5 Charities Seeking to Improve Lives in Afghanistan

Of the numerous charitable organizations working in Afghanistan, many are helping to support a broad range of large-scale initiatives and development goals. Other charities are taking a different approach. Rather than offering wide-ranging development support, these organizations are focusing their efforts on tackling and solving highly targeted problems: issues that may not seem as big or as impressive as reforming the educational system or improving access to health care, but which are still vital to a functional and prosperous Afghan society. Read on to learn about five international organizations that are helping Afghanistan to deal with very specific challenges:

1. Dutch Committee for Afghanistan Livestock Programs

Specific mission: Improving the health and production of Afghan livestock.

The livestock programs of the Dutch Committee for Afghanistan (DCA-VET) are intended to support the roughly 24 million Afghans who live in the countryside and depend on livestock and agriculture for their livelihood. Most rural families keep at least some livestock—cattle, sheep, goats, donkeys, and poultry are the most common animals—but local farmers are often prevented from making the most of their livestock due to rampant animal diseases, an insufficient knowledge of animal husbandry and nutrition, and a lack of good market opportunities for their livestock products. DCA helps farmers to overcome these issues by developing quality veterinary services throughout rural Afghanistan, offering comprehensive extension and outreach programs on animal health, and creating value chains for livestock product processing and trading.

Livestock

2. The HALO Trust

Specific mission: Landmine clearance and mine risk education.

Afghanistan is one of the most mined countries in the world. An estimated 640,000 land mines have been laid out in Afghanistan since 1979, and the country is littered with unexploded ordnance. As a result, the subsistence of rural communities is threatened in areas where there is a risk of landmine contamination because land cannot be safely used to grow crops or graze animals. In order to address this deadly issue, The HALO Trust has been working in Afghanistan since 1988 on landmine clearance and mine risk education programs. Over the course of the last 30 years, the organization, which employs 2,500 Afghans, has destroyed close to 700,000 emplaced and stockpiled mines, and has helped to clear almost 80% of recorded mine and unexploded ordnance land in Afghanistan.

3. Group for the Environment, Renewable Energy and Solidarity (GERES)

Specific mission: Disseminating energy-efficient techniques.

As a development NGO specializing in sustainable energy and environmental protection, GERES has been working internationally to improve community living conditions while preserving natural resources for more than four decades. In Afghanistan, GERES’ work focuses on facilitating the adoption of energy-efficient techniques in public buildings and income-generating agricultural activities. A large portion of Afghanistan’s population is affected by energy poverty. Only about 6% of Afghans have access to electricity, even intermittently. Consequently, schools are closed for much of the year due to a lack of heating, and hospitals are hampered in their operations by high energy costs. Introducing energy-efficient techniques to these institutions is therefore an important first step in helping them to make the most of the energy that they can access.

4. Terra Institute

Specific mission: Securing equitable access to land.

Based in the United States, Terra Institute is a nonprofit focused on issues related to land tenure, land administration and management, and land policy reform. Throughout its four decades of work all around the world, the organization has strived to help people improve their lives by empowering them to deal with land issues. Such issues are prevalent in Afghanistan, given its large rural population and heavy economic reliance on land-intensive activities such as agriculture and livestock. As part of its work in Afghanistan, Terra Institute has collaborated with a number of partners to design and pilot a community-based method for achieving community consensus around the legitimate users of rangeland and appropriately documenting them.

Sheep grazing

5. PARSA

Specific mission: Supporting Afghan community leaders.

PARSA believes that it takes dedicated and passionate Afghan community leaders to create a better Afghan society. This is why PARSA is still operating as a grassroots organization after working for more than 20 years in Afghanistan. Unlike many other development organizations, PARSA is directly engaged with the communities that it supports, and it takes cues from community leaders as to what interventions and resources will work best for each community. These inspired leaders then leverage PARSA’s support and guidance to implement programs that will spark positive change for their families and neighbors, and that can evolve organically over time as community needs change. Since PARSA itself receives support from a wide community of small donors, it is able to be highly creative and flexible in its program development without being hampered by the rigid limitations that are often attached to large-scale government and institutional funding.

Spotlight on the French Archaeological Delegation in Afghanistan

With its thousands of years of history, Afghanistan is home to a remarkable treasure trove of archaeological wealth. Within the country’s borders, incredible examples of protohistoric, Greek, Buddhist, and Islamic sites can all be found, reflecting the rich and complex legacy of Afghanistan’s many peoples and influences.

For nearly a century, the French Archaeological Delegation in Afghanistan (DAFA) has been one of the most important organizations working on the ground to preserve and protect Afghanistan’s exceptional archaeological heritage. In a recent article from CNRS News, DAFA’s director Julio Bendezu-Sarmiento gives readers a unique glimpse into DAFA’s history and current projects in Afghanistan.

Some of the most important takeaways from the article include:

 

DAFA is the only foreign archaeological team to have a permanent presence in Afghanistan.

Many scientific organizations have left Kabul in recent years due to the instability that continues to affect the city. The fact that DAFA has remained is a reflection of its long history and close ties with Afghanistan.

DAFA was established in 1922 at the request of the Afghan head of state at the time, King Amanullah. Under the original agreement between the French and Afghan governments, DAFA was granted exclusive rights to carry out archaeological excavations in Afghanistan. This changed in the 1960s, when other organizations were permitted to conduct excavations.

DAFA was forced to leave the country during the Soviet occupation and ensuing civil conflict. The organization returned in 2003 and has continued its work ever since. Today, the DAFA headquarters in Kabul are home to offices, a research center, a library of 20,000 books, storerooms, and restoration and photo laboratories.

 

archaeology

Image courtesy Jerome Starkey | Flickr

 

DAFA’s most important current project is the creation of a comprehensive inventory and map of Afghanistan’s archaeological heritage.

In 2014, the government of Afghanistan entrusted DAFA with the mission to produce a comprehensive archaeological map of the country. This document would serve as a detailed inventory of all of Afghanistan’s ancient sites. The goal of this project is to ensure that the Afghan government is able to make fully-informed decisions about prospective development projects—including road construction, urban planning initiatives, and mining—that may impact sites of archaeological importance.

The decision to launch this project was prompted in part by a decade-old controversy. In 2007, the news broke that a Chinese company had acquired the mining and extraction rites to Mes Aynak. This site is roughly 25 miles southeast of Kabul and is home to both the remains of an ancient Buddhist city and one of the world’s largest untapped copper deposits.

The future of the Mes Aynak archaeological site remains uncertain. Fortunately, historical preservationists all around the world have been working hard to save it. Going forward, DAFA’s inventory and mapping project is intended to help prevent similar situations from arising in the future.

 

DAFA currently relies on remote detection to conduct the majority of its survey work.

There are extensive logistical challenges involved in accessing Afghanistan’s archaeological sites. These include security concerns, extreme weather conditions, and the remote nature of many of the locations. As a result, it’s not feasible for DAFA team members to conduct systemic excavation campaigns in the field.

For this reason, DAFA is assembling its map of archaeological sites with the aid of thousands of drone and aerial photos. These are drawn from a variety of sources, including declassified NATO satellite images and aerial survey photographs taken by Airbus around mining concessions.

It’s a painstaking process. Because ancient Afghan buildings were typically made of mud, their remains are fragile and difficult to spot. In addition, many archaeological sites have been broken into and damaged by looters over the years, making them even more challenging to identify. This means that each photograph must be carefully examined by a trained professional who knows precisely what to look for.

 

The DAFA inventory has made considerable progress in recent years.

Hundreds of hours of effort have been made by the project’s 20 dedicated team members, most of whom are Afghan researchers and technicians. As a result, DAFA has made considerable progress on the mapping and inventory project over the last few years.

About 1,300 sites had already been discovered and published by the time of the Soviet invasion, when DAFA was forced to leave Afghanistan. Since the current mapping and inventory project was launched in 2014, DAFA has brought to light nearly 5,000 additional sites. The organization emphasizes that the survey is far from complete.

On the map, the sites are color-coded by category. Sites marked in yellow have already been excavated, those marked in blue have been identified but not excavated, and those in red have been only recently discovered and still need to be identified. Eventually, DAFA aims to produce a detailed geographic information system (GIS), in which a database of available site information can be accessed from each point on the map.

Featured Image courtesy Jerome Starkey | Flickr

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.