes on the planet—and the Wakhan Corridor of northeastern Afghanistan marks the westernmost edge of its territory.

Since ancient times, the snow leopard has been a sacred animal and an important cultural symbol for the mountain people with whom it shares its territory. Despite this status, however, the last several decades have seen the snow leopard pushed to the brink of extinction due to poaching, illegal trade, and the loss of habitat and prey due to development and expansion. At one point, estimates placed the snow leopard population of Afghanistan at only 50 to 60 animals.

snow leopard

A brighter future for the snow leopard?

Today, experts are hopeful that the snow leopard’s numbers will rise again due in large part to the efforts of a variety of country government agencies and NGOs that are making the preservation of this mysterious species a top priority. One organization dedicated to saving the snow leopard is the Global Snow Leopard & Ecosystem Protection Program (GSLEP). Based in the Kyrgyz Republic, GSLEP brings together country governments, non-governmental and inter-governmental organizations, local communities, and private sector representatives on a shared mission to conserve snow leopards and their precious high-mountain ecosystems.

To date, GSLEP has been remarkably successful in uniting these diverse stakeholders and in making progress by working together. In 2013, under the umbrella of GSLEP, the governments of all 12 of the snow leopard’s range countries—including Afghanistan, China, India, and Russia—unanimously adopted the Bishkek Declaration on the Conservation of the Snow Leopard, a resolution which outlined each government’s commitment to protecting and recovering snow leopard populations and habitats. The goal of the declaration is to secure at least 20 different snow leopard landscapes across the animal’s range by the year 2020 (a secure snow leopard landscape is one that is home to at least 100 breeding age snow leopards). According to recent reports from Afghanistan’s National Environmental Protection Agency, the snow leopard’s numbers have significantly increased over the last few years.

What you need to know about snow leopards.

snow leopard

Interestingly, for all of their cultural significance, few people know much about the iconic snow leopard. The cat is rarely seen by humans, and due to its secretive behavior, many details about its life and habits remain a mystery. However, as a result of the increased conservation work that has been undertaken in recent years (including technological advancements like remote-triggered camera captures), our knowledge of snow leopards has been steadily increasing. Read on to learn some amazing facts about this unique species and to obtain an up close and personal look at one of the world’s most enigmatic animals.

Snow leopards are high-altitude specialists—Snow leopards tend to live above the treeline in high-altitude forests, alpine meadows, and high rocky areas, usually at elevations of 2,700 to 5,000 meters. In Russia, they have been observed at elevations as low as 540 meters, but their preferred terrain is steeper and more remote. In general, they favor broken rocky terrain and irregularly sloping areas and tend to avoid major valleys, forested areas, extensive open areas, and regions with a strong human presence.

Snow leopards are solitary—Like some other species of big cats, snow leopards are solitary animals who live and roam alone for most of their lives. The exception to this is mating pairs and females with their litters. Young snow leopards generally leave their mothers and siblings at about 18 to 22 months of age.

Snow leopards can travel long distances—Due to their solitary habits, snow leopards are widely dispersed over their territory and must often travel long distances to find prey and a remote habitat. Dispersing leopards (leopards that leave their family groups) have been known to traverse up to 65 kilometers of open terrain to reach more isolated, rocky territories, and some snow leopards have been recorded as far as 200 kilometers from their usual haunts.

Snow leopards are opportunistic predators—While some animals are specialized predators (only preying on specific species), snow leopards are what are known as “opportunistic predators.” What this means is that they hunt a wide variety of prey and may scavenge when possible and necessary. While their principal prey are ibex and blue sheep, they are capable of killing prey up to three times their own weight. Therefore, throughout their territory, the only animals unavailable to them as prey are adult camels, wild yak, and kiang. In terms of prey, snow leopards kill a large hooved animal (or equivalent) every 10 to 15 days and can stay with it for up to a week if they are not disturbed.