All posts by vero

A workshop for preschool teachers

The Nai Qala Association recently organized a workshop to improve the capacity of the preschool teachers working in the villages of the region of Nai Qala.

The Nai Qala Association organized in the premises of the organization in Kabul, earlier in April, a workshop to improve the capacity of the preschool teachers working in the villages of the region of Nai Qala. Eight teachers participated in the training and deepened their knowledge about the objectives of preschool, the importance of active learning, children’s rights, sustainability, efficient teaching methodologies, play groups in the community, the role and importance of communication. All topics were actively discussed and illustrated by the daily experiences of the teachers.

Preschool is a new concept in Afghanistan

In Afghanistan, people generally do not know what preschool is and are not aware of its importance for children’s development from an educational, emotional and behavioral point of view. Teachers highlighted how early childhood education, at preschool level, is laying the foundations for later formal education but also for children as future citizens. The importance of playing was heavily discussed and recognized as a means to instill behavior changes. Playtime in preschool gives opportunities to children to collaborate, to accomplish things they are proud of, to learn patience and to share. Teachers were impressed by the potential of play to foster changes. 

The participants showed great interest in the topic of children’s rights. “Children have rights”, “Children must be respected as any other human being” were recurrent sentences among the participants. The teachers discovered how to improve their own behavior with preschool children.

Teachers showed great enthusiasm for their daily work and  huge motivation for their educational work and shared many anecdotes. Everyone was very happy to participate in this workshop. They learnt a lot about children’s development and about preschool in general but would like to grow their knowledge and receive more in-service training in the future.

The feed-back of a participant

Qasem, the most recent recruit of the organization, also attended the training, both as a participant and a trainer. He shares his feelings about the workshop:

“The preschool workshop was one of the most useful experiences that I ever had. Although the workshop was designed to improve the skills of preschool teachers, I also learned a lot in this workshop. Because preschool is still in its early stages in Afghanistan, I  have never had the opportunity to get such in-depth knowledge about preschool and its role in children’s development. The workshop gave me the opportunity to learn more about preschool, its values and importance for developing children abilities in their later stages of life.  

This workshop was very pleasant and enjoyable for many reasons. On the one hand, I was involved in organizing and planning the workshop as much as I could. On the other hand, this was my first educational and formal workshop where I had the opportunity to present a topic. This experience gave me confidence that I have the capacity to speak to a large audience. In addition, this workshop has created self-confidence and motivation for me, that I am now determined to talk in large seminars and workshops on behalf Nai-qala.

At this workshop, I found that preschool teachers were talking with a lot of interest and motivation about children and preschool classes… and this really impressed me. I learned a lot from this workshop about children’s education, the content and philosophy of preschool, daily routines and I listened with great interest to the stories teachers shared about their classes and their daily experiences with children. Furthermore, this workshop was very motivational for me and I discovered how the Nai Qala Association staff and teachers are committed and tirelessly working to promote children’s education in rural areas, and now I feel committed more than ever to work harder for those deprived communities.” 

The origin of Nai Qala, its name and the vision behind it

Nai Qala’s president, Taiba Rahim, speaks about the origins of the name of the organization.

Today I would like to share how the Nai Qala Association began. First of all, what does Nai Qala mean? 

Nai (ني) is the bamboo plant. But Nai also means a flute (the musical instrument). Qala means a fortified city. So Nai Qala is “city of bamboo”. People say that there were many bamboo plants in this valley in the past, though there are none there today.

However, there is also another story about Nai Qala’s origin. Nai Qala is located in the district of Qara Bagh, in Ghazni Province (south-central Afghanistan). The Ghaznavid dynasty ruled Ghazni from 998 to 1030 – part of an empire that extended into India.  

Legend has it that in the Nai Qala region there was a prison. Travelers who passed through this region reported hearing the sound of home-made flutes – played by prisoners passing the long days. So the name of Nai Qala could be linked to the “city of bamboo” or to the “city of flutes”. 

My father was born and raised in the Nai Qala valley. Despite its rich history, the area has been forgotten for centuries. When my father was growing up, Nai Qala had no school, no clinic, no road and absolutely no infrastructure. He was a humble and modest shepherd but with a great vision. I am one of his nine children. He was convinced that only through education could we extract ourselves from poverty and isolation. 

He made a decision that was both courageous and unusual for someone from that region. He left Nai Qala and moved to a town where it was possible for his children to go to school. All of us children got a decent education. I am very grateful for that and today I want to honor my father and continue his vision. 

In 2007 I created an association with the aim of building schools for the thousands of girls and boys in those remote regions. I named this association Nai Qala because:

  • This area is a reminder of some of the great periods of Afghan history – Ghazni was a key city in the empires of Cyrus of Persia and Alexander the Great, it was a major trading centre along the Silk Road from China to the West as well as during the Ghaznavid period a thousand years ago. Even if today our country is going through a tough period of war, we Afghans must remind ourselves of our history to help us restore our identity and build a sense of pride in ourselves…
  • I want to honor the village that was the home of my father and mother who so courageously moved away from the only world they knew to give their children a better future. It must have been a difficult choice…
  • I also want to be reminded every day of who I am. No matter what I do, where I go or whether I succeed or fail, I am reminded constantly of my background – a desperately poor village where the children had nothing to dream of or hope for. 

Today NQA has expanded its activities in many other rural regions but I shall always remain committed to that village, and others like it. I remain committed to my country which, I believe, needs my contribution if ever we are going to give Afghanistan’s children hope in the future.”

Taiba Rahim
President,
Nai Qala Association

Pedagogical training for 10 teachers from the schools of Waras

The low quality of education in the country’s remote rural areas is a constant concern for Nai Qala, which was committed to supporting once again a teacher training program this winter.

After having supported in-service teacher training projects in schools built by the Association since 2016, Nai Qala was once again committed to the quality of education through a new project. This program, organized in partnership with a French NGO, aims to improve the language and core subject skills, as well as the teaching skills of ten teachers from Dewan and Safed Ghaow schools. 

Over the past four decades, Afghanistan has suffered from severe conflict; war has destroyed all infrastructures and paralyzed the education system. At the same time, we must remember that even before the war, many parts of the country had long been neglected by the central afghan governments. Investment in education was limited to certain urban centers and other regions were forgotten. 

At present therefore, the poor quality of education is a matter of concern, resulting from both the war and preceding isolation of rural areas. The main reasons for this problem are the shortage of professional teachers, the lack of teaching materials, the inappropriate classroom environment and threats to security in some areas. In addition, reports also indicate that the teacher-centered approach is still practiced,and that corporal punishment can becommon in some schools. 

Despite progress in building teachers’ capacities, more than half of them lack the required qualifications and pedagogical skills, which is considered a major challenge for quality education in Afghanistan. Duria, a young female teacherwho attended the course confirms:“I am graduated from the social science faculty, but I got a position as a math teacher in Dewan School, sincethere was nojobopportunity in social sciencefor me”. 

A partnership with another NGO

The new Nai Qala project is being carried out in partnership with the French NGO AFRANE (Amitié Franco-Afghane), which already in 2002 signed protocols with the Ministry of Education to organize training for teaching staff in the schools it supports. Every year during the winter months, AFRANE organizes an intensive training session for teachers in the Waras district. Training generally takes place from January to mid-March, when students are not in school due to extreme weather conditions. Since 2015, teachers have been accommodated in premises built for this purpose by AFRANE, where they are fed and housed because the remoteness and snow make daily travel to their homes impossible.

About a hundred teachers from the district’s schools participated in this winter’s training during which they were not only accommodated in boarding schools but also trained in languages (Dari, English), fundamental sciences (mathematics, physics) and IT. The training was provided by qualified trainers based on the skills and level of the 100 teachers present, and included five hours of instruction per day, in accordance with the curriculum approved by the Ministry of Education and specifically designed to improve theoretical knowledge. In addition, teachers received personal support in the evenings. “As participating teachers were coming from different schools in Waras district, it was a great opportunity to exchange our ideas, and to learn from each other”said Mr. Amir, another teacher from Dewan school.

10 teachers from schools built by Nai Qala in training

The 10 teachers from the 2 Nai Qala schools in Waras district who benefited from this capacity building training were identified by the project managers, in close cooperation with the Provincial Education Directorate. The 10 Dewan and Safed Ghaow teachers, both male and female, spent two months (January and February) in Waras, improving their academic knowledge and pedagogical skills. 

Most teachers have received very basic and/or unrelated training in the subject they teach, therefore it is not surprising that they show significant gaps in their own subject. A general review can only be beneficial. Ms. Duria, the young teacher with a social science background concludes after 2 months training: “Now I am very proud and motivated to improve my knowledge and to continue my job as a mathematics teacher”.

Obtaining a quality education is the foundation to creating sustainable development, that is why increasing the number of qualified teachers remains one of the priorities of the Sustainable Development Goals and of the ministry of education. Thanks to this program, more than 750 students from Dewan and Safed Ghaow schools will benefit from better learning conditions.

The unexpected effects of the early childhood education program

Early childhood education classes represent much more than the first steps in learning to read, write or calculate.

In 2017, Nai Qala opened 2 pre-school classes for children from 4 to 6 years old. The great success of the pilot program prompted the organization to expand the project to 7 other classes in 2018. The courses not only set up the ground for numeracy and literacy but provide opportunities to develop creativity, have fun, socialize and learn ethical values and social behavior. 

“A little birdie told me that” … or the impact of the Nai Qala preschool program in 9 villages in Ghazni province.

After only a few months of activity, changes in behavior and attitude can be observed in children attending the class, and their families. This blog offers you a small selection of concrete changes triggered by the early childhood education program, small changes that already impact the lives of the beneficiaries. These small stories are listed in no order of importance, as each single change has a different meaning and value. Each example is a real one but our privacy policy prevents us from jeopardizing the name of our sources and beneficiaries. Therefore a little birdie told me …

  • A little birdie told me that boys and girls have a lot of fun playing together. Playing activities set the ground for more gender equity.
  • A little birdie told me that the children are learning solidarity. Several children were seen comforting one of their classmates on the way to school and carrying the bag of another friend who had scratched his knee. Helping each other is one of the numerous ethical values taught in the early childhood education program.
  • A little birdie told me that moms are surprised to see that their children do less foolish things when they are at home. We also heard that some young boys behave much better with their mothers since they started attending early childhood education classes. Respect and tolerance are some core social skills children learn at school.
  • A little birdie told me that parents are happy to see that their children eat properly at home and finish their plates without complaining. 
  • A little birdie told me that the little boys who play with dinner sets at school are motivated to help with the cooking at home. Some older siblings are amazed to see their little brothers helping their mother to clear the table and wash the dishes. The program enables children to solve the basic problems they encounter every day.
  • A little birdie told me that the family and guests’ shoes laid in front of the entrance door no longer disappear but are now proudly lined up. 
  • A little birdie told me that the dads are convinced by the early childhood education program and are 100% committed. They bring wood to heat the classroom.
  • A little birdie told me that Legos and construction toys are very successful. It is a new type of toy for children in remote rural areas and an ideal way to develop their creativity and imagination. The imitation games (grocery, dinner, doctor’s sets) are also very popular among children. Children attending the class enjoy a friendly and pleasurable atmosphere where they can play safely and try new things.
  • A little birdie told me that children make the connection between what they learn in school about the environment and what they apply outside. The early childhood program aims at promoting children’s awareness about themselves, others, surrounding objects, society and nature.
  • A little birdie told me that the teachers are all surprised to see the progress of their young students on a day-to-day basis. Attending a pre-school class strengthens the abilities in listening, speaking, reading, writing and counting, in accordance with each child’s capacity.
  • A little birdie told me that parents have peace of mind when their children are in class and can devote themselves fully to their work during this time.
  • A little birdie told me that children do not fool around when they’re in class. They are as good as gold.
  • A little birdie told me that the school has created new friendships between children whose families no longer spoke to each other… and that, as a result, dialogue is resuming between adults.

Building policies to support a strong organization

The team in Kabul has been developing and refining a dozen policies over the past few months.

Policies are generally principles, rules, and guidelines formulated or adopted by an organization to reach its long-term goals. Policies, as well as their inherent procedures, are designed to influence and determine all major decisions and actions, and all activities that take place within the boundaries set by them. 

A policy as a guide for action 

Policies generally outline the rules, they provide principles that guide actions, set roles and responsibilities, reflect the values and beliefs, and state the intention of an organization to do something. Over the past months, Nai Qala employees have worked on a dozen policies that will support them in their everyday working life and that will guide their actions towards a sustainable organization. 

Nai Qala’s policies cover various areas such as harassment, ethical image, fundraising, gender, privacy, procurement, human resources, finance, social media, conflicts of interest, communication, etc. Working on the development of such policies has allowed employees to take full ownership and reinforce the team spirit. Above all, these new policies will make the administration easier and clearer, and allow Nai Qala’s staff to get on with the organization’s core activities more efficiently and effectively.

Enabling, promoting and demonstrating human rights

Nai Qala contributes to the improvement of human rights in Afghanistan

The capacity of the Afghan State to deliver critical services such as education and health care and to respect, protect and fulfill human rights is limited. The remote rural areas have been traditionally neglected by successive central governments in Kabul and today those remote communities particularly feel the absence of a strong state response. Basic infrastructure and institutions such as schools and health clinics are lacking, undermining the state’s ability to ensure good health and educational standards. Schools and clinics, where they exist, are difficult to access for most people. Staff of such institutions often have little training and low motivation. Few trained staff agree to work in remote regions where living conditions can be harsh. Not surprisingly, many people have left the country to try to make better lives elsewhere and this constant rural exodus makes the situation worse for those who remain as it weakens the social fabric of these communities.

Women and girls are still deprived of basic human rights, facing multiple restrictions and discriminations, abuses and various forms of violence, while efforts to raise the status of women face continued opposition. Women’s roles and their potential, as contributors to social and economic development, are still overlooked.

Right to education

Education is a human right, enshrined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child. Every girl and every boy should have the right to a quality education so that they can have more chances in life, including employment opportunities, better health and also to participate in the political process. A basic education is also important to ensure that all individuals are aware of their rights.

In Afghanistan, 28% of school-age children are out of school and only 18% of girls 15 and older are literate. Our work on the root causes of low or no attendance of children, in particular girls, to school remedies the absence of decent learning conditions such as absence of a proper school building, the low qualification of teachers, absence of hygiene facilities (especially for menstruated girls), and the absence of a boundary wall, while preventing at the same time drop out through motivation talks with parents and the community, offering pre-primary classes, and reducing the distance to school in remote rural regions.

Right to health

As for education, health is also a human right enshrined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, in the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child, as well as in the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights. The human right to health means that everyone has the right to the highest attainable standard of physical and mental health, which includes access to all medical services, sanitation, adequate food, decent housing, healthy working conditions, and a clean environment.

 While 91 out of 1000 children still die before their 5thbirthday in Afghanistan, we improve health conditions by providing a health center (clinic) that positively impacts women and infant health, improves the vaccination coverage and provides basic health care to a population of >20’000.

Nai Qala teachers have received training on basic hygiene measures; they pass the message on to their students and the youngsters participating in the early childhood education classes learn why and how to wash their hands. Several gardening initiatives are promoted to enhance nutritional status of the entire family.

Empowering people to realize their rights

While the main goal of our teachers is to teach the children, we also want to seize the opportunity to help communities understand the concept of human rights, or why it is important to question old ideas and encourage girls’ education. We want the teachers to discuss issues such as education, health and equality with village elders and others. It takes time for people to accept new ideas, but they have shown a surprising interest so far.

Gender equality, enshrined in article I of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, stands at the core of Nai Qala’s activities. Nai Qala’s vision is “aneducated, 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”. Our path to realise our vision is inclusive, patiently convincing elders, fathers, men. We aim at inducing small changes in the society by developing the capacities, opportunities and resources of local communities so that men, women, boys and girls can participate equally in family life and decisions and expand their fields of opportunities. We promote the participation of women in society as equals with men in decision making on issues that concern them, such as the education of their children, health of all family members and family economic income, as well as the inclusion of the full community in collective decision making such as construction, use and maintenance of local schools and clinics.

Human rights are interdependent, indivisible and interrelated. This means that the violation of the right to health may impede the enjoyment of other human rights, such as the right to education or the right to work, and vice versa. Without education, one is less likely to find well-paid jobs, decent housing, to participate in the democratic process or to recognize the value of education for future generations. According to the World Bank, there is evidence that educated citizens care more about the environment, are more tolerant of those who are different and are more inclined to fight for gender equality. Through education initiatives and actions targeting health, supported by an inclusive approach, Nai Qala strives to reduce inequalities and promote human rights.

Opening ceremony of Nai Qala’s photo exhibition

An opening ceremony of Nai Qala’s photo exhibition was held in a packed ACKU room

On November 14, more than 300 people gathered in a packed room of the Afghan Centre of Kabul University (ACKU) to attend the opening ceremony of the photo exhibition on the power of education in remote rural regions of Afghanistan.ACKU director, Mr. Abdul Wahid Wafa, Mrs. Fiona Gall from ACBAR and Mrs. Taiba Rahim, president of the Nai Qala Association made speeches on the importance of education whilst Mrs. Haris Coussidis, photographer and author of the more than 50 photos displayed on the walls of the Centre, shared her message through a recorded message. Mr. Wafa summarized the spirit of the event by declaring that “the exhibition is about the hope of the new generation of Afghanistan and the simple livelihood of the people of the central regions of Afghanistan with a great hope for the future of their children“.

An inspiring and hopeful speech

In the ACKU room, one could spot several young women wearing red headscarves; these were former students of Nai Qala school who, on that day, proudly played the role of hostesses. Ms. Shegufa, who had been a pupil in Nai Qala village and who used to study in the open air until a school was built there, took on the role of chairwoman and embodied the Association’s message of hope and empowerment for girls. Ms. Shegufa herself talked of the inspirational example set by Nai Qala’s president as she “shows through her actions that women can be equal to men in the community”.  Shegufa, pointed out that “the President moved the audience and instilled hope because activities in such remote areas are unprecedented”.

Nai Qala’s President’s speech left its mark on many participants who attended the ceremony, like Nadia: “Mrs. Rahim is truly an inspiration to all young Afghans. Her speech highlighted empowerment, unity, hope and commitment, solidarity to succeed, and never losing hope and always being optimistic about the future. Pursuing her vision is a way to strengthen and respect fundamental human rights in our country and to give a different image of Afghanistan. I am pleased to have been one of the participants at the opening of this inspiring and truly stimulating exhibition.” A young man who spoke in front of the audience made an emotional statement by saying, “I lost my father last year, I thought the world was over… today I feel like it’s a new day with a ray of hope”.

The majority of the audience was made up of young university students who left the ceremony inspired by the talks and with a renewed hope for their country.

The exhibition “Hope, Dignity and Commitment: The Power of Education”, 52 photos by Haris Coussidis for the Nai Qala Association on the role of reconstruction and education in remote districts of Bamyan province, can be viewed at ACKU in Kabul until 31 December, 2018.

Photo exhibition in Kabul

Photo exhibition in Kabul – November 14 to November 30, 2018.

Nai Qala is proud and grateful to be able to present a photography exhibition in partnership with the Afghanistan Centre at Kabul University (ACKU), in Kabul, the capital of Afghanistan. Through this event Nai Qala will present the association’s work in the rural areas of Afghanistan and in particular will have the opportunity to raise awareness within the capital of the challenges and hopes of the rural communities.

Click here to see the full program.

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.