Category Archives: Blog

Nutrition and gardening

Improve nutritional status by promoting gardening

Although attention is focused on the country’s political and security transitions, malnutrition is a major concern in Afghanistan. Because the lack of adequate nutrition has crucial long-term effects on individuals and on the social and economic development, nutritional status deserves attention and appropriate action.

A national survey, conducted jointly by the Ministry of Public Health, UNICEF and the Aga Khan University [1], provides an overview of the nutritional status of women, children, adolescents and the elderly. In particular, it shows that the country has one of the highest stunting rates in the world, with 41% of children under five affected. Stunting is a sign of chronic undernutrition during the most critical periods of growth. Stunted growth prevents children from reaching their potential; affected children are more likely to develop diseases and have less success in school.

Chronic nutritional deficiency in Afghanistan is largely the result of poor nutrition. Inadequate dietary diversity and insufficient amounts of food, combined with poor hygiene, represent health risks and are a cause of mortality in older children. When mothers have an inadequate diet, a vicious cycle is created; malnourished infants grow up to become stunted mothers, generation after generation.

Nai Qala’s projects as a gateway to other nutrition-related actions

Poor feeding practices are common in Afghanistan and are not only a result of poverty, but also the result of the families’ limited knowledge or the way social norms influence decisions. Staff at the Nawur clinic are trained to help women acquire the knowledge and information they need to adopt healthy eating habits.

Early childhood education classes are also a means of transmitting health-related prevention messages, such as teaching children to wash their hands before eating together.

Several types of actions can be taken to address some of the causes of malnutrition. The community infrastructures built by Nai Qala represent a tremendous platform for communicating positive health prevention messages.

Carrot plantations in the surroundings of the Nawur clinic

The benefits of vitamin A no longer need to be proven; it prevents blindness and strengthens the immune system, especially in children. Carrots, apricots, spinach, or eggs are foods that are a source of vitamin A and are part of a healthy and diversified diet for children in many parts of the world. Unfortunately, even the least varied diets are still out of reach for more than two thirds of infants and young children in low-income countries and remote parts of central Afghanistan are no exception.

To increase children’s chances of survival, improve their development and prevent stunting, nutritional interventions must be implemented during the mother’s pregnancy and the early years of the child’s life. In Afghanistan, it is estimated that more than 80% of children receive vitamin A supplements in their first two years of life [2], and young children around the Nawur clinic benefit from national supplementation campaigns. Young mothers and the population benefiting from the clinic also receive gardening advice and vegetable seeds. This has led to a multiplication of carrot plants in the allotment gardens of the region, an important source of vitamin A for young and old.

School Gardening Competition

The Zeera Gag school, built a few years ago by the Nai Qala Association, is now one of the few green spaces in the region and is a source of inspiration for an entire population. Each class participates in a gardening competition. Children grow vegetables and fruit trees, ensure that they are well irrigated and take care of the land allocated to them. The children are happy that their school has such a green and clean environment, and are also very proud to see the result of their hard work. It is incredible to see how the culture and interest in food has changed. Children encourage their parents to grow vegetables at home too.

“Five of my children go to Zeera Gag school. Since they started school, my life has changed: they come home clean, rarely get sick, and are very motivated to plant vegetables and trees at home. Now we have a lot of vegetables in our garden, our diet has changed and we are used to eating more varied foods, I see my children happy, it makes us happy… ” says Zahra, mother of 7 children.

Gardening as a solution to malnutrition?

The results of a UKAid-funded study [3] show that ownership of irrigated land and garden plots is positively associated with household food diversity.

The FAO and WHO recommendations emphasize the benefits of food diversification in combating many nutrition-related diseases. Food diversity is used to assess food quality and food security. The vegetable garden is a practical addition to improve the nutritional content of the food and, ultimately, to improve the health of local populations. The presence of community infrastructure or the small actions of Nai Qala that encourage community gardening are a concrete contribution to improving the health status of local populations.

[1] National Nutrition Survey Afghanistan (2013): https://reliefweb.int/sites/reliefweb.int/files/resources/Report%20NNS%20Afghanistan%202013%20%28July%2026-14%29.pdf

[2] https://data.unicef.org/topic/nutrition/vitamin-a-deficiency/

[3] Kawsary, R., Zanello, G. and Shankar, B. (2018) The Role of Irrigation in Enabling Dietary Diversity in Afghanistan, LANSA Working Papers Vol 2018 No 26, IDS: Brighton

Children with carrots afghanistan

A new school for Sokhtagi

Quality education, improved learning conditions and increased enrolment: objectives largely achieved for the Sokhtagi project.

 Inauguration

On August 27, 2018, hundreds of schoolchildren and villagers from Sokhtagi gathered under a burning sun to unveil the new school together. This event was not only a moment of celebration, but above all an opportunity for Nai Qala to hand over the project to the community, elders, schoolchildren and their parents, as well as to local and provincial authorities. Many officials, including the Governor and the Provincial Minister of Education, honoured Nai Qala’s invitation. Nai Qala organized the ceremony and delegated part of it to a local committee composed of schoolgirls and community representatives.

The ceremony was very well balanced, mixing official parts with speeches and recreational moments: a musician playing dambura, or songs and poems specially created for the event and presented by some students. A small delegation of schoolgirls from Zeera Gag, a village where Nai Qala built a school in 2015, even traveled for more than 5 hours to bring a message of encouragement to their peers in Sokhtagi.

The project

But let’s take a small step backwards: the first stone was laid on 6 September 2017 in the presence of schoolgirls, the teaching staff, villagers and local authorities. The main objective of the project was to provide quality education, improve learning conditions and increase enrolment for girls and boys by building a fully equipped school building for 530 schoolchildren.

As soon as the project agreement was signed, people were eager to see the construction of the school begin. Consultation and coordination with the community were priorities for Nai Qala before and during construction – and even today when the school is already welcoming its students. The choice of site, then the quality of construction materials and the importance of maintenance were regularly discussed with the elders in the community. In order to reassure the provincial authorities and Nai Qala of the safety and maintenance of the school building after completion of the work, community members enthusiastically came forward to contribute, according to their abilities, not only to the construction, but also to future maintenance. As part of the agreement with the construction company, an unskilled construction labor force was hired locally to supplement the contingent of skilled workers recruited from other regions.

Given the enthusiasm of the community and Nai Qala’s commitment to high quality work, the provincial government has included the Sokhtagi School building in its development plan and has taken charge of the registration process. School management and building maintenance have been coordinated with local and provincial authorities.

The project was implemented according to schedule and specifications and was completed almost a year to the day after the work began. The result is a 16-room school building, including 9 classrooms for 530 students, laboratory and computer rooms, a library, two administration rooms and two storage rooms. The project has achieved all the objectives stipulated in the initial proposal and Nai Qala is very proud to provide a dignified school environment for schoolchildren in the Sokhtagi community.

The future

Following the inauguration of the school, a joint team of Nai Qala staff, community members, the provincial Ministry of Education and volunteers from the Rotary Club of Kabul reviewed the construction and confirmed that it was completed on time and that the project achieved all its objectives. Team members spoke with the beneficiary community, parents of school-age children and provincial authorities about the outcome of the project. The interlocutors expressed their full satisfaction and joy, and committed to take all necessary measures to maintain the school building in the best possible conditions. “Even before the school was handed over, we talked about it as if it were our own. Now it’s really ours. The entire province will be watching us. We need to show them that we can maintain our school and all its equipment – and we can do so because we are all working together today. This is just a start for us“, said one community leader.

In order to ensure the sustainability of the project, Nai Qala consulted all stakeholders to obtain their agreement. In response, the central government included the school in its national education development plan and made a written commitment to manage the school in accordance with the national curriculum, educational standards and teaching materials. The government will follow up with the community to ensure that the building is well maintained and will provide a small amount of financial assistance for repairs in the event of damage caused by snow or wind.

The community has set up a school protection committee to supervise the project and take care of maintenance in case of damage. It has also committed to hiring additional teachers in case the government does not allocate enough.

The local community and project beneficiaries (students and parents), representatives of the National Ministry of Education, the Director of the Provincial Ministry of Education and the President of the Provincial Council all welcomed the construction and full equipment of the Sokhtagi school. Nai Qala learned that the construction of the school with all its facilities, including computers for training, in this remote part of the country was a dream come true thanks to the association and its donors.

The Ministry of Education and the Provincial Ministry of Education thanked Nai Qala for implementing part of his development plan, which required a significant amount of money and technical effort. The authorities have promised to take care of the maintenance and management of the school, including the assignment of teachers.

The impact

Many tangible indicators attest to the success of the project. The initial number of schoolchildren enrolled has increased significantly as parents are now reassured of their children’s safety. In addition, many girls who had left school because they had to walk long distances to receive education in a poor quality environment resumed their studies by either joining directly the school class or a community education course in order to join the regular classes at the Sokhtagi school. After only a few weeks of operation, we can already see a significant decrease in the absenteeism rate. “We are no longer distracted by noise“, “We have the same learning conditions as in Kabul or Bamiyan“, “We never imagined that such a construction could exist” are messages that can now often be heard in Sokhtagi.

The villagers decided to allow the boys, who had to walk long distances to school in other areas, to join the girls at the Sokhtagi school where mixed classes will be created.

The arrival of a school building also has an impact on the length of the school year: due to heavy rains or snow, classes simply did not take place, shortening by a significant amount of time the coverage of the school curriculum. Teachers could not follow the annual program because classes were held outdoors and were impossible during heavy rains or snowfalls. The project will therefore allow teachers and students to complete the school program in indoor classrooms without having to deal with extreme weather conditions.

The main objective of this project was to provide quality education, improve the learning environment and increase enrolment opportunities for girls and boys by building a fully equipped school building. In view of the above, the project has already achieved all its objectives.

Thanks to Nai Qala’s projects, people in remote and excluded areas of central Afghanistan are able to build a better future for themselves. However, the greatest impact will be felt in the coming years. The people of Sokhtagi are proud of their school. They have contributed to this and the process has helped them build their confidence. Now it is up to them and their children to make good use of it.

Training of early childhood educators

In Afghanistan, pre-primary teacher training is provided by NGOs

Although pre-primary education in Afghanistan is part of the national education plan, there is still no formal training for teachers and government support for early childhood education remains rather limited. As a result, non-governmental organizations take over the training of hundreds of teachers each year and/or set up pre-primary education programs.

Among the NGOs active in the field, the Aga Khan Foundation has several years’ experience in early childhood development in Afghanistan and other parts of the world; it also supports the government of Afghanistan to develop early childhood development policy, preschool curriculum and textbooks. Through its global network, it has established its own early childhood development methods and trains hundreds of teachers every year. When Nai Qala’s early childhood education project was launched in 2017, the Aga Khan Foundation had provided training for two of the future female educators.

In the spring of 2018, Nai Qala extended its project to 7 new classes and recruited about 10 new teachers. The training of young women was entrusted to an “old” member of the project, Zewar, who organized a training seminar based on the pedagogical concepts acquired during her own training, and enriched by her experience. The teaching method for kindergarten classes is child-centered, uses group work and makes extensive use of flash cards: the small cards that every student has used at least once in his or her life when revising… For the youngest, a word is written on one side and represented by a drawing on the other. Zewar also follows up with new teachers once a week in their respective classes and invites them to observe the progress of her class from time to time. Teachers are aware that children’s interests and abilities vary considerably at the preschool level and that, as a result, individual and group activities are planned to meet children’s needs and promote the development of cognitive, language, social, emotional and physical skills. In preschool classes, opportunities for children’s creative exploration are balanced with teacher guidance during more structured teaching and learning activities.

In order to complete the pedagogical training of pre-school teachers, Nai Qala has also organized a first aid course for some educators, in partnership with the non-governmental organization JRS (Jesuit Refugee Service), in order for them to acquire the right reflexes, especially when caring for young children. Four young ladies went to Kabul to learn how to stop a hemorrhage, treat a burn, put on a splint or bandage. This course, designed and taught by a retired Swiss nurse, was very much appreciated and the young women who participated were given the task of transmitting the newly acquired knowledge not only to their colleagues who stayed at home, but also to the parents of their young students.

The Afghan National Strategic Education Plan 2017-2021 foresees a new specialized diploma in early childhood development and primary education; unfortunately, due to lack of resources, the curriculum is not yet in place today. However, such an objective is the recognition of the role that teachers with specialized teaching and development skills, and good understanding can have a positive impact on the dropout rate and ensure solid learning for children in the lower primary cycle. Until a formal teacher training program is in place, NGOs play an important role in transmitting pedagogical concepts and addressing cross-cutting issues such as health, the environment and gender equality.

teacher training workshop / séminaire de formation
teacher training workshop / séminaire de formation
teacher training workshop / séminaire de formation
First aid course / cours de premiers secours
First aid course / cours de premiers secours
First aid course / cours de premiers secours

Waste collection

 

A change in behavior and the public’s participation are key factors for functional waste management.

Waste is increasing

Humanity has created 8.3 billion tons of plastics since large-scale production of synthetic materials began in the early 1950s, and most of it now resides in landfills or in the natural environment[1]. Globally, some 3.5 billion people lack access to formal waste management services and the population from remote areas in Afghanistan is no exception.

Global plastic pollution numbers are mind boggling: 500 billion plastic bags are used each year, one million plastic bottles bought every minute; most plastics do not biodegrade, so the plastic waste humans have generated could remain for a hundred or several hundreds of years. More and more plastic waste is found in the Afghan landscape, even in such places that deserve or already have the status of a national park. It is said that a dip in the lakes of Band-e-Amir, the first Afghan national park, will cure you from diseases, however the rubbish and waste that seems to end up in the lakes would suggest otherwise.

Community based initiative in Sokhtagi

Shocked by the amount of garbage littering the lakes, marshes and rivers of the region of Sokhtagi, Nai Qala’s president shared her sad feelings with the local community during her stay in the area, in March 2018. Her words resonated positively with the population and encouraged them to take action. At the end of June 2018, the school council of Sokhtagi organized a general waste collection day where more than 350 people participated. Parents, schoolteachers and students gathered several dozens of kilos of plastic, glass, metal and fabric from Sokhtagi marsh and its surroundings.

Such motivation among the community of Sokhtagi, in a historically isolated region, is remarkable. Among many other benefits, is the building of a school that makes villagers more aware of their environment. “We have one of the most beautiful lakes on our doorstep, we must take care of it and, who knows, one day our village might become an area that will attract many outsiders to visit” said a gentleman who was among the cleaning volunteers.

Becoming aware of the environment and the generated waste 

Nai Qala promotes sustainability values and engages the community to be mindful of their environment and take care of nature. Nai Qala encourages the community of all the villages where it builds schools and health centers, and ensures the environment is discussed with the beneficiaries of its programs.

At a time when the World Bank estimates that global solid waste generation is on pace to increase by 70 percent by 2025, with developing countries facing the greatest challenges, such community based initiatives give a strong signal of hope. Not only a waste collection day, but also a critical thinking about the materials populations use as well as good waste management practices will help keep those remote regions of central Afghanistan clean. Let’s hope that waste reduction, waste collection, being thoughtful about what one buys and choosing a sustainable option whenever possible will become part of the local culture.

[1]Roland Geyer et al. Production, use, and fate of all plastics ever made. Science Advances, July 2017 DOI: 10.1126/sciadv.1700782

Back-to-school season for 180 youngsters

While most children in the northern hemisphere are in the middle of their summer holidays, 180 young children aged 4 to 6 have started their first school year this July.

Preparation of equipment

Nai Qala’s president, Taiba Rahim, and the Kabul team have been very busy these past few weeks. Several hundred kilos of material were collected in Kabul to equip the classes.

Chairs, shelves, toy boxes, white boards but also carpets, all multiplied by 7, were sent to 7 villages in the mountainous regions of Ghazni (close to the schools of Sada, Ghow Murda and Nai Qala) .

In addition to furniture, large amounts of school supplies were also purchased and transported; these are, among others:

  • dozens of kilos of wooden blocks made especially by local carpenters;
  • various toys, construction games, toy cars, dinner play sets, balls and much more;
  • paper, cardboard, colored pencils, paint;
  • basic hygienic material such as soaps, toothbrushes and toothpaste.

Nai Qala’s team, represented by Mr. Qeyam and Mr. Ali Reza were involved at 200% in setting up the classrooms, not only in Kabul where they carefully organized all the logistics and where they ensured that the purchased equipment was properly packaged to withstand the surprises of transportation, sometimes on very bumpy roads, but also in the field. Mr. Qeyam spent a full month in the villages to make sure that all the material had arrived and was properly distributed, and that each class was correctly set up. Each village is separated by a distance of 20 minutes to 1 hour by car; to connect the first to the last village, it takes 4 hours.

Accelerated training for teachers

After a recruitment process to which 55 candidates applied, the Kabul team selected 9 young women. These are girls graduated from the first 3 schools built by Nai Qala, often single or sometimes already married, and who have a university (or other) degree. As employment opportunities in these remote areas are minimal, the creation of early childhood education classes opens up new opportunities for work.

Ms. Zewar, one of the two teachers of the early childhood education classes opened in 2017, took the responsibility to organize a 3-day workshop and give some new pedagogical bases to the new recruits. Ms. Zewar herself benefited from a one-week workshop, followed by another on the job, before teaching the little ones. For young women, the workshop was the first experience of its kind.

In addition to the 3-day workshop, Ms. Zewar will coach, on a day to day basis, the new teachers in their respective classes. She will travel to each village, accompanied by an experienced driver, to encourage, guide and support each of the teachers in their new experience.

During the training workshop, the young women discovered some teaching materials but were also able to familiarize themselves with games and various toys. This training was also an opportunity to experiment for the first time toys, which they had not access to when they were young. A moving discovery!

Involvement of the local community

The involvement of the local community is essential to the project. Each community has made available the best room in the village to create appropriate learning conditions. In some cases, if the rugs brought by Nai Qala did not cover all the floors, the villagers provided the carpet to cover the missing parts. The community is very committed to installing the equipment, participating in its unloading and unpacking.

Each village eagerly awaited the arrival of Mr. Qeyam; the whole community of men, women and children gathered together, ready to help with the transportation of equipment, place the information sign at the roadside or arrange the classroom.

What is not visible

Setting up a project of this magnitude requires months of preparation. This represents indeed many visits to the central and provincial ministries, and hours of negotiations with the villagers that were necessary to ensure the sustainability of the project. An agreement has been signed with the government to ensure monitoring beyond the first 3 years of the project; agreements with each local community have been concluded to ensure the availability of the premises where the courses will be held.

Each organization operating in the field of education must involve the Ministry of Education since it is the gatekeeper of the national education plan. As a result, the government will monitor the progress of the project and make constructive suggestions. The Ministry of Education, through its provincial-level leadership, has committed to follow-up to ensure that the project works properly and is community based, and will manage the early childhood education classes in terms of human resources, after 2020.

Back to school

In total, 180 children participated in starting their first school year. The Nai Qala Early Childhood Education project concerns 9 classes in 9 villages: 7 new classes added to the 2 classes already initiated at the start of summer 2017.

The little ones, between 4 and 6 years old, will not only learn to read and write but also expand their imagination and develop through play and artistic activities. The early childhood education class is also an opportunity for these young children to socialize and learn some good manners and basic hygiene.

After a few days of classes, the feedback is already very positive. Parents say they have no problem waking their children early in the morning, which was not necessarily the case before the start of the school year. The inhabitants of the 9 villages are very happy and make sure that the program is going well. The teachers are super motivated and the joy is shown on the faces of the children.

To learn more about Nai Qala and early childhood education, it’s here.

Delivery of material / Livraison du matériel
Workshop for teacher / Atelier pour les enseignantes
1st school day / 1er jour d'école

Bamyan, province of hope and openness

A music festival as a symbol of emerging change

After all the horrors that took place in Bamyian, the city is fast becoming the musical center of Afghanistan. As a strong signal demonstrating the nonsense of the destruction of historical monuments, concerts are held right in front of the empty site of the Buddhas.

For the second consecutive year, Bamyian is hosting the dambora festival, a traditional 2-string guitar. The music festival is open to all beginners or confirmed musicians, boys, girls, old or young … and of course to the stars.

The festival takes place this year from June 29 to 30. Thousands of fans cheer on their favorite musicians and singers, and some even sketch a few dance steps. Bamyian province is the only one in Afghanistan where women go to concerts and can freely express their joy. The festival is a symbol of an emerging change that manifests itself in times of suffering and despair.

The dambora festival is happening in an area where Nai Qala has built 6 schools and has also contributed to positive change, especially women’s empowerment. The schools of Nai Qala are just beyond the mountains!

Nawur health center as a confirmed base for vaccination

Nawur health center is used as a platform for vaccination campaigns in the region

Afghanistan is one of the last three countries in the world where poliomyelitis is still endemic [1]. 14 polio cases were reported in 2017, and by the end of April 2018 there were 7 new cases reported in the country [2]. Polio mainly affects children under 5 years of age and one in 200 infections leads to irreversible paralysis.

Polio is one of only a limited number of diseases that can be eradicated and it can be eradicated because it affects only humans, because a cheap, safe and easy oral vaccine exists and immunity lasts a lifetime.

In March, the Afghanistan polio eradication initiative conducted its first national immunization campaign for eradication of the disease in 2018. In just a week, around 70,000 workers knocked on doors and stopped families in health centers, city streets and border crossings to vaccinate almost ten million children [3]. Monitoring data reflected more than 94% coverage in each vaccination campaign during 2017. The number of children missed due to inaccessibility went down since 2017 but an estimated 138 000 children were still missing in the national vaccination campaign of March 2018.

Without a clinic, a region like Nawur would have remained unknown to the health authorities; at its opening, the ministry of public health informed organizations such as UNICEF which registered the clinic as a vaccination center. The ministry and its partners have long been trying to reach isolated areas with vaccination campaigns and the health clinic gives them a base for this in the region. Before the establishment of Sar Assya clinic in the district of Nawur in 2011 [4], various illnesses remained untreated, the mortality rate among mothers and children was high, and children did not receive the requisite vaccinations. The Nawur clinic’s services have brought about significant improvements in the health situation of the population.

Since it registration in the national health care system, the Nawur clinic’s staff vaccinated thousands of children not only for polio, but other infectious diseases such as tuberculosis, diphtheria, tetanus, pertussis, etc. In 2017, 1,022 children and several hundreds of women were vaccinated in Nawur. During the March 2018 vaccination campaign, 142 young children received the polio vaccine.

Through its implementation in a remote region of central Afghanistan Nawur health center contributes to the reduction of mortality and serves as a base for vaccination and other prevention campaigns.

[1] http://moph.gov.af/en/page/polio-eradication/polio-situation-updates

[2] Note: No cases have been reported since 2016 in the central region of Afghanistan where Nai Qala operates.

[3] http://www.emro.who.int/afg/photo-essays/ten-million-children-70000-workers-five-days.html; http://www.emro.who.int/afg/programmes/polio-eradication-initiative.html

2011 – Sar Assya

Girls’ education, a change of mindset

Promoting girls’ education and cultural changes through a capacity building program

Improving the quality of education provided in the schools Nai Qala has built. 

Overall, the quality of education in Afghanistan in particular in the rural areas is very low. To remedy this, the Nai Qala Association is not only providing school buildings in those isolated regions but also several tutoring classes in sciences, and preparation courses to the national test for university entrance. Without such classes, many girls would not have taken the exam, as parents do not have the means and motivation to send them to towns to get private lessons.

The role of Nai Qala’s teacher training in capacity building is much more than transferring scientific knowledge.
Inspired by her experience with western school systems that promote regular communication between teachers and parents, Nai Qala’s president motivated the teacher-trainers to establish such a culture. Trainers meet parents to encourage them to be supportive at home with their children. In remote rural regions, many parents are illiterate and cannot help children with their homework but can support them by giving them space and believing in them.

The trainers are very aware of the importance of the role of parents in children’s education and have realized that such support was missing in their time at school. Nai Qala’s teacher-trainers even go to visit parents of those students who do not participate during class; they walk for a few hours to find an almost isolated house, in the mountains, with a tiny piece of land and a few heads of cattle. When parents first see the teachers they are a bit afraid, wondering what they want from them and why they are coming to their house. However when the teachers introduce themselves and explain that it is part of their role to meet the parents, not only because their child comes to the capacity building class but also to congratulate the parents for sending them to the course, many parents cannot believe what they hear and get emotional. Amazingly, the teachers very often see a different attitude in their student in the next days. This girl or boy comes earlier to school and interacts more, now being aware that their teachers give them importance.

Teachers take initiatives to triggers girls involvement at school.
Teachers discuss among themselves the participation and involvement of students in the class. They, for example, decided to split into different classes two sisters who were too passive during the courses and encouraged the other girls in the classes to support the sisters. The girls cried and suffered a lot from the separation for a few days but then became the most talented students in the school after a few months.

A change in the mindset of teachers on girls’ education.
Nai Qala’s teacher-trainers themselves come from remote rural regions of central Afghanistan, originating from poor and traditional communities. “When I was in school, I studied in a mixed class, with girls. I always had one point in my mind: why should girls come to school? They are not made for school, what for?” remembered Jawad, a 26 year old, Nai Qala teacher-trainer. The job description of the teacher-trainers puts a special emphasis on girls’ education. Teachers have not only received training on human and women’s right but have also been coached by Nai Qala staff on how to encourage girls and their parents. Jawad recounted how once he saw a girl answering a very complex math problem in front of the class, his perception about girls was changed forever: “She started to write and competently solved the problem. In that minute, I went deep in thought and questioned myself: why was I so negative about girls? Is it the society that influenced me? Many questions came to my mind and on that night I could not sleep well… After that day, I became so determined that I must help girls. This is now my third year that I teach girls and help them in scientific subjects, together with my colleagues. Up to now, I have been helping about 1000 girls between the ages of 12 to 18. I never imagined I’d be able to do my job with such motivation. It is never too late to realize that girls have the same talents and deserve the same rights as boys. I am grateful to Nai Qala for helping me to realize this important point”.

With Nai Qala’s support, hundreds of girls are on their way to university. In one of the least developed rural regions of Afghanistan, this represents an extraordinary change and brings hope. The capacity building program is a tremendous platform that allows gradual cultural changes to be brought to the remote regions and promote girls’ education.

Gender equality

Nai Qala’s actions are aimed at reducing gender inequalities   

While the world has made progress towards gender equality and women’s empowerment, women and girls continue to suffer discrimination in all regions of Afghanistan. Literacy rate of young women is still only 57 percent of that of young men [1]. The indices for education attendance ratios also show unambiguous gender disparities, which decrease with the level of education (47.6 percent of girls attend primary; 23.7 percent attend secondary and 5.2 attend tertiary education level). The share of Afghan women participating in the economy is only one third of that of men, and the indices for unemployment and the proportion of youth outside education, employment or training show a very disadvantaged position of women on the labor market.

The gender gap in both education and economy suggests that cultural impediments prohibit tapping the development potential of girls and women in Afghan society and restrict their access to education and the labor market. In order to remedy this imbalance, Nai Qala has set gender equality at the core of all its projects. Nai Qala’s vision is an educated, healthy and balanced society in which women and men lead social, cultural and economic changes in an inclusive manner that enables their children – boys and girls – to thrive, focusing on neglected parts of Afghanistan.

Ease of access to quality education and health services

Long distance to school and reluctance to send children to school are by far the most common reasons for not starting school, whereas the need for child labor and perceived irrelevance of further education were the most important reasons highlighted by ALCS for terminating education [1]. In order to reduce walking distances, Nai Qala strives to build, or refurbish, schools and improve the quality of education in remote regions. A decent and closer learning environment as well as improved education services are a big motivation for children to (re-)attend school. Katawaie is a perfect illustration of the impact of a new building on children’s registration to school. After its inauguration, the school of Katawaie became a victim of its own success as the number of girl students increased by 25 percent and new classes had to be opened in the school’s courtyard. A similar impact is been seen in Zeera Gag  where initially the school was built for 520 girls but is today attended by 650 girls.

One of the most important findings of the living condition survey (ALCS) is that the main problem of the Afghan education system is not so much retention and drop out, but first and foremost making a start at school. Nai Qala has implemented early childhood education classes in two villages and plans to open new ones. Early childhood education classes not only help boys and girls to develop their imagination, talents and confidence from a very young age, but also teach them how to play together, inclusively, as a normal habit. Newly acquired attitudes, behaviors and experiences of young children contribute to their long-term success in school and reduce drop-out rates. The early childhood program also places a special focus on mothers, by actively involving them in the class. Such a program has a particular impact on the family. Mothers build their self-confidence and most importantly their awareness of how they can educate their children at young age to contribute to a more healthy family environment.

According to ALCS, an encouraging 70 percent of all women who had a baby in Afghanistan during the last five years had at least one antenatal check-up. However, only 16 percent received four antenatal check-ups, which is the number recommended by the World Health Organization for normal pregnancies. Again, distance to a health care center can be a contributing factor to low usage of health services but it is not the only one. Men with a health concern can travel to town to get treatment in a hospital, but the situation for sick or pregnant women is more challenging. A woman who is ill must be accompanied to hospital by a female and by a male relative. 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 far away hospitals. Considering this fact, Nai Qala Association built a basic health center in Nawur. The percentage of births attended by skilled health personnel there is increasing each year; for 2017 alone, 126 babies were safely delivered in the Nawur health center. This clinic benefits 20’000 people and has transformed health conditions and hygiene habits in the region, for both women and men.

Leading the change by setting an example

The Nai Qala Association aims to contribute to cultural change in Afghanistan. The organization’s president, Taiba Rahim, is a role model in a country where female leadership [2] is still rare. Inspiring girls to see that change is possible and that women have an important role to play is crucial for the country’s future. There is a greater participation of women in Nai Qala’s 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. Newly acquired strength and self-confidence prompted women in the remote village of Sokhtagi to create a women’s council, the first ever women’s council not only in the district, but certainly also throughout the province.

All Nai Qala’s local employees receive training on human rights and gender equality. Each staff member embodies the organization’s values through exemplarity of his/her practice and actions, in the office and in the field. Teacher-trainers have become Nai Qala’s best ambassadors to promote girls’ education, by discussing with the community and motivating parents in door-to-door operations.

Providing women and girls with equal access to education, health services, decent work, and representation in decision-making processes can fuel sustainable economies and benefit families, and communities at large. Gender equality is not only a fundamental human right, but also a foundation for a peaceful, prosperous and sustainable country. Any small improvement towards gender equality can bring big changes in the mindset of and benefit the whole society.

 

[1] All figures are taken from the Afghanistan Living Conditions Survey 2016 – 2017 (ALCS), released May 7, 2018. Central Statistics Organization (CSO) of the Government of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan. http://cso.gov.af/Content/files/Surveys/ALCS/Final%20English%20ALCS%20Highlight(1).pdf

[2] The percentage of women working in managerial job position is still only 6.6 percent of that of men (ALCS, 2018).

Reducing Rural Poverty – Income Generation

The income generation related to the construction site promotes the growth of a local almost non-existent economy.

Although only 12% of the country is made up of arable land, the Afghan economy relies heavily on agriculture, especially in remote areas. The primary sector supports more than 60% of the population but half of the rural households only practice subsistence farming, and therefore do not market their own production. These populations are the most affected by seasonal variations: winters are often long and harsh and to survive until spring, a large part of these small farmers must sell cattle, find a job outside agriculture or borrow money. Poverty is particularly acute in mountainous regions, where the poor road conditions and difficult access to markets add to the changeable weather conditions.

Abuzhar is 35 years old and works as a cook at the Sokhtagi school site. He is very happy to have found a job. The unexpected income prompts this father to recount: “Without this job, I could not have satisfied the needs of the five members of my family. I had no hope because I do not own land and had no prospect of income.

Mohamed, 50 years old and head of a family of eight, took the opportunity to pass his truck driving license when he learned that Nai Qala would build a school in his village. His first months salary as a driver allowed him to support his family for a year. With the salary he will receive for the second phase of the project, he plans to buy livestock. Four of Mohamed’s children attend school, three girls and one boy. Thanks to his salary and the prospect of future livestock, he is optimistic about the education of his children; he is now sure to be able to send them to school.

The arrival of a construction site in remote areas, such as the Sokhtagi school, is often a unique and unexpected opportunity to get an income. To date, 34 people work on the site of the future school, of which 26 are local employees recruited from the village specifically for the project. In addition to providing wages to workers, the construction company buys food, to feed its employees, from families or on the local market. Wages and food purchases are a welcome contribution to the growth of the local economy and reduce family poverty.