Spotlight on a Busy Fall at the Bayat Foundation

2019 is drawing to a close, but that doesn’t mean that things at the Bayat Foundation are slowing down. On the contrary, Afghanistan’s largest private philanthropic organization has been busier than ever during the fall months, working tirelessly to achieve its mission of bringing hope and support to Afghans in need.

The Bayat Foundation’s most recent projects and activities include:

Support for Kabul area schools.

Toward the end of the summer, the Bayat Foundation completed its 2019 School and Student Assistance Program. This initiative saw the Foundation sponsoring a range of facility improvements at several secondary and high schools in Kabul. A new well was constructed at Rabia Balkhi School, the gymnasium and volleyball facilities were repaired at Wahdat Girls High School, and Omulbanin High School received a brand-new athletic field.

In addition to these upgrades, the program also distributed thousands of key school supplies to local students, including notebooks and pencils, backpacks, shoes, and nutritious prepared meals. Describing the program, Bayat Foundation co-founders Dr. Ehsan Bayat and Mrs. Fatema Laya Bayat emphasized the critical importance of education to Afghanistan’s future, and expressed the hope that the improvements and supplies provided by the program would help students flourish at school and fulfill their potential.

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The second annual Bright Future Business Accelerator program.

In September, the Bayat Foundation launched the second round of its highly successful Bright Future Business Accelerator program. Originally established in late 2018, the program is an initiative of Bright Future Afghanistan, a consortium of four leading Afghan non-profit organizations, including the Bayat Foundation.

The broad goal of the program is to support Afghanistan’s economic development by helping to build and sustain a robust network of small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs), which are exactly the type of companies the country needs to create employment opportunities and allow Afghanistan and its people to prosper. Twenty-five Afghan SMEs have been selected to participate in the second Bright Future Business Accelerator. Through the program, these companies and their leaders will receive training and mentorship support in a number of key business development areas, including business plan development, marketing and sales, and production and logistics.

The 2019 Hearing Care Mission.

Every year since 2014, the Bayat Foundation has partnered with the Starkey Hearing Foundation to host the Bayat-Starkey Afghanistan Hearing Care Mission. One of the most important health care programs in Afghanistan to specifically target deafness and hearing impairments, the Hearing Care Mission works to bring the gift of hearing to thousands of vulnerable Afghans.

According to estimates from the Afghanistan National Association of the Deaf, as many as 34,000 Afghan children between the ages of seven and 18 are living with deafness, blindness, or both. Unfortunately, many of these children are unable to access help or care for their hearing impairments, due in no small part to the considerable stigma that still surrounds deafness in Afghan society. The Hearing Care Mission therefore offers a rare and important opportunity for both children and adults with hearing issues to receive treatment from medical experts. At this year’s Mission, over 1,400 Afghans received hearing screenings from professional audiologists and hearing care specialists, information on care and treatment, and hearing aids, all completely free of charge.

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As always, the Bayat Foundation is proud to deliver this important annual mission in partnership with the Starkey Hearing Foundation. The philanthropic arm of leading hearing aid manufacturer Starkey Hearing Technologies, the Starkey Hearing Foundation works in more than 100 countries around the world to bring the gift of hearing to those who need it most. Through its collaborations with governments, health leaders, and non-profit organizations, the Starkey Hearing Foundation has touched the lives of more than 1 million people living with deafness or hearing impairments.

Afghanistan’s first ever anti-slavery conference.

In November 2019, the Bayat Foundation celebrated a milestone achievement: hosting a groundbreaking conference on the elimination of modern slavery, human trafficking, and labor exploitation within Afghanistan and beyond. This was the first conference on this topic in Afghanistan. Titled “Ending Slavery, Extending Hope,” the conference shed important light on and helped build critical awareness about the often-taboo subjects of slavery and exploitation, which are a troubling reality for far too many vulnerable Afghans.

Held at the Bayat Media Center in Kabul, the conference was organized into two panel discussions led by local and international leaders from both the public and private sectors. The first discussion focused on recommendations from the Bali Process, an international forum for policy dialogue, information sharing, and practical cooperation around the issues of people smuggling and human trafficking. The Bayat Foundation is Afghanistan’s official representative to the Bali Process. The second discussion examined the efforts that Afghan businesses, government, and non-profit organizations are currently making to tackle and eliminate slavery and exploitation. This panel also discussed other solutions and strategies that could help protect vulnerable communities and populations.

7 of the Most Amazing Landmarks in Afghanistan

Afghanistan may be no bigger than the US state of Texas, but despite its size, this ancient, land-locked country is home to an incredible array of landmarks. The country have has a unique combination of diverse and distinctive geography and a historically important position at the crossroads of several different cultures.

As a result, Afghanistan boasts some of the world’s most fascinating sites, from natural wonders to historic monuments to culturally significant places. Read on to take a tour of some of Afghanistan’s many amazing landmarks, famous and lesser-known alike.

1. The Blue Mosque

It’s not surprising that the Blue Mosque, located in Mazar-i-Sharif in northern Afghanistan, is one of the country’s best-known landmarks. The structure is simply breathtaking, often cited by experts as one of the world’s most stunning examples of classical Islamic architecture.

The Blue Mosque is a large complex, about 22,000 square feet in area, that is home to a large prayer hall, a small museum, a courtyard, and a number of holy tombs. Its name comes from the hundreds of thousands of gorgeous, intricate tiles covering nearly every inch of the building.

2. The Herat Citadel

Located in western Afghanistan, Herat is one of the country’s most beautiful cities. The citadel at its heart is nothing short of spectacular. Dating back to approximately 330 BCE, the Herat Citadel was originally built by Alexander the Great when he arrived in Afghanistan with his army.

Over the centuries, it has undergone repeated destruction and rebuilding. Much of the present structure, which includes 18 towers over 30 meters high, connected by walls two meters thick, was built in the 1400s. Today, after extensive rehabilitation efforts supported by UNESCO and other international organizations, the citadel is home to the National Museum of Herat.

3. The Hazarchishma Natural Bridge

The fact that Afghanistan has a great deal of remote, difficult-to-access territory means that some of its most amazing landmarks have only been discovered fairly recently. Such was the case with the Hazarchishma Natural Bridge, a colossal natural stone arch located in the central highlands of the country, nearly 10,000 feet above sea level.

Carved over millennia by the waters that once flowed through the now dry Jawzari Canyon, the natural bridge has a total span at its base of just over 210 feet, making it the world’s 12th-largest such formation. It was discovered in late 2010 by members of the Wildlife Conservation Society, who were conducting a wildlife survey in the area.

4. The Haji Piyada Mosque (Noh Gumbad)

Northern Afghanistan’s Haji Piyada Mosque measures a mere 20 by 20 meters, but its historic and cultural significance far surpasses its size. This is because the Haji Piyada Mosque is Afghanistan’s oldest known Islamic building, as well as one of the earliest surviving structures found anywhere in the eastern Islamic world. The mosque was built in the latter half of the ninth century, just after the arrival of Islam in Central Asia and only two centuries after the religion was first established.

Its alternate name, Noh Gumbad, comes from the nine cupolas that once covered the architecturally rich religious structure. No other similar buildings from this era are believed to have survived into the present day, a fact which endows the mosque with enormous cultural and architectural importance.

5. Basawal cave temples

The Haji Piyada Mosque may hold the distinction of being Afghanistan’s oldest Islamic structure, but long before Islam came to Afghanistan, the area was home to many different cultures, including a thriving Buddhist civilization. One of the most fascinating landmarks to have survived from this era is the Basawal cave temple complex in eastern Afghanistan.

Hewn directly into the region’s rocky territory, the complex consists of seven groups of cave temples that encompass roughly 150 caves. Exploration of the area has revealed that the caves originally served different purposes, from dwellings to places of worship.

6. Darul Aman Palace

An example of a fascinating landmark from Afghanistan’s more recent history is the Darul Aman Palace. This structure sits opposite the Afghan Parliament about 10 miles southwest of the city center of Kabul.

Darul Aman Palace
Image by PJ Tavera Photography | Flickr

Constructed in the early 1920s during the reign of King Amanullah Khan, the palace was to be a symbol of a modern, hopeful future for Afghanistan. In fact, the name Darul Aman means “dwelling place of peace.”

The palace fell into disrepair during Afghanistan’s conflict years and then spent spent decades in ruins. In recent years, the palace has undergone extensive renovations and refurbishments to mark Afghanistan’s 100th year of independence in 2019.

7. Band-e-Amir

Afghanistan may not be the first place that comes to mind when thinking of countries with impressive national parks. However, Band-e-Amir, Afghanistan’s first ever national park, may soon change that.

Designated as a national park in 2009, Band-e-Amir is a stunning system of six sapphire-blue travertine lakes located high up in the Hindu Kush mountain range. The area has long been popular with tourists. Afghanistan is hopeful that the national park designation will help even more people, locals and visitors alike, discover the area’s amazing natural beauty.

How Is UNESCO Helping Make Education in Afghanistan Better?

In 2015, all member states of the United Nations adopted the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). These goals consist of a series of 17 focus areas, actions, and objectives that aim to build a better world for people and the planet by 2030. Education makes the list at number 4, with the specific wording of the SDG calling for all nations to “ensure inclusive and equitable quality education and promote lifelong learning.”

Afghanistan has a large youth population (nearly two-thirds of Afghans are under the age of 25) as well as one of the world’s highest illiteracy rates. This means that the country takes the issue of education very seriously. However, decades of conflict and instability have left the nation’s education system in serious disarray. As a result, major improvements to education in Afghanistan is a complex and challenging undertaking.

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This is where partners like UNESCO come in. Since reopening its Kabul office in 2002, UNESCO has been working with the government of Afghanistan and many other organizations and institutions to help the country rebuild and enhance its education system.

UNESCO’s work focuses primarily on broad, large-scale initiatives in the areas of capacity building, sector wide policies, and strategic planning. Over the last few years in particular, UNESCO has been working closely with the Afghan Ministry of Education to support the country’s progress toward achieving SDG 4 by 2030. Some of the specific ways that UNESCO is supporting Afghanistan’s education system include:

1. Translation of SDG Documents

Simple as it may sound, the task of ensuring that materials related to SDG 4 are available in the first languages of the people who will be working with them is a very important one. UNESCO took responsibility for this by supporting the translation of the SDG 4 Framework of Action, also known as the Education 2030 document, from English into Dari and Pashto. Having this vital guiding document available in local languages allows this resource to be much more accessible to all Afghans working in the field of educational development.

2. Support for Technical and Vocational Training

Under the umbrella of its global Capacity Development for Education 2030 (CapED) program, UNESCO has targeted several specific focus areas regarding the enhancement and improvement of education in Afghanistan. One of these is Technical and Vocational Education and Training (TVET).

In Afghanistan, adults are also in need of educational and skills development opportunities—just as much as children and youth are. TVET-related initiatives help to fill this gap by providing adults, particularly those who are unemployed or underemployed, with targeted training that can improve their prospects in the labor market.

Over the past decade, UNESCO has worked closely with Afghanistan’s Ministry of Education and other entities. Their goal was to help build and improve the government’s capacity to develop comprehensive strategic plans, make and implement effective policies, and monitor and evaluate specific initiatives around TVET.

Specific projects that UNESCO has supported include the development and rollout of the National TVET Policy Strategy; the creation of a TVET management information system; and the establishment of a National TVET Research Center. It has also engaged with smaller-scale initiatives such as labor market research, the creation of new curricular materials, and the development of quality assurance measures.

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3. Support for Curricular Reform

Afghanistan’s general education curriculum has not been updated in many years as a result of the conflict and instability of recent decades. It is now in serious need of a major revision. In 2015, Afghanistan’s Ministry of Education sought the support of UNESCO’s Kabul office for this task.

The government’s particular objective for the revision was to align the curriculum more closely to the country’s employment priorities in order to better prepare Afghan youth for work. To support this goal, UNESCO provided funding under its CapED budget to hold a series of National Curriculum Consultations. These sessions resulted in a sector-wide curriculum reform proposal and plan that was prepared and endorsed in 2016 as well as an updated framework for the existing general education curriculum.

Today, team members from UNESCO and the Ministry of Education are finalizing the curriculum competencies laid out in the new framework. They are also developing the necessary syllabi and related teaching and learning materials.

Most recently, the UNESCO office in Kabul organized an eight-day workshop for senior MoE officials working on the new curriculum details. During the workshop, which was held in April 2019 in New Delhi, India, subject specialists from UNESCO and other partners provided technical leadership and support to the breakout working groups focusing on different curriculum subjects.

Over the course of the workshop, syllabi were discussed and developed for a range of subjects including mathematics, science and technology, social studies, information technology, health and physical activity, and languages. With the support of the subject matter experts, working group participants reviewed and updated the scope and sequence of their particular subject’s curriculum. They also identified the major ideas and achievement objectives for each grade level.