8 Things to Know About One of Afghanistan’s Biggest Holidays

Earlier this summer, during the first week of June, Muslims all around the world gathered together to celebrate Eid al-Fitr, the festival that marks the end of the holy month of Ramadan. In Afghanistan, as in most other countries with significant Muslim populations, Eid al-Fitr is one of the most important traditional holidays, and it is welcomed with great enthusiasm by Afghans all across the country. Read on for a look at eight interesting facts that you might not know about Eid al-Fitr in Afghanistan.

1. It celebrates the end of a long fast.

One of Islam’s most sacred traditions, Ramadan is a period of ritual fasting that honors the month when the Quran was revealed to the Prophet Mohammed. During Ramadan, most Muslims do not eat (or drink) from dawn until dusk, and they may also abstain from activities like smoking or taking medications. Eid al-Fitr is the festival that marks the end of Ramadan, and consequently, the end of fasting. Appropriately enough, therefore, the literal translation of Eid al-Fitr is “Festival of the Breaking of the Fast” or “Feast of Fast-Breaking.”

breaking fast

2. It begins with the sighting of the new moon.

Like Ramadan, the start of Eid al-Fitr is determined by the date and time that the new moon is first sighted. This means that most of the time Muslims must wait until the night before Eid to verify the exact timing of the festival. Many Muslim countries depend on local moon sighters to catch the first glimpse of the new moon; when the sighting has been confirmed, the beginning of Eid is declared at mosques and on television and radio stations. For uniformity, some Muslim regions choose to celebrate Eid when the new moon appears over the holy site of Mecca, rather than over their own location.

3. It is held on different (Gregorian) dates every year.

The Gregorian calendar, in use in many parts of the world, is based on the solar cycle, whereas the Islamic calendar is based on the lunar cycle, which means that months start and end with each new moon. Therefore, because lunar months are slightly shorter than solar months, Eid al-Fitr always arrives about 10 days earlier than it did the previous (Gregorian) year.

4. It usually lasts for at least three days.

The festival of Eid al-Fitr and its associated celebrations traditionally last for a three-day period. In many countries, including Afghanistan, all three days are observed as national holidays. However, depending on where Eid al-Fitr falls during the week, the festivities can sometimes last longer. For example, if the three days of Eid occur mid-week, it’s not uncommon for the celebrations to last all the way through the weekend.

5. Cleanliness and grooming are an important part of Eid al-Fitr.

On the first morning of Eid al-Fitr, Muslims begin the day with a ritual called “ghusl,” a ceremonial cleansing of the body. Then, they will often dress in new clothes—some people wear traditional dress from their country or region, while others choose contemporary clothing. In some areas, women will decorate their hands with intricate henna designs.

6. The festival begins with prayers.

After getting dressed, Muslims gather together with their families and communities for morning prayers. These prayers are usually followed by a special sermon and a prayer known as the Salat al-Eid. The prayers are often held at local mosques or in large halls, but in many countries, people also gather for prayers outdoors. After prayers, the rest of the day is spent visiting and celebrating with family, friends, and neighbors. In some countries, people also visit cemeteries to offer their respects to late family members.

Prayer
Image by DVIDSHUB | Flickr

7. Special dishes and meals are prepared.

Since Eid al-Fitr is a festival that marks the end of a month of fasting, it’s not surprising that food plays a major role in the celebrations. (In fact, voluntary fasting is actually not allowed on the first day of Eid al-Fitr, as Muslims are instead encouraged to feast and celebrate the conclusion of a month of fasting and worship.) Each country has different traditional foods that are prepared before Eid begins or on the morning of the first day; many of these foods are sweets or desserts, but savory dishes are also important. In Afghanistan, a dish traditionally prepared and eaten at Eid is bolani, a type of flatbread stuffed with different fillings like spinach, lentils, potatoes, or pumpkin.

8. Gifts are given.

To celebrate the end of a month of sacrifice and abstinence, Muslims embrace abundance during Eid al-Fitr. This means not only abundant food, but gifts as well. The most common gift at Eid is money, but flowers or goods for the home may also be given. Known as “Eidi,” gifts are most often given to children, who are a special focus during the Eid al-Fitr celebrations.

Spotlight on 7 More AICS-Certified Organizations

The certification program operated by the Afghanistan Institute for Civil Society (AICS) plays an extremely important role in the development and advancement of the Afghan civil society sector. Under this program, local civil society organizations (CSOs) can apply to be independently evaluated and certified.

Certification is measured against high international standards and best practices for all aspects of CSO operation. These include internal governance, financial management, and program delivery.

When a CSO receives certification from AICS, it is a testament to that organization’s reliability and effectiveness. This is an important step in promoting transparency within the civil society sector and increasing both local and international trust in Afghan CSOs.

As of June 2018, AICS had provided certification to 27 Afghan CSOs. Previously, we profiled seven of these organizations. Today, we shine the spotlight on seven more of these important, dependable organizations.

1. Organization of Human Welfare

Organization of Human Welfare

Founded in 2007, Organization of Human Welfare (OHW) focuses on humanitarian aid, development aid, peace building, governance, and capacity development. OHW’s vision is of an Afghan society in which vulnerable and marginalized people can access the opportunities and tools they need to improve their well-being and break the cycle of poverty.

The organization operates across 19 different provinces. Some of its specific activities and programs include the distribution of winterization kits, the distribution of food and non-food items to regions impacted by emergencies, and conducting disaster risk reduction activities in local communities.

2. Organization for Research and Community Development

Organization for Research and Community Development

With a staff size of over 1,700, the Organization for Research and Community Development (ORCD) is by far the largest of the AICS-certified organizations. Established in 2011, ORCD has a broad mission to use evidence-based best practices to assist and empower communities to set, and attain, their own development goals.

The ORCD operates major programs across a wide range of thematic focus areas, including health, education, agriculture, rural development, and emergency relief. It is active in 14 of Afghanistan’s provinces.

In 2015, ORCD was granted special consultative status with the United Nations. This made it the first Afghan civil society NGO ever to participate in the UN’s Economic and Social Council.

3. Bu Ali Rehabilitation and Aid Network

Bu Ali Rehabilitation and Aid Network

Another very large AICS-certified organization is the Bu Ali Rehabilitation and Aid Network (BARAN). An independent, non-governmental, and non-political organization founded in 2006, BARAN has a mission to provide Afghans with quality health care, education, rehabilitation, and social services.

BARAN’s 1,250-plus staff members use a community development approach to deliver the organization’s programs and services. Capacity-building programs that enhance communities’ self-sufficiency are a particularly important focus area for BARAN.

4. Sanayee Development Organization

Sanayee Development Organization

For nearly 30 years, Sanayee Development Organization (SDO) has been working to create a peaceful, free Afghanistan where people can sustain themselves and manage their own development with pride.

SDO is focused on peacebuilding initiatives, including community-based resources for conflict resolution; community development activities, including capacity-building for disaster prevention; health services, such as mobile health clinics and HIV/AIDS harm reduction programs; and educational interventions, especially vocational training programs and literacy and numeracy classes.

Over the course of its history, SDO has joined a number of important local and international networks. These include the Global Call to Action Against Poverty, the Asian Disaster Reduction & Response Network, and the Afghan Civil Society Organization Network for Peace.

5. People’s Action for Change Organization

People’s Action for Change Organization

Founded in 2012, People’s Action for Change Organization (PAC.o) envisions an equitable and just society in which every person is free from hunger, poverty, and suffering. Much of PAC.o’s work focuses on food insecurity and initiatives to end hunger.

One of the organization’s most important initiatives is the REALISE project (Resilient Agriculture and Livelihood Initiative for Socioeconomic Empowerment). This endeavor is supported by the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade and carried out in partnership with ActionAid Australia/Afghanistan.

The REALISE project works with vulnerable households and communities to improve food and nutritional security; grow their economic asset base; and strengthen their engagement in local, provincial, and national decision-making around food security issues.

6. Afghanistan National Re-Construction Coordination

Afghanistan National Re-Construction Coordination

Afghanistan National Re-Construction Coordination (ANCC) was established in 1994 to assist vulnerable Afghan refugees and internally displaced families during the country’s civil war. Today, ANCC works to build prosperous and developed communities in Afghanistan by partnering with stakeholders to offer agricultural, food security, and community development support.

One of ANCC’s most important recent projects was the National Solidarity Program. It worked to build and strengthen local Community Development Councils and maintain them as effective institutions for local governance and socioeconomic development.

7. Afghanistan Rehabilitation and Educational Program

Afghanistan Rehabilitation and Educational Program

Another civil society organization established in 1994, Afghanistan Rehabilitation and Educational Program (AREP) understands the close connections between education, community development, and capacity building. It further understands how these key areas relate to the progress of Afghan society.

Today, AREP leverages its extensive experience managing multiple projects to deliver a range of programming. It has a particular focus on formal and information education.

This New Project Is Improving Health Care Quality in Afghanistan

As Afghanistan works to rebuild itself after many years of conflict, the country’s health care system remains an area of concern. Despite recent significant improvements, access to health care remains a challenge for many Afghans, particularly those living in remote or rural communities. In addition, the outdated infrastructure, lack of critical amenities and facilities, and inadequate opportunities for medical training that are standard in most parts of Afghanistan mean that it can be difficult for providers to deliver health care beyond the most basic services.

However, Afghanistan’s health care system is set to get a major boost over the next few years through the Sehatmandi Project, a large-scale program launched in the summer of 2018 that aims to improve access to and quality of health care services across the country. Here are four things you need to know about this important project.

It will cover the entire country.

Many of the development programs or initiatives that deal with health care in Afghanistan do so in very targeted areas, often concentrating either on Kabul or on rural areas in the north of the country. The Sehatmandi Project is exceptional in that its scope includes 31 of Afghanistan’s 34 provinces. This means that Afghans all around the country will be able to benefit from the cohesive and holistic improvements to Afghanistan’s health care system that the project aims to implement. In addition, some of the project’s key focus areas include offering underserved populations beneficial services such as nutrition management and family planning programs.

afghanistan

It is supported by a variety of national and international partners.

The Sehatmandi Project is a major, multi-year initiative with a budget to match: the total cost for the program’s three years of operation is estimated at US$600 million.

This cost will be covered by grants from three major funding entities:

The Afghanistan Reconstruction Trust Fund (ARTF)—Established in 2002, this multidonor trust fund is supported by 34 international donors under the overall management of the World Bank. It is one of the most important entities supporting Afghanistan’s ongoing rebuilding and development process.

The International Development Association (IDA)—Another arm of the World Bank, the IDA provides loans and grants to some of the world’s poorest countries, with the aim of boosting economic growth and lifting these nations out of poverty.

The Global Financing Facility (GFF)—This multi-stakeholder partnership helps governments of low- and lower-middle income countries to prioritize and finance their citizens’ health and nutrition.

In addition to these three major funders, the Sehatmandi Project involves many other administrative and operational partners, including Afghanistan’s Ministry of Public Health and Health Works, a global NGO based in the Netherlands.

It aims to build on the successes of a previous program.

The Sehatmandi Project is a follow-up to the System Enhancement for Health Action in Transition (SEHAT) program, another initiative operated by Afghanistan’s Ministry of Public Health and supported by IDA and ARTF.

Running from January 2014 to June 2018, SEHAT aimed to expand the scope, quality, and coverage of health care services provided to Afghans, especially vulnerable and underserved populations. A key goal of SEHAT was to allow health facilities across Afghanistan to deliver a basic package of health service (BPHS) and an essential package of hospital service (EPHS). The successes of the SEHAT program have laid an important foundation for the Sehatmandi Project, which can now pick up where the earlier program left off and take its accomplishments to the next level.

Some of the most important achievements of the SEHAT program include the following:

Better health services in Nangarhar province—SEHAT oversaw new health initiatives in each of Nangarhar province’s 22 districts. For example, with the support of the SEHAT program, personnel at the Kama District Hospital were able to upgrade their skills and provide better care to patients, and the hospital itself received a second ambulance and a power generator.

The Kabul Urban Health Project—The Rahman Mina Hospital, a Kabul hospital that serves hundreds of thousands of the city’s residents, benefited from extensive renovations and new equipment provided under SEHAT. In addition, the hospital was able to increase its supply of critical medicines, and hospital staff received training on a new health management information system, which improved the facility’s operational efficiency.

It now includes a pay-for-performance component.

In early 2019, Aga Khan Health Services (AKHS) took over the management of health care facilities in two Afghan provinces under the umbrella of the Sehatmandi Project. In this new role, AKHS will be responsible for two provincial hospitals, five district hospitals, 24 comprehensive health centers, 158 basic and primary health centers, and more than 1,000 village health posts in the provinces of Bamyan and Badakhshan.

Interestingly, AKHS plans to operate its portion of the health system using a pay-for-performance model, which will see health service providers compensated for meeting pre-established benchmarks, including numbers of antenatal and postnatal care visits, numbers of immunized infants, and quantity and quality of major surgeries.