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.

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.