Spotlight on the Bayat Foundation’s New Scholarship Program

Education has always been a top priority for the Bayat Foundation. As Afghanistan’s largest private philanthropic organization, the Bayat Foundation is keenly aware of the fact that years of conflict and instability have prevented many Afghans from pursuing any kind of formal education. As a result, the country is experiencing a serious education and skills gap that is limiting its ability to rebuild and move forward into the 21st century.

Bayat Foundation

Like many other charitable organizations, the Bayat Foundation is deeply committed to reducing this education gap. Over the years, the Foundation has launched and supported a wide variety of educational initiatives, many aimed at Afghanistan’s most vulnerable and underserved populations. The Foundation has also worked to build a legacy of educational redevelopment through a long-term partnership with the American University of Afghanistan (AUAF), the country’s leading private nonprofit university. Recently, the Foundation announced the creation of the Bayat Scholars Program, a new scholarship initiative that will provide key educational opportunities for Afghan youth at AUAF. Read on to learn more.

Building the next generation of IT professionals

The aim of the Bayat Scholars Program is to build and develop a new generation of skilled and experienced Afghan IT professionals. Many organizations, including the Bayat Foundation, agree that a vibrant and innovative tech sector will be a vital element of Afghanistan’s rebuilding process. But before young and aspiring entrepreneurs can revitalize the country’s tech scene, they need the opportunity to gain critical skills and knowledge in their field—the kind of opportunity that a first-class post-secondary institution like AUAF is well placed to provide.

Through the Bayat Scholars Program, 15 scholarships will be awarded each year to qualified candidates, allowing them to pursue a bachelor’s degree at AUAF in either information communication technology or computer science. To be eligible for a scholarship, candidates must be Afghan citizens with a high school diploma, a strong academic record, and excellent English skills. In addition, candidates must be committed to using the opportunity of the scholarship program to help build a better future not only for themselves but for Afghanistan. Ultimately, the aim of the Bayat Scholars Program is to help create and support an exceptional Afghan-based technology sector that will drive economic growth and create job opportunities for the entire country.

computer

A thriving partnership

The Bayat Scholars Program is the latest step forward on the journey that the Bayat Foundation and AUAF have taken together over the years. The Bayat Foundation has been one of AUAF’s biggest supporters from the university’s early days, backing many of its programs and initiatives.

Perhaps the largest and most impressive testament to the thriving partnership between the Bayat Foundation and AUAF is the Bayat Institute of Technology (BIT), a 32,000-square-foot science and technology teaching and research center that was completed and opened in 2018. Located at the heart of AUAF’s flagship campus in Kabul, BIT offers students, faculty, and visiting scholars and researchers a host of world-class amenities, including media and technology labs, IT labs, fully equipped lecture halls, a rooftop leisure center, and two prayer halls. Developed and built by Afghans, the facility is a distinguished example of Afghan skill, craftsmanship, and determination, as well as an important hub for technological education and innovation in Afghanistan.

More about the American University of Afghanistan

The only private, nonprofit, nonpartisan, and coeducational university in Afghanistan, AUAF is dedicated to providing its students with the quality education they need to help meet the needs of their country and become future leaders in their communities and on the world stage.

AUAF first opened its doors in 2006, and since that time, it has grown into one of Afghanistan’s premier educational institutions, with 29 Fulbright Scholars among its graduates as well as ongoing partnerships with such prestigious international universities as Stanford, Georgetown, and the University of California network. The following are some of the most important highlights of AUAF’s history:

2002—Minister of Higher Education Dr. Sharif Fayez proposes that Afghanistan establishes its first independent university. In a public speech, President Hamid Karzai emphasizes how important education is to Afghanistan’s future.

2003—The Afghanistan High Commission for Private Investments offers two large tracts of land in southwest Kabul, under a 99-year lease, for the development of a private university. To receive these leases, the American University of Afghanistan is chartered as a nonprofit philanthropic organization in Delaware.

2004—Afghanistan’s Ministry of Higher Education grants AUAF a charter under the Afghan Constitution and the Civil Code. A feasibility study is initiated to identify an institutional framework for the new university.

2005—Laura Bush, the US First Lady, visits the site of the new university and announces that the US will provide financial support for its launch.

2006—AUAF welcomes its first cohort of 53 students.

2007—AUAF develops and implements its first strategic vision and academic plans.

2009—Dr. C. Michael Smith is appointed AUAF’s president by the board of trustees. A grant from the US allows the university to establish an e-learning facility so that students can benefit from collaborations with institutions in other regions.

2010—Enrollment reaches 550 students, and a number of new programs, including bachelor’s degrees in computer science and business administration, are approved by the board of trustees.

2011—AUAF celebrates its first convocation.

2018—AUAF is granted accreditation status from the Ministry of Higher Education.

A Look at the Future of the Bamiyan World Heritage Site

As one of Afghanistan’s two official World Heritage Sites, the Bamiyan Valley contains cultural and archaeological remains which make it a treasure to be safeguarded. Unfortunately, the site’s most famous cultural asset—the two colossal Buddha sculptures carved into the cliffs of the valley—was destroyed in 2001.

However, many efforts have been made since that time to preserve other aspects of the site. Today, an extensive rehabilitation plan, which includes the creation of a brand new cultural center, is currently in development.

The Site Remains Vulnerable

Despite these positive steps forward, the Bamiyan Valley remains vulnerable to threats such as environmental damage and security risks. This has resulted in its inclusion on a number of “at risk” lists, notably the list of World Heritage in Danger and the World Monuments Fund’s Watch List. Before the site can be removed from these lists, there is still a great deal of work to be done.

This question of what to do to ensure a safe and protected future for the Bamiyan Valley was the central focus of a recent three-day technical meeting. The event was organized jointly by UNESCO, the government of Afghanistan, and several other international partners. It was financially supported by the government of Japan.

Image by Johannes Zielcke | Flickr

International Efforts to Reinvigorate the Site

Held in December 2018, the meeting brought national and international experts together in Salah, Oman. The result was three productive days of dialogue and strategizing about the future of the Bamiyan World Heritage site.

Meeting participants also went on field visits to several Omani heritage properties, including the Land of Frankincense World Heritage site and the Al Baleed and Khor Rohri museums and interpretation centers. The purpose of these visits was to draw inspiration from these models and explore the elements of their management and operation plans that could be applicable to Bamiyan.

At the meeting, specific topics of discussion included:

The Current Status of the Bamiyan World Heritage Property

To improve communication and access to information, the meeting proposed that all of the technical information about the Bamiyan site (produced by UNESCO and other agencies and experts) be centralized into a single system. This could then be shared by Afghanistan’s Ministry of Information and Culture in order to facilitate better coordination among different stakeholders.

Such a system would make coordination around particular issues, such as illegal construction and land acquisition within the World Heritage property zone, much easier to implement. The meeting also recommended the establishment of a management plan and a relevant governance system for Bamiyan. Finally, conducting an inventory of Intangible Cultural Heritage that could then be integrated into national and local government databases was recommended.

Sustainable Development of the Bamiyan Valley

Much of the discussion on this topic focused on a few particular elements of a previously-created Bamiyan Strategic Master Plan, notably the traffic plan component and a bypass road. These developments are an important part of improving access to the site and increasing the quality of life for the local community.

In order to ensure that development will not interfere with future preservation and rehabilitation efforts, the meeting recommended that further technical, geological, and economic feasibility studies be undertaken. The meeting also stressed that future development plans in Bamiyan should be based on accurate GIS-based cultural mapping information, rather than on previous maps which are now outdated, but still occasionally in use.

Potential Rehabilitation of the Eastern Buddha Statue

At an earlier UNESCO meeting (held in Tokyo in September 2017), four technical proposals for the rehabilitation of one of the destroyed Buddha statues were presented. At the Oman meeting, participants supported the authorities’ decision to further investigate the suitability of these proposals. In the meantime, emphasis was placed on the importance of properly preserving the existing fragments of the Buddha.

Image by Regional Command East | Flickr

Opportunities and Challenges of Bamiyan Site Management

The meeting first recognized the recent efforts made by the government of Afghanistan to revise its 2004 National Law for the Protection of Cultural and Historical Properties to incorporate best practices based on international cultural conventions. The recommendation was made to accelerate the adoption of this revised law as well as to implement further regulations and guidelines as necessary to support the protection and promotion of Bamiyan.

There was also further discussion about how best to secure the proper financial and human resources to manage the site, and to implement proposed initiatives such as a museum and an archaeological park. Meeting participants encouraged the Afghan government to promote further outreach activities for an enhanced interpretation of the World Heritage site.

Donor Initiatives in Bamiyan

The Bamiyan World Heritage site, and its related preservation efforts and development activities, has received strong financial support from a wide variety of international donors. The meeting recognized and acknowledged the generosity of these donors.

The Italian Agency for Development Cooperation was a supporter of the project “Preservation and Promotion of the Bamiyan Valley through Culture-Oriented Sustainable Development.” The government of Japan was also recognized.

Featured Image by Johannes Zielcke | Flickr

This Afghan Village Is Famous for Its Amazing Pottery

The small Afghan village of Istalif lies about an hour’s drive north of Kabul. It is perched in the foothills of the Hindu Kush, whose tree-covered slopes rise sharply from the river below.

Istalif is not only a site of incredible natural beauty, it’s also home to a distinctive tradition of pottery-making that stretches back hundreds of years. Read on for a rare glimpse of the unique village of Istalif and its traditional ceramics.

Istalif was once an emperor’s favorite picnic spot.

With its blossoming trees, ancient gardens, and winding river, the village of Istalif has never been short of admirers. Perhaps the most famous of these was the great Mughal emperor Babur, a descendent of Genghis Khan, who captured Kabul in 1504 and ruled the region for decades afterward.

A man who spent much of his life on long and difficult campaigns, Babur was captivated by the peace and tranquility of Istalif. He bought a garden, the Bagh-i-Kalan, on the slopes above the river. This garden became his favorite place to come to recover from fighting and campaigning with picnicking and drinking parties. Later in life, Babur wrote of Istalif, “when the trees blossom, no place in the world equals it.”

According to legend, the potter’s community in Istalif was founded over 300 years ago.

While the history of pottery in Istalif has never been formally documented, local oral tradition has it that the village’s pottery tradition began more than 300 years ago. The founder of Istalifi pottery is said to be Sayed Mir Kolal. This potter from Bukhara (in present-day Uzbekistan) traveled to Afghanistan with his four sons in order to escape political upheaval.

When they reached Istalif and saw its rich clay deposits, abundance of water, beautiful surroundings, and easy proximity to the markets of Kabul, they knew they had found their new home. Today, Istalifi potters still believe that they are each descended from one of Mir Kolal’s four sons.

pottery
Image by egerstner | Flickr

Pottery in Istalif is a family affair.

Given the story of its founding, it’s hardly surprising that the pottery tradition in Istalif is very much a family affair. The secrets of this art form have been passed down from father to son through many generations. From a young age, a family’s sons become potter’s apprentices, training daily with their fathers and uncles.

Every son is automatically considered part of the pottery clan. Even those that never master the art of throwing pots are still involved in the business (acting as salesmen for the family, for example), and are still considered to be “potters.”

The women of the family also take part, applying the glaze and engraving the intricate patterns on the shaped pieces. Today, there are around 50 or 60 families of potters in Istalif. For each of them, pottery is much more than just a profession: it is their very identity.

Istalifi ceramics are known for their distinctive glaze.

The most unique feature of Istalifi ceramics is the special turquoise glaze that is applied to the finished pieces. Made from ishkar, a type of mountain plant only found in certain provinces in northern Afghanistan, this glaze was central to the development of Istalif’s distinctive ceramic tradition.

To produce the glaze, the root of the ishkar plant is burned and the ash is ground into powder. This is then mixed with water and combined with quartz and copper oxide (both of which are easily sourced from the area around Istalif). The resulting mixture, a striking, sea-green glaze, is then used to cover the ceramics after firing.

Istalif was almost destroyed in the late 1990s.

Istalif’s status as a renowned center for ceramics is all the more incredible given the village’s tumultuous past. Istalif was destroyed (for the third time in its history) as a result of the conflict in the late 1990s.

The village itself was burned to the ground, and the residents were forced to flee. Before they left, however, many families secretly buried their pottery tools in the hopes that they would one day return to their homes and businesses.

The village is rebuilding itself and its arts and crafts traditions.

Happily, the renaissance that these exiled Istalifis hoped and planned for has indeed come to pass. Over the past 15 years, potters and their families have been slowly returning to Istalif and taking up their tools once more.

These resilient people have been helped in their efforts to rebuild their artisanal community by organizations like Turquoise Mountain. One of the most important NGOs focused on traditional arts and crafts in Afghanistan, Turquoise Mountain has worked closely with Istalifi potters to revive the village’s ceramic traditions, and to find new markets for its work.

Today, ceramics instruction is one of the main subjects at the Turquoise Mountain Institute. Faculty include Istalifi potters like Abdul Matin Malekzadah and Ustad Abdul Matin.