Afghan Program Supports Creativity and Cultural Diversity

UNESCOlogoIn recent years, Afghanistan has begun to recognize the important role that cultural heritage can play in developing a unified national identity that connects citizens beyond their perceived differences. For this reason, the government of Afghanistan created the National Program for Culture and Creative Economy (NPCE) with the support of the UNESCO office in Kabul. A broad initiative funded by a variety of donors, the NPCE covers eight vital thematic areas that are closely tied both to UNESCO’s areas of action in Afghanistan. In addition, they focus on the country’s needs and priorities as outlined in the government’s National Peace and Development Framework. Read on to learn more about these cultural and creative themes.


The Right to Culture

This thematic area focuses on the right to enjoy culture and creativity in conditions of equality and dignity without a fear of discrimination. Projects and initiatives in this category will focus on facilitating the right of all Afghans to access culture. Examples include supporting access to libraries, workshops, community and cultural centers, and other creative hubs; using cultural activities to help integrate returnees and refugees; and encouraging private sector partnerships to provide financial and other support to Afghanistan’s cultural sector.


Improved Higher Education for Culture and Creative Industries

While there is a national movement to re-center culture in Afghan society and to ensure that cultural heritage and creative industries are able to grow and thrive over the long term, this desire is hampered by the country’s lack of national cultural experts. Systemic and structured investments that target specific competencies are needed to fill these gaps. For instance, this thematic area could oversee the creation of new institutions such as schools of design or university departments for heritage conservation and management.


The Afghanistan Translation Movement

The goal of this thematic area is to launch a comprehensive knowledge movement in Afghanistan. Taking its name from the Islamic Golden Age—during which scholars gathered to translate the world’s classical knowledge into the Arabic and Persian languages—the Translation Movement aims to make the sources of today’s universal knowledge accessible to Afghan citizens in their own language. At a time when it is rare to find Dari or Pashto translations of university textbooks, for example, this thematic category strongly supports the right to culture and improvement in higher education.


Legal Framework and Policies for Culture

In order for Afghanistan’s creative and cultural industries to thrive—and for its vital cultural heritage to be protected and preserved—there must be streamlined and relevant policies and regulations in place under Afghan law. Through advocacy efforts and expert consultation, the NPCE is working to support the Afghan government through a full review and revision of existing cultural heritage laws.


Safeguarding the Cultural Heritage of Afghanistan

Afghanistan’s “built heritage”—its monuments, mosques, and ancient cities—are an important asset and testament to the country’s thousands of years of history. However, due to their isolation and dispersal, far too many cultural sites are not perceived as integral to the fabric of Afghanistan’s rapidly changing society. This thematic area aims to foster a new attitude toward built heritage by supporting and implementing projects (such as rehabilitation works in historical urban contexts) that benefit the community and, in doing so, demonstrate that cultural preservation can enhance development.


Architecture for Public Spaces

After decades of political and social upheaval that have affected all levels of society, Afghanistan is in the midst of a period of explosive growth: displaced people are returning to the country in large numbers, and more Afghans are transitioning from a rural to urban existence. This has taken a toll on Afghanistan’s cities, which are struggling to accommodate these sweeping changes without destroying built heritage. This thematic area of the NPCE works to support state and local urban planning authorities to preserve existing heritage on the one hand, and to promote better contemporary architecture on the other.


The Afghanistan Cultural Centers Network

Through this thematic category, UNESCO and the NPCE aim to use a networking strategy to resolve the disconnect that can arise over cultural development work at the policy and the project levels. Often, significant policy changes do not “trickle down” effectively to the local level, where they would be of most immediate benefit. Likewise, the short-term effects of project-level initiatives often do not make it past the local sphere to the policy level, where the lessons learned could be put to broader use. This thematic area aims to open up channels of information across local cultural centers in order to provide greater opportunities to better exchange ideas and influence policy creation.


The Afghanistan Creative Cities Network

In 2015, Bamiyan became the first city in Central Asia to join the UNESCO Creative Cities Network, an association of 116 international member cities committed to investing in creative industries and the creative economy. This thematic area aims to pave the way for more Afghan cities to join the network and benefit from its worldwide cooperation, intercultural dialogue, and support.

What You Need to Know about Afghan Academy International

A number of organizations are working in Afghanistan to build a better, safer, and more prosperous future for the country and its residents. At the same time, it’s important not to overlook the small number of equally dedicated organizations that are working in other parts of the world to support members of the Afghan diaspora who, for various reasons, no longer live in their home country. Based in the UK, Afghan Academy International is just such an organization. Read on to learn more about how this important association has been helping Afghan expatriates for more than 30 years.


What Is Afghan Academy International?

afghanacademyinternationalAfghan Academy International is an independent, non-political, and non-tribal charitable organization that aims to support Afghans living in the UK and abroad. The Academy was founded in the early 1980s in response to the waves of Afghan refugees who arrived in the UK as a result of political unrest at home. The newcomers desperately needed support: first, with all the practical considerations involved in establishing new lives in an unfamiliar country and language; and later, to maintain connections with their culture and heritage.

Over the years, the Academy has become a vital organization that helps Afghans residing in the UK to achieve a better standard of living. In addition, it aims to fulfill a broader vision of promoting and preserving Afghan identity and heritage, serving as an ambassador of Afghan culture, and showing the UK and the world a different picture of Afghans and Afghanistan than the one that is so often represented. An important part of the Academy’s mission and activities is to promote key shared values such as peace, tolerance, respect, co-existence, freedom of speech and expression, and mutual understanding.


Who Runs Afghan Academy International?

Since its inception, Afghan Academy International has been an entirely volunteer-run organization. The organization is managed on a day-to-day basis by a board of trustees, board of directors, and an academic board of advisors. Over the years, many of the most influential Afghan professionals, scholars, and artists living in the UK have joined or supported the Academy. The organization is always looking for more volunteers and contributors. You can learn more about becoming involved with the Academy on its website.


What Initiatives Does Afghan Academy International Oversee?

The Academy oversees a broad range of activities—services, projects, and events—for expatriate Afghans throughout the UK.



The Academy’s services mainly target Afghans who have recently arrived in the UK and those in need of extra support to integrate into their new communities. Services include:


Image by alisamii | Flickr

24/7 Emergency Helpline—Geared primarily toward Afghan youth and families, but available to anyone in need (including other agencies requiring additional support or services), the 24/7 Emergency Helpline ensures that no one has to deal with a crisis alone.

Advice, information, and counseling—Setting up a new life in a new country can be challenging. The Academy provides advice, information, and counseling sessions to new Afghan arrivals to the UK on all the practical aspects of how to get started.

Senior care—Senior citizens are at serious risk of social isolation. To help prevent this, the Academy offers a variety of services to ensure that these at-risk groups are connected and supported.

Afghan language services—In addition to providing class-based and one-on-one language support classes in both Dari and Pashto to Afghans learning English, the Academy offers interpretation and translation services to communities, businesses, and other institutions dealing with Dari and Pashto speakers.

Country information and expert reports—The Academy’s team of experts and academics works to prepare reports on Afghanistan and related issues for UK clients.



Afghan Academy International’s projects are primarily geared toward promoting and preserving Afghan culture and heritage, as well as helping expatriate Afghans to stay connected to their cultural identity. These projects include:

Afghan Art, Film & Media Foundation—Launched in 2011, this project serves as a platform in support of Afghan art and cinema worldwide. The foundation organizes exhibitions and festivals of Afghan art and film, and it helps emerging Afghan artists connect with scholarships and training opportunities.

Afghan Council of Britain—Established by the Academy in late 2013, this project aims to create more effective communication and cooperation among the range of Afghan community organizations working in the UK. The broad mission of the council is to ensure that the Afghan community as a whole is better served by a network of organizations working efficiently together.

Afghan TV channel—Afghan Television London, the Academy’s independent TV channel, broadcasts educational and cultural programs to Afghanistan and Afghan viewers around the world.



The Academy organizes and publicizes events throughout the UK that are of interest and benefit to expatriate Afghans, as well as to other community members with an interest in Afghan culture. Past events have included an annual celebration of Afghan arts, culture, and storytelling; community events in celebration of Nowruz, or New Year; and a discussion of Afghan music held at the British Museum.

This Important Literacy Program Is Celebrating 10 Great Years

Earlier this year, UNESCO’s Enhancement of Literacy in Afghanistan (ELA) program celebrated its milestone 10th birthday. In 2008 UNESCO and Afghanistan’s Ministry of Education launched the large-scale ELA program to address the urgent challenge of improving Afghanistan’s seriously low literacy rates. Today, a decade later, ELA has helped more than 1.2 million Afghans acquire basic literacy and numeracy skills, along with new perspectives on education and new opportunities for a better future. Read on to learn more about this important program.


How did ELA get started?

According to Irina Bokova, the director-general of UNESCO from 2009 to 2017, literacy is the cornerstone for peace and development in the 21st century, underpinning all the essential skills—like knowledge acquisition, interpersonal communication, and social cooperation—that are at the very heart of modern society. But throughout Afghanistan’s decades of war, many Afghans were left out of the damaged formal education system, and mere survival was enough of a challenge for much of the country’s population. As a result, Afghanistan has one of the lowest literacy rates in the world, estimated at just 31 percent of the adult population (15 years of age and older). In addition, there is a sharp divide between literacy rates in urban and rural areas, with literate adults making up less than 2 percent of the population in some of Afghanistan’s most remote provinces.


school children


But with the greater stability that the country began to enjoy in the mid-2000s, literacy has re-emerged as an important national priority, which led to the development of the ELA program in 2008. The largest-scale literacy effort ever seen in Afghanistan, ELA was created with the ambitious aim of improving adult literacy, numeracy, and vocational skills levels in all of Afghanistan’s 34 provinces. Over the past 10 years, ELA has been funded by the governments of Japan, Sweden, Finland, and most recently, South Korea.


How was ELA implemented?

Since 2008, ELA has gone through three different phases of operation, with each phase growing in scale and scope. From 2008 to 2010, ELA I provided literacy courses to more than 250,000 youths and adults in nine different provinces; the central objective of this first phase was to promote literacy education and the acquisition of literacy skills as an important tool for poverty reduction and peacebuilding.

ELA II, which operated from 2010 and 2013, provided literacy courses to more than 325,000 youths and adults in 18 provinces and also offered vocational skills training to select literacy graduates. With this second phase, ELA aimed to provide learners with the opportunity and the tools to become more productive family members and citizens, as well as greater contributors to Afghanistan’s development.

Over the period of ELA’s third phase, which took place from 2014 to early 2018, the program provided literacy education to 630,000 youth and adults in all 34 Afghan provinces and worked more intensively with the Afghan government to build national capacity for implementing and leading literacy initiatives. The third phase of ELA also introduced a Skill-Based Literacy program, which focused on providing selected learners with important vocational skills.


How did UNESCO support ELA?

As a central partner in the ELA program, UNESCO provided support and interventions across a number of different focus areas, including:

Curriculum and materials development—UNESCO provided technical support to the Ministry of Education’s Literacy Department for the development of a comprehensive, harmonized curriculum framework for literacy education. This standardized framework allowed literacy providers all over the country to more easily meet the diverse needs of their learners. In addition, UNESCO supported the Literacy Department in developing a series of general literacy workbooks used for basic adult literacy education.



Monitoring and evaluation—The establishment, monitoring, and assessment of specific program outcomes is an important part of ensuring that ELA is functioning properly and achieving its intended objectives. UNESCO provided technical support to the Literacy Department as it worked to develop a Non-Formal Education Management Information System, which has since helped the department to collect, collate, analyze, and present program data more effectively and accurately.

Advocacy and communication—While providing literacy education is ELA’s main objective, an important part of achieving this goal involves promoting and raising the profile of literacy education among policymakers, opinion leaders, and other key stakeholders. UNESCO has spearheaded a number of important initiatives in literacy advocacy, such as the establishment of the UNESCO Bibigul Literacy Prize, which recognizes government and non-governmental organizations in Afghanistan for their outstanding work in providing adult literacy services.


What’s next for ELA?

After 10 years of successful operation, during which more than 1.2 million Afghans acquired critical basic literacy skills, ELA transitioned earlier this year into the Adult Literacy & Non-Formal Education program. Targeting youth and adults that have been left out of the formal education system, this new program is set to operate until 2022.