3 Things You Need to Know about the Afghan Institute of Learning

afghaninstituteoflearningThe Afghan Institute of Learning (AIL) aims to create a brighter future for Afghanistan through a focus on education. In 1995, Dr. Sakena Yacoobi founded AIL to address what she perceived as a systemic problem. She observed that Afghans in need were not able to access basic education and health services and were subsequently less able to support themselves, a situation that impacted Afghan society as a whole. Furthermore, Dr. Yacoobi believed that the only way to address this problem was to adopt a holistic approach. As a result, AIL is built firmly on grassroots principles, and its work is guided by the belief that major societal change occurs at the community level by transforming lives. To date, more than 14 million Afghans have benefitted from AIL’s offerings. Here’s what you need to know about this visionary organization:

 

1. It offers a wide range of programs and services.

When AIL was founded, it focused primarily on basic education and health initiatives. However, AIL’s scope of offerings has grown considerably over the years, and the organization now provides a wide variety of programs and services across a number of different areas. Following are some examples of AIL’s projects:

Learning Centers—AIL’s unique Learning Center model is the cornerstone of its educational endeavors. Learning Centers are schools or other educational facilities that typically serve Afghanistan’s rural communities or urban neighborhoods that are underserved. They offer a wide range of classes and educational opportunities, ranging from university-level classes and literacy courses to workshops focused on crafts such as calligraphy and carpet-weaving. A community demand-driven project, Learning Centers are established specifically at the request of individual communities. Communities that want a Learning Center collaborate closely with AIL to plan, fund, and operate them. The ultimate goal is that each Learning Center will eventually become self-sufficient. Since 1996, AIL has opened or supported over 340 Learning Centers.

Teacher training—One of the challenges that has hampered the progress of Afghanistan’s educational system has been a lack of qualified, trained teachers. AIL works to fill this gap through intensive, small-group teacher training workshops. Subjects covered include the pedagogical basics of teaching, the creation of a good classroom environment, the development of curricula and lesson materials, and testing and evaluation.

Cultural programs—Preserving Afghanistan’s cultural heritage and reviving its cultural sector are important priorities for many organizations, including AIL. Since 2011, AIL has been working with local government officials in Herat to develop and implement a series of cultural projects and programs. They include the establishment of a library and research center at the Gawhar Shad Musalla Complex, a historic mausoleum, and a workshop series on traditional Afghan arts and crafts where master craftsmen teach skills such as miniature painting and tile-making at the recently restored Herat Citadel.

Legal services—In 2015, AIL established a Legal Clinic Project in Herat to provide indigent Afghans with legal support. Located near Herat’s courts and staffed by five experienced lawyers, the Legal Clinic Project helps people with legal difficulties who lack sufficient financial resources to access legal representation. Its mission is guided by five core values.

 

afghanistan education

 

2. Its mission is guided by five core values.

AIL founder Dr. Sakena Yacoobi firmly believes that the people her organization serves are the ones who know best what their own needs are, and that trust is the key to building relationships that lead to sustainable change. Consequently, she has placed these five core values at the heart of AIL’s work and mission:

Listening—According to Dr. Yacoobi, the most important thing that an organization can do to serve people in need is to listen. Only by listening is it possible to learn what is needed to improve a particular situation.

Community support—The full support of each community member is essential in developing programs that lead to lasting change. True transformation occurs when communities are part of the solution rather than simply recipients of charity.

Leadership—AIL is all about helping each person to achieve their goals by providing them with the tools and resources they need for success. In doing so, AIL demonstrates what it means to be a leader.

Evaluation and reflection—Assessing what has worked and what has not for new programs and initiatives is a vital component of AIL’s work. Building on successes and learning from losses helps communities to move closer toward their goals.

Innovation—While successful projects bring joy and fulfillment, AIL believes that innovation never ends. There is always something new to try or a new idea that provides inspiration.

 

3. Its founder has received widespread recognition.

AIL’s founder, Dr. Sakena Yacoobi, has received widespread international recognition. Through her tireless work with AIL, Dr. Yacoobi has earned recognition from leading institutions around the world. Among her many honors are the Opus Prize, the WISE Prize for Education, the Harold W. McGraw Prize in Education, and the Sunhak Peace Prize. In addition, she has received six honorary doctorates from various institutions.

This Amazing Carpet Puts Afghan Craftsmanship in the Spotlight

Visitors to Washington, DC between March 2016 and October 2017 had the opportunity to experience a rare and special showcase of traditional Afghan craftsmanship. During this time, the Freer-Sackler Gallery at the Smithsonian Institution hosted a unique exhibit entitled “Turquoise Mountain: Artists Transforming Afghanistan.”

This truly special event marked one of the first times that Western audiences were able to get a glimpse of Afghanistan’s newly-revitalized arts and crafts scene. This sector has been steadily growing in recent years as a result of strong local and international support, and the hard work and dedication of Afghanistan’s many talented artisans.

The Smithsonian exhibit presented a stunning array of beautiful works across five artistic disciplines, from exquisite pieces of jewelry to boldly carved wooden panels. However, perhaps the most visually arresting component in the collection was the Afghan History Carpet.

Featuring 25 different colors twisting and winding in intricate patterns across a surface area of 17.5 square meters (nearly 190 square feet), the Afghan History Carpet is more than just a rug. As its name implies, it’s the story of Afghan carpet-weaving captured in textile form. Here’s what you need to know about this amazing work of art.

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Image courtesy Carl Montgomery | Flickr

 

It tells a story that’s thousands of years old.

The Afghan art of carpet-weaving is a practice as ancient as it is complex. For thousands of years, different tribes across the country have made intricate rugs by hand. Craftspeople follow an intensive, multi-step process, including raising and shearing sheep, preparing dyes from plants that only grow in or near Afghanistan, dyeing the wool, and finally, weaving the patterned carpets over a period of many months (or even years in some cases).

This process remained relatively unchanged until just a few decades ago. At that time, ongoing conflict and occupation decimated many traditional arts and crafts practices in Afghanistan, including carpet-weaving.

 

It uses a wide range of traditional and historic patterns.

One of the things that makes the Afghan History Carpet so special is that it incorporates an array of different traditional design motifs. Historically, each carpet-producing village or tribe in Afghanistan had its own distinctive way of constructing carpets and its own unique patterns.

The Afghan History Carpet captures these individual identities and traces the evolution of carpet-weaving in the country by incorporating 25 of these motifs. These include the central medallion of the Beshir tribe, the cross motif of the Ersari, and the Turkmen gul (another medallion-like design element).

But the design of the Afghan History Carpet is far from purely traditional. Instead, the rug is formed in a contemporary, loosely-striped background pattern that holds the design together while allowing the different design elements to shift in and out of the foreground. The result is a one-of-a-kind carpet that pays homage to Afghanistan’s rich history of carpet-making while looking toward the future simultaneously.

 

It was conceived by one of the world’s most exciting carpet designers.

The designer of the Afghan History Carpet is the artist Erbil Tezcan. This Turkish national and American resident is the founder and owner of the New Jersey-based rug design company Wool and Silk Carpets.

Tezcan was approached to be part of the Turquoise Mountain showcase at the Smithsonian by Tommy Wide, the organization’s director of exhibitions. At this point, Tezcan had already been working with Afghan carpet-makers for several years.

His work was strongly inspired by historical journeys along the Silk Road and the natural exchanges of ideas and designs that took place as a result. For the Turquoise Mountain showcase, Tezcan was tasked with an enormous mission: to create something truly special that told a story of Afghanistan. The result was the Afghan History Carpet.

 

It was made entirely in Afghanistan.

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Image courtesy A.Davey | Flickr

Today, many Afghan carpets are partially made in Afghanistan, but finished outside the country. For Erbil Tezcan and the other stakeholders involved in putting together the Turquoise Mountain exhibit, it was vital that the rugs on display, including the Afghan History Carpet, should be entirely made in Afghanistan.

After many research trips to the country, Tezcan developed the design for the Afghan History Carpet. The rug was then painstakingly created by a team of weavers in Dawlatabad over a period of several months. Finally, the rug was sent to Mazar-e-Sharif to be washed in September 2015. It was then shipped to the US for the Smithsonian exhibition.

 

It’s a stunning example of the high-quality work that Afghan artisans are producing today.

One of the main goals of the Turquoise Mountain showcase was to allow people outside the country to see a different side of contemporary Afghanistan. The story of Afghanistan today is not solely about conflict and poverty. It is about beauty, creativity, craftsmanship, and heritage.

By grouping together some of the most spectacular work from Afghan artisans, including the Afghan History Carpet, the Turquoise Mountain exhibit was an important step forward in building global interest in Afghanistan’s renewed cultural scene.

Featured Image courtesy hewy | Flickr

ECOA Is an Afghan Environmental Organization You Need to Know about

ECOAIf Afghanistan is to have a stable and prosperous future, environmental conservation must be a vital part of the country’s ongoing development. This is the philosophy behind the Ecology and Conservation Organization of Afghanistan (ECOA), a fully Afghan-owned and -operated nonprofit NGO. Founded in 2010, ECOA works to protect and rehabilitate Afghanistan’s environment and alleviate poverty in the country through sustainable natural resource management and community-based development initiatives. Read on to learn more.

 

What are ECOA’s mission and vision?

“Protect, connect, and support” are the three key watchwords of ECOA’s mission. In order to secure a sustainable future for Afghanistan’s land and people, ECOA works to conserve biological diversity, promote the sustainable use of renewable natural resources, reduce pollution and wasteful consumption, and build sustainable livelihoods.

All of these efforts are geared toward realizing ECOA’s future vision of a prosperous Afghan society that embraces stewardship of and responsibility to nature. As ECOA imagines it, by 2050 Afghanistan will have accomplished a number of goals. First, it will have conserved biodiversity in all of its ecosystems and understood that economic development cannot come at the cost of a net loss of biodiversity while embracing and implementing sustainable social and economic patterns and eliminating—or mitigating—serious ecological threats.

 

Who runs ECOA?

While there are a number of environmental and conservation organizations operating in Afghanistan, ECOA is distinctive in that it is one of the few to be entirely Afghan-run. The organization’s core team consists of the following:

Sardar Amiri, founder and head of operations—Amiri is a native of Afghanistan’s Bamyan region. His passion for environmentalism was inspired in part by his love of the Baba mountains, where he loves to hike.

Islamudin Farhank, project support officer—Another Bamyan native, Farhank has a background in political science. He aims to use his knowledge to support environmental policymaking that benefits Afghanistan’s vulnerable communities.

Mohammad Din, finance officer—In addition to his passion for hiking and ecology, Din is dedicated to environmental conservation. He believes that preserving the environment is an essential part of preserving the wealth of current and future generations.

Habiba Amiri, executive director—A co-founding member of ECOA and a native of Bamyan, Amiri also enjoys the wilderness of the Baba Mountains. She is dedicated to improving family livelihoods through ECOA projects.

In addition to the operational team, ECOA is supported by a variety of donors and partners. These include Afghanistan’s National Environmental Protection Agency, the Global Environment Facility, the United Nations Environment Programme, the Government of Finland, and the British Ecological Society.

 

What kinds of projects has ECOA implemented?

ECOA has created and carried out a wide range of projects since its establishment in 2010. In general, the organization’s approach prioritizes community participation: As it implements projects, ECOA typically takes on the role of facilitator, providing training, support, and coordination to communities in their conservation and environmental efforts.

These are some of the projects that ECOA has developed:

The Bamyan Environmental Conservation Center (BEC)—Currently in development, the BEC is a vital hub for all of ECOA’s activities. The multi-purpose indoor and outdoor space will serve as a nexus for environmental education and knowledge sharing tailored to the different knowledge, experience, and needs of diverse local stakeholders.

The BEC is home to a fully cataloged physical and online library on nature conservation and natural resource management; exhibition rooms for educational displays, workshops, discussions, and theater and film events; regular demonstrations of green technologies and sustainable livelihood options; and an herbarium and medicinal plant garden.

Beekeeping Empowerment Education Sustainability (BEES)—This project was implemented under the umbrella of a large-scale program targeting Bamyan’s agriculture sector. The aim of the program was to provide local farmers with innovative agricultural technologies and business support to help them transform their livelihoods. ECOA’s contribution involved working with a number of agriculture cooperatives to establish a community-based beekeeping industry, with the goal of alleviating poverty at the grassroots level. As with all of ECOA’s work, the BEES project sought to empower local community members by encouraging meaningful involvement at every stage, from sourcing raw materials to marketing the products of the beekeeping process.

The Darwin Initiative—As part of the Darwin Initiative, a mechanism funded by the UK government that helps emerging economies meet their Convention on Biological Diversity objectives, ECOA operated a program in the Bamyan region to help prevent environmental degradation and other problems through sustainable fuel interventions. Bamyan province is an important area for biodiversity as it is home to many unique species of plants, shrubs, and trees, but the rural people who live in the area use these species for firewood. This harvesting disrupts the natural structure of the plant community and can lead to serious environmental consequences; in addition, the open fires contribute to indoor air pollution and human health issues.

To help address this problem, ECOA implemented a number of sustainable fuel interventions, such as providing local communities with specially designed clean cookstoves as well as bio-briquettes and solar water heaters (to reduce the demand for firewood).