Category Archives: Blog

Sustainable materials

Reducing the environmental impact of construction by using local materials

It is very important to us when building community infrastructures, to reduce the environmental impact to a minimum. The energy needed for the production and transport of materials does not just increase the costs of construction considerably, but can also have a significant impact on the environment.

The  “grey energy” calculation includes the full analysis of the life cycle of the product: Planning, extraction and transport of raw materials, transformation of materials and manufacture of the product, commercialisation, transport, use and implementation and finally, any possible recycling. From this point of view, local materials that are either not transformed or only slightly transformed have a distinct advantage over the others: Stone, earth, clay, straw, wood or wool are all materials that can be used in modern construction and that have very low « grey energy ».

In the remote areas of central Afghanistan, the long distances needed for transportation increase the “grey energy” rate. The manufacture of some construction materials also plays its part in inflating the energy costs and has a negative impact on the environment. For this reason stone was chosen rather than clay bricks for the majority of Nai Qala constructions. Although there is an almost limitless availability of clay and it is totally recyclable, the firing of bricks involves high energy consumption that can last up to several days at temperatures of more than 1000 degrees. The kilns sometimes function with the use of fossil fuels or often with wood sourced from already arid regions, which contributes to deforestation.

When choosing a construction company and signing contracts the construction materials are chosen very carefully so as to ensure safety and comfort for those who use the building at the same time as keeping the environmental impact to a minimum.  For example, Sokthagi school is built from stones extracted from the nearby mountains and are cut to size on the spot. The grit and sand used for the mortar come from a river close by. Only the wood for the framework, windows and doors is transported from other regions. The sourcing of materials brings about a more positive ecological balance to the construction.

Photographic exhibition

A photographic exhibition shows a positive image of Afghanistan and the changes that are taking place there.

Since 2007 the Nai Qala Association, through education has helped to create hope and opportunities in one of the most isolated areas of Afghanistan. Despite extreme poverty and the remoteness of the communities it is not despair and distress that we found there, but dignity and determination.

In 2017, to mark its 10th anniversary, Nai Qala asked a professional photographer, Haris Coussidis, who visited Afghanistan to take photos of the association’s activities, to make a pictorial record of the projects and their impact on the communities. This photographic report is part of a campaign to show the world that Afghans are committed to education, particularly for girls.

The association’s president presented the work to the city and canton of Geneva, who decided to support the association for an exhibition, which took place at “La Rotonde du Mont Blanc” from the 5th to the 25th March 2018.

This exhibition titled, “Women’s education, a hope for Afghanistan”, took place during the Geneva Equality week and the Human Rights Council, which was aptly symbolic for our work. Through these photographs we wanted to show a different side to Afghanistan, a positive image of men, women and children just like any others in the world – an image of a people with hope, aspiration and in search of opportunities. We wished to share the bravery of the parents in these rural regions, who despite poverty encouraged their girls to go to school to prepare a better future.

With particularly changeable weather, Nai Qala showcased on the Geneva lakeside. The exhibition was inaugurated with a press conference and opened with a debate which was covered by Swiss and international media.

Click here for a snapshot of the pictures that were shown in Geneva, including their captions.

Access the exhibition slide show here.

A clinic focusing on women

In the Nawur clinic project, mothers and babies are the primary focus of Nai Qala.

Men with a health concern can travel to town to get treatment in a hospital, but the situation for women is more challenging. A woman who is ill must be accompanied to hospital by at least one other female family member and by a male family member. If the woman has children, she must leave them behind if she goes for treatment. Some health problems require a longer stay in hospital and some need medical follow-up over months. Furthermore, families are often reluctant to pay the costs of prolonged hospitalization. Consequently, women simply do not travel to clinics or hospitals that are far away. This is one reason for high female and child mortality rates and it is also why the Nai Qala Association built the Nawur clinic.

Inaugurated in November 2011, the clinic now has 11 staff providing health services for a population of 20,000 in the surrounding region. Since its opening, there have been more than 60,000 consultations, of which over 11,000 concerned children. Some 750 babies had been born in the clinic as of December 2017.

Nai Qala Association is proud to have been in direct contact with the Ministry of Public Health since the beginning of the project. Our original partnership with the ministry was from 2012 to 2016 and we were offered an extension to 2020. The administration of the Nawur clinic was transferred to the ministry in June 2015. In many official meetings the example of the Nawur health centre has been cited to show that it is possible to provide health services to one of the most isolated regions of Afghanistan.

Women in Nawur typically have large families. It is unusual to see a couple with fewer than five children. Most families have more, and it is not outside the norm to have 12 children. Observers may question why parents have such large families, especially given the economic limitations. However, where the survival rate of children is low, it is understandable that parents have more to increase the chance that some will survive. Limitations in care both during pregnancy and in the postpartum period leave mothers and babies at risk.

Reducing or eliminating these risks will reduce parents’ anxiety about their children’s survival and will foster a subsequent reduction in supernumerary pregnancies. The clinic is vital to reducing these pervasive risks.

As of the end of December 2017, 3156 women and 1022 children had been vaccinated in the clinic. Some 13,000 outpatient visits took place for a range of conditions that, without the clinic, would have gone untreated until they became far more serious, and the records show 125 cases of severe malnutrition receiving medical care. Some 175 Nawur patients were referred to other health facilities for more specialized treatment.

The local people have realized the clinic’s value – more women and babies are surviving – and they are determined not to give it up.

Women take the lead

Inspired by the example of the founder and president of the Nai Qala Association, the women of Sokhtagi have created a women’s council.

Impressed by the fact that an Afghan woman could lead a project in their area and inspired by the founder and president of the Nai Qala Association, women have decided to take their fate into their own hands.

During fall 2017, the women in the village of  Sokhtagi created the “Women’s Council Association”. This is the first council of this type not only in the village and in the district, but certainly also throughout the province of Bamyan.

The goal of a women’s council is to provide a forum for discussion where everyone can share their ideas in confidence. Women are aware that if they want to be able to participate in decisions, they must be clear and precise in their demands. Women’s health and literacy are part of the council’s priorities.

Creation of the council

A few months ago Momena, a fifty-something, illiterate mother of seven, grandmother and shepherd’s wife had the vision of creating a women’s council to answer their specific problems. This need to assemble women was based on the observation that a group has more weight than an isolated individual; with this idea in mind, Momena started to bring women together.

The President of the Nai Qala Association’s first visit to Sokhtagi was a trigger for Momena. She accompanied the President in each of the meetings with the community and was inspired by Taiba Rahim’s leadership and the tasks that were distributed to the community.

One of the tasks entrusted to the community was to prepare the ground for the construction of the school. Momena took it upon herself to go door to door, and collect money to rent the bulldozer that would allow the community to prepare the ground. Thanks to her persuasiveness, Momena was able to collect the financing on her own. This first success allowed her not only to gain the community’s recognition and the men’s respect but also to send a strong message to the women, so that they joined her in her project.

During Nai Qala President’s visit in December 2017, the women discussed the statutes and elected the committee members of the newly created association. Momena hired some students from Sokhtagi school as treasurer, spokesperson or secretary of the new council association.

A source of motivation

The construction of a school by the Nai Qala Association brings a village not only development opportunities for children but also strength and confidence to the community, especially for women.

Momena expressed gratitude to Taiba Rahim, President of the Nai Qala Association: “Thank you for bringing change to our village. Your presence among us, the way you speak to men means a lot to us. It encourages me to convince women to join.”

We have seen a greater participation of women in Nai Qala projects than in any other similar project in the region. The women have seen that Nai Qala’s projects are proposed and led by a woman, which makes all the difference for them. This gives them more strength and self-confidence.

 

Nai Qala Association is showcasing in Geneva

The Nai Qala Association presents a photography exhibition on its activities in Afghanistan.

See for yourselves Nai Qala Association’s activities, come and join us in “Rotonde du Mont-Blanc”, in Geneva from March 5th to the 25th.

Admission is free.


For the past 10 years the Nai Qala Association has helped create hope and opportunity through education in one of the most remote regions of Afghanistan. In spite of extreme poverty and isolation, these communities we saw not hopelessness and despair but dignity and determination.

The Nai Qala Association engaged a professional photographer, Ms Haris Coussidis, to make a pictorial record of some of our activities in Afghanistan in 2017. We are very grateful to Haris.

Through these photographs, we wish to show a different image of Afghanistan; a positive image where Afghan men, women and children are the same as anybody else on this planet – an image of people with hope, aspiration and in search of opportunities.

The pictures in this exhibition will be available for sale. The funds will go to support Nai Qala Association projects in Afghanistan. For details please email at info@nai-qala.org

Thanks to Nai-Qala, girls can benefit from capacity-building course during the winter

For the duration of the winter capacity building course, some girls are living in host families’homes. 

In mid-December, Nai Qala teacher-trainers travelled to the village of Zeera Gag, where the Nai Qala Association built a school in 2015, to launch a new course of capacity building.

Nai Qala had already run this program in the village of Zeera Gag last winter, during the school holidays. It was meant for over 200 girls. But gradually the numbers of girls reduced every week; indeed,  many girls were living in the remote villages where there are high risks of snow avalanche and tough weather condition. All the girls who could not attend the course were very sad.

This summer, many determined parents who shared their daughters’ disappointment, approached families who live near the school of Zeera Gag. Many families agreed to have a girl live with them for a period of 3 months, the duration of the capacity building course. In return, these parents have agreed to give host families some wheat or cheese.

Just in the last few weeks before the start of the course, over 10 girls between age 16 and 18 were already living in their new houses, impatiently waiting for the Nai Qala teachers to arrive, and to benefit from the course.

For this year, the course is planned for 160 girls.

To know more on the capacity building project, click here.

Mothers love the early childhood program

Mothers are enthusiastic about the early childhood education program

Mothers whose sons and daughters attend the early childhood program are impressed by the progress of their children and are very grateful to the Nai Qala Association for providing such a class. Four of them shared their testimonials:

Setayesh (6 years old) and Elena’s (5 years old) mother: “My daughters learnt how to read and sing, greet people and to be polite. They learnt and then explained  the five senses to the family. I never thought about this … and found it very interesting. Every day when my children come home and share their new knowledge with me, it fills my heart with a happiness and joy that I have never felt before. My children are different from the other children. If Nai Qala Association were to experience financial difficulties one day, we would contribute to the class to help maintain such an important program for our children. We will do anything for our daughters!”. 

Saraj ‘s (4 years old) mother“My son is very careful about his clothes and tries to play in a safe environment. Before these classes, he used to play in the dust and in dirty places, but now it’s totally different. Playing in a clean place became part of his dignity and discipline. He greets and shows respect for everybody. Within just four months, he has become another boy. He learned things that I could never think of how to tell them to my child. Now I know how it’s done and how to talk with my child.  I am very grateful that Nai Qala provides us with such an important program. I hope the Nai Qala Association will continue such a program. If not, we will continue this program by ourselves”.

Marina’s (5 years old) mother“My daughter comes home,  shares and sings all the songs she learned in the class. It brings so much happiness to our home.  Marina behaves totally different at home, her way of talking, eating, listening, greeting… The notebook that has been given to her in the class, is a big motivation for her. She reads and write without stopping. When I see Marina, I regret we did not have such an opportunity when I was her age… I hope Marina learns well and will have a good future.  The songs of my daughter give me such an inspiration that I wish there should be such a class for mothers too”.

Razeya, mother of 2 young children: “I am very happy to come to the class where my 2 children go every day. I cannot believe it when I see my 4 years old girl and 3 years old boy read and write already at such  a young age. I am impressed to see them playing in such a positive and clean environment with other children. I see how they are learning, playing together and developing their personalities. Since my children attend this early childhood class, they are very different. They say hello to everybody, wash their hands regularly, especially before and after eating”. 

Nai Qala contributes to the development of the local economy

Nai Qala provides the poorest populations with an income by hiring local  helpers when building community infrastructures

In rural villages, the lack of income threatens the budget of many families. Karim, a father of 7 children, was unemployed and did not own any land; he had tried several times to travel to Iran to work but had often been sent back at the border. To earn a little money, Karim and his wife made the difficult decision to place their four children as servants or agricultural helpers.

During the construction of the school, Karim got a temporary job on the construction site. Every morning for 8 months, his wife baked bread for the workers and the family earnt some money. Thanks to this money, the family bought a piece of land and 7 sheeps. They worked hard, grew wheat and the number of sheeps rose to 15.

The years passed and the parents were able to bring the children back home. The father promised that all his children would study in the school he had contributed to build.

Nai Qala’s philosophy is always to hire local auxiliaries for the construction of community infrastructures. In the last 10 years, Nai Qala has hired more than 700 villagers, providing income to people in these remote areas. Village men were employed in the construction of the schools, giving them wages they would not get otherwise, and their wives earned money by providing food to the outworkers in the village.

The impact of tutoring classes

The capacity building course creates new perspectives for students in remote villages and allows parents to make substantial savings.

Aqela, 12th grade in Nai Qala School shares her opinion on the capacity building course:

I was very stressed about how to strengthen my scientific subjects to get ready for the admission exam for university; will I be able to attend the exam? I asked my parents if they could support me to go to a bigger town to get some additional study. But my parents could not support me financially.

By spring, I heard that NQA is providing such a course in our village. It was hard to believe. I had the feeling that I am flying. Yet this truly happened. The course took place and since then my life has filled with hope and determination! I have tried to attend every single class this semester. The feeling of responsibility is rising inside me: I must take this chance and succeed. 

My dream is to work in the health sector to help my village and community. Health is one of the biggest problems and a huge challenge.”

In 2016, tutoring was provided in the village of Nai Qala to over 100 students in preparation for university entrance. The original goal was to tutor 46 girls and 34 boys, but more students became interested and benefitted from the project.

The training course has helped the community to save about USD 20’000 (which is the amount that would have been spent if all the children had been sent to a town for such a course, corresponding to USD 200 for each child).

A better standard of education means that more of our rural children, including girls, will have the chance to go to university.

In 2017, over 182 teenagers (120 girls and 62 boys) attended the tutoring class.

To know more on the capacity building and tutoring classes project, click here.