Spotlight on the Upcoming Bayat Foundation Innovation Hub

The Bayat Foundation has spent a great deal of time in recent months focusing on COVID-19 relief efforts. However, it has not lost sight of its other ambitious projects planned for the post-pandemic future. Among these is the Bayat Foundation Innovation Hub, an exciting new initiative that aims to advance science and technology education in Afghanistan. Read on to learn more.

What is the Bayat Foundation Innovation Hub?

The Bayat Foundation Innovation Hub is a classroom for the 21st century located on the grounds of Michelle Bayat High School in Kabul. Currently under construction—the project was launched at a special groundbreaking ceremony on October 10, 2020—the Hub will serve as a state-of-the-art education center that will provide students with an inventive, practical, and accessible learning environment.

What will be the focus of the Bayat Foundation Innovation Hub?

The Bayat Foundation Innovation Hub will offer a curriculum focusing on STEM subjects: science, technology, engineering, and math. The broad goal of the Hub’s educational programs is to help students understand and maximize the potential of today’s technology and—at the same time—to think creatively about the role that technology can play in solving the problems of the future. In order to encourage critical thinking, inventiveness, and leadership development, the Hub will immerse students in the curriculum using the latest app-based learning initiatives. For example, coding skills will be taught via robotic balls, drones, and physical and virtual coding blocks.

Why is STEM education important?

We are currently living in an age of constant scientific discovery and technological transformation. In order for people and countries alike to keep up with the pace of change, stay competitive in a global economy, make valuable contributions to the future of society, and address our planet’s most pressing challenges, STEM literacy is absolutely essential. Through a STEM education, young people can develop vital skills such as critical and creative thinking, gathering and evaluating evidence, and information-based problem solving and decision-making that will help them—as well as the organizations and countries that they will eventually represent—to succeed in a complex world.

How does the Hub advance the Bayat Foundation’s mission?

Education has always been one of the central pillars of the Bayat Foundation’s mission, which is to nourish the lives of all Afghans. Throughout Afghanistan’s history, a significant portion of the population has lacked access to any kind of formal education. This not only impacts individuals and families, many of whom have difficulty improving their circumstances due to a lack of education, but also the country itself, which has been deprived of societal, business, and government leaders.

In response to this challenging education gap, the Bayat Foundation has worked hard to develop, implement, and support initiatives that aim to provide Afghans with valuable learning opportunities. The foundation’s efforts in this area focus on two important groups: vulnerable and at-risk Afghans, such as orphaned children and refugees who lack literacy skills; and post-secondary students, who need an enhanced standard of learning in order to help Afghanistan to compete on the world stage. In recent years, the Bayat Foundation has been involved with the launch of the Faryab Orphanage and Learning Center in Maimana Province and has provided support for the reconstruction of the American University of Afghanistan.

What other organizations are involved in developing the Hub?

The following organizations are partnering with the Bayat Foundation on the construction and operation of the Bayat Foundation Innovation Hub:

The Afghan Red Crescent Society—The Michelle Bayat High School, which will house the new Bayat Foundation Innovation Hub, is located in Kabul on the grounds of the Afghan Red Crescent Society (the acting managing director and the secretary general of the society both participated in the October 10 groundbreaking ceremony for the Bayat Foundation Innovation Hub alongside the Bayat Foundation’s chairman, Ehsan Bayat). The Afghan affiliate of the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies, the Afghan Red Crescent Society has conducted wide-ranging humanitarian and relief work throughout Afghanistan since the 1930s.

MATTER—A global nonprofit organization, MATTER envisions a world in which every person is able to lead a full and healthy life. A movement of people, businesses, and organizations, MATTER is dedicated to overcoming one of our biggest contemporary challenges: a lack of access to healthcare, education, and other resources that are necessary to enable people to lead healthy and fulfilled lives.

Teach for Afghanistan—For many years, one of the main barriers to improving education in Afghanistan has been a lack of qualified teachers. Teach for Afghanistan works to address this problem by placing the country’s most promising university graduates in two-year teaching positions at Afghan schools. To date, over 200 university graduates—who teach at 69 schools—have helped more than 60,000 young students.

A Look at the Unique Plant Life in Afghanistan

Although Afghanistan is a dry country that primarily encompasses arid desert and rugged mountain ranges, it is home to an incredibly diverse array of plant life. In fact, according to some botanists, when it comes to plants and vegetation, Afghanistan is one of the world’s most important centers of biodiversity. Read on to learn some fascinating facts about Afghanistan’s surprisingly rich and unique plant life.

Afghanistan has more species of flowering plants than Central Europe.

It would be easy to assume that a region like central Europe, with its damp climate so favorable to plant growth, would have a wider variety of flowering plants than arid Afghanistan. Interestingly, however, the opposite is true. Afghanistan has far more species and sub-species of flowering plants than central Europe. Approximately 4,500 distinct flowering plants have been identified in Afghanistan, and botanists believe that there are many more still to be found and named. Afghan flowering plants encompass more than 600 species within the legume/pea family; 500 species in the daisy family, including nearly 150 different types of thistle; and 205 species in the mint family.

Nearly one-third of Afghanistan’s flowering plants are not found anywhere else.

Afghanistan’s flowering plant life is not only exceptionally diverse, but it’s also unique. Approximately 30% of all of the country’s flowering plants are endemic to Afghanistan, meaning that they don’t grow anywhere else in the world. (In contrast, the UK—another region with a damp climate that is ideally suited to plant growth—only has about 1,700 species of flowering plants, and a mere handful of these are endemic.)

Afghanistan’s valleys helped to shape its floral biodiversity.

Afghanistan’s extraordinary floral biodiversity owes a great deal to the country’s distinctive landscape, particularly the fertile valleys that lie in between its soaring mountains. Over the course of millions of years, these valleys served as a refuge for plants, helping to preserve and protect floral life through a series of global ice ages that wrought destruction elsewhere (to take the UK as an example once again, that region was wiped relatively clean of species with each successive Ice Age due to the area’s fairly flat topography). Furthermore, because the valleys are isolated from one another, many new species were able to evolve in the different areas, each specially adapted to the highly specific local conditions.

Foraging for plants plays an important role in rural Afghanistan.

Given the rich diversity of plants found in Afghanistan, it’s hardly surprising that plant foraging is an important activity in the country, particularly in rural and remote areas. For many Afghans living in rural communities, foraged plants can provide an important source of food, medicine, and sometimes income (foragers often sell their finds by the roadside or from carts in urban areas). The following are some commonly foraged plants:

Rhubarb—Known as chukri or rawash in Afghanistan, wild rhubarb is the Afghan forage plant that is most recognizable to people in the west, particularly northern Europeans. In Afghanistan, wild rhubarb is a springtime delight that is usually an ingredient in salads, or simply sprinkled with salt and eaten raw. Since rhubarb is rich in key nutrients (such as calcium, manganese, potassium, and vitamins C and K), it is an important type of food for rural Afghans, particularly during drought years when other crops are more scarce.

Liquorice root—A member of the legume/pea family, liquorice is known for its pale purple flowers and sharp, distinctive flavor. Foragers dig up liquorice roots and boil them to make a tea, a common treatment for stomachaches. Dried liquorice roots are also an important Afghan export typically destined for markets in India and the Emirates.

Caraway—Zira-ye Kohi, as it is known in Afghanistan, is a delicious spice that is from the carrot family. It is frequently used in Afghan cuisine, especially as an addition to rice dishes.

Afghanistan is one of eight regions in the world where crops were first grown.

The richness and diversity of Afghanistan’s wild plants is also closely related to the country’s history of plant domestication. According to scholars, Afghanistan is part of the “Vavilov Centers,” a term used to describe the regions of the world—eight in total—where humans began domesticating plant crops. In order for this process of domestication to be successful, it is important for early growers to have ready access to each crop’s wild relatives. The fact that wild plants such as wheat, peas, and lentils existed so plentifully in Afghanistan thousands of years ago is what allowed their eventual domestication to take place.

A groundbreaking book on Afghanistan’s plants was recently published.

For those interested in the native plants of Afghanistan, more information can be found in the groundbreaking 2010 book Field Guide Afghanistan: Flora and Vegetation. The culmination of decades of work by a team of Afghan, German, and British biologists and scholars, the book is highly detailed, but easily accessible to non-specialists. Written in Dari and English, the book is used at many schools, universities, and research institutes throughout Afghanistan.

Spotlight on the Key Partners of the Bayat Foundation

For nearly two decades, the Bayat Foundation has been working to rebuild Afghanistan and to deliver hope and support to the country’s most vulnerable citizens. With a broad mission of improving the lives of Afghans, the foundation works across a number of different focus areas, engaging in projects that range from supporting post-secondary students to building maternity hospitals. Most recently, the Bayat Foundation has been involved in delivering food packages to families in need as part of its contribution to Afghanistan’s COVID-19 relief efforts.

In order to deliver these varied programs and services, the Bayat Foundation partners with a broad range of local and international organizations that offer focused expertise in different areas of humanitarian aid and development. Read on to learn about these important organizations.

Cordaid

A global humanitarian organization based in the Netherlands, Cordaid focuses on ending poverty and exclusion in countries such as Afghanistan. Supported by close to 300,000 private donors and connected to a worldwide partner network, Cordaid works to restore trust and cohesion in communities experiencing unrest, with the broader goal of improving essential services and stimulating inclusive economic growth. In 2019 alone, the organization reached 6.8 million people through health care interventions, facilitated access to education for 668,000 children, and offered $1.9 million in loans to small- and medium-sized enterprises to boost private sector development.

MATTER

The global nonprofit organization MATTER is driven by a vision of a world in which every person can lead a full and healthy life. A movement of people, businesses, and organizations, MATTER seeks to overcome one of the biggest modern challenges: a lack of access to health care and other resources necessary for healthy living. In pursuit of its goal of eliminating barriers to a healthier life, the organization engages in a number of activities in the US and around the world, such as redistributing medical supplies and equipment to underresourced hospitals and connecting children with healthy food options through its MATTERbox program.

Starkey Hearing Foundation

The Starkey Hearing Foundation has been one of the key partners of the Bayat Foundation since 2014, when the two organizations launched the Bayat-Starkey Afghanistan Hearing Care Mission. As the philanthropic arm of Starkey Hearing Technologies, the Starkey Hearing Foundation is committed to giving the gift of hearing to those in need. To do so, the foundation collaborates with governments, NGOs, and health care leaders worldwide to facilitate access to hearing care and technology for people with hearing impairments. Since its inception in 1984, the Starkey Hearing Foundation has reached more than 1.5 million people in over 100 countries.

Muslim Aid USA

A faith-based international charity, Muslim Aid USA works to support people and communities affected by natural disasters and unrest. In addition to providing emergency relief, Muslim Aid USA implements long-term development projects with the goal of helping vulnerable communities to build sustainable livelihoods. Driven by values such as compassion and justice, respect, and accountability, the organization is particularly focused on areas such as capacity building, economic empowerment, education, and women’s and children’s health.

Feed My Starving Children

A US-based nonprofit, Feed My Starving Children believes that hope begins with food. Nearly half of the deaths of children under 5 years old are the result of hunger and malnutrition. In order to combat this statistic, Feed My Starving Children teams up with food science and nutrition professionals to develop hand-packed meals. Moreover, it works with community-based distribution partners worldwide to ensure that they continue to reach the children who need them the most.

American University of Afghanistan

The American University of Afghanistan holds the distinction of being the only nationally accredited, private, not-for-profit post-secondary institution in Afghanistan. Committed to preparing future leaders, AUAF offers a non-partisan education to a co-ed student body. As a liberal arts institution, AUAF supports critical thinking and academic freedom among students and faculty alike, and it is committed to fostering a safe, inclusive, and respectful learning atmosphere. AUAF first opened its doors in 2006 with a cohort of 50 students. Today, the university enrolls over 1,700 students (both full- and part-time), and it has produced 29 Fulbright Scholars. In addition, AUAF maintains partnerships with some of the most respected institutions of higher education in the nation, including Stanford University, Georgetown University, and the University of California system.

Food for Kidz

Providing food to insecure communities in the US and regions around the world affected by natural disasters, war, and famine, Food for Kidz believes that change starts with the simplicity of a meal. In order to connect children and families in need with healthy and nutritious meals, Food for Kidz has developed a unique mobile packaging system. The organization provides all the necessary tools and support so that groups of volunteers—ranging from companies and schools to churches—can put together a package of life-sustaining food. Following a packaging event, Food for Kids connects with partner organizations to assess where the need is greatest, and then it ships and delivers the packaged food to those communities.