afghan refugeesThe recent resurgence of the Taliban in Afghanistan has sparked fear in Afghan citizens, resulting in large numbers of Afghans fleeing Afghanistan to seek refuge in other countries. Some countries have welcomed Afghan refugees with open arms, but others simply do not have the capacity to host large groups of refugees. As many countries around the world scurry to help Afghan refugees find shelter, Airbnb has stepped up to help. “The displacement and resettlement of Afghan refugees in the U.S. and elsewhere is one of the biggest humanitarian crises of our time. We feel a responsibility to step up,” says Airbnb CEO, Brian Chesky.

Airbnb to the Rescue

On August 24, 2021, Airbnb announced the offering of “free temporary housing” for roughly 20,000 Afghan refugees across the globe. Two days after, on August 26, the company added that any ordinary individual, not just the company’s “hosts,” can offer temporary housing through its services. This may potentially open up substantially more temporary housing options. For Afghan refugees, this offer of temporary shelter could bring some stability amid a crisis. For world governments, temporary housing could be key to avoiding a repeat of the Syrian refugee crisis.

Airbnb’s plan comes through its Open Homes platform, a tool created by the company in 2017 after former President Trump’s administration implemented a travel ban on several predominantly Muslim nations, including war-torn and heavily displaced Syria. At the time, countries such as Germany were grappling with a surge of refugees from Syria. Airbnb’s plan in 2017 looked to “provide short-term housing over the next five years for 100,000 people in need.” The company is building on that promise through the Open Homes platform.

How the Open Homes Platform Works

The purpose of Open Homes is to “Give people a place to call home in times of crisis.” Open Homes serves as a middle ground for refugees from Afghanistan and other conflicted nations to create a plan for more permanent housing. Airbnb’s platform works as a tool for hosts to open their homes to screened and approved guests including refugees. According to the company’s website, hosts receive a guide on the process of listing their home as a temporary residence.

The process is similar to Airbnb’s staple rental service. However, Airbnb’s announcement on August 26 made it clear that more than established hosts can use the platform to help. The platform relies on donations to cover the costs of temporary housing. Donations can be made by anyone willing to help cover the costs of refugee stays. For Afghan refugees, the platform is established and tested and may serve as an important tool in navigating the crisis.

The Importance of Temporary Housing

By definition, a refugee is an individual that cannot return to their home country due to reasons that jeopardize their safety and well-being. As the Afghan refugee crisis begins, there is precedent that can serve as guidance for how the U.S. can address this humanitarian issue. From past refugee crises, humanitarian groups find that shelter is one of the most important aspects of addressing the issue. Without a place to call home, refugees are denied the basic rights to adequate shelter and safety.

Temporary housing provides safety while refugees find more stable living situations. An influx of refugees with no place to go places greater strain on governmental agencies. This also potentially means more taxpayer money would go toward temporary housing subsidies and the governmental mediation of desperate refugees. Private options such as Open Homes can supplement the burden that the government and taxpayers struggle to fill.

According to the nonprofit Refugees Welcome!, asylum seekers lack “access to housing, food stamps or other benefits afforded to documented immigrants or citizens.” For people forcibly displaced by conflict such as current Afghan refugees, programs such as Open Homes provide a solution to the lack of safe and proper shelter for influxes of refugees. Open Homes may be the only viable option for families forced out of a nation.

To help address the Afghan refugee crisis, Airbnb’s Open Homes platform provides a commendable solution. Even an ordinary individual can get involved in this initiative, providing hope to vulnerable people with no place to call home.

– Harrison Vogt
Photo: Flickr

education for street kids in AfghanistanThe issue of providing quality education to children in Afghanistan persists. According to UNICEF, approximately 3.7 million children in Afghanistan are not in school, including more than two million girls. Afghan children face several barriers to education. These include “a shortage of schools and insufficient transportation” as well as a scarcity of qualified teachers. Only 48% of teachers possess the “minimum academic qualifications” to teach. For girls specifically, continued antiquated cultural practices, including child marriage in impoverished areas, continues to serve as a significant hurdle. Securing education for children in Afghanistan is important since education is a proven tool for breaking cycles of poverty. Furthermore, providing education for street kids in Afghanistan is especially important because these children are more vulnerable to the impacts of poverty.

The Plight of Street Children in Afghanistan

The term “street children” refers to children who live and/or work on the streets. In Afghanistan, the number of street kids is rising steadily, with at least 50,000 in the capital of Kabul. Endemic poverty and parental deaths caused by decades of war have forced many children into labor. Some of these children are as young as 3 years old. According to Mahboba’s Promise, an Australian aid organization, street children earn an average of less than $2 a day through menial jobs including collecting garbage and polishing shoes. These meager wages are barely enough to survive on. As such, working on the streets has become synonymous with malnutrition, illnesses and even sexual assault. Ensuring access to education for street kids in Afghanistan is paramount if Afghan children are to break free of cycles of abuse and poverty.

Organizations Providing Education for Street Kids in Afghanistan

While the current status of education in the country and the plight of its street kids is lamentable, the work of several organizations on the ground in providing an education for street kids in Afghanistan suggests that not all hope is lost.

  1. Mahboba’s Promise. Founded by Mahboba Rawi, an Afghan refugee, this organization is committed to rehabilitating street kids in Kabul by placing them in “safe houses.” The safe houses provide the children with well-balanced meals and teach fundamental subjects such as English, math and Islamic studies. Partnering with Architects Without Frontiers, Mahboba’s Promise successfully opened the Hope House in 2007. The Hope House is a shelter for women and children living in poverty that comes fully equipped for educational and recreational facilities while serving as an oasis of safety away from the turbulent streets of Kabul.
  2. Aschiana. Engineer Mohammed Yousef founded Aschiana in 1995. He was spurred to action after witnessing the harsh living and working conditions of street kids in Kabul. At its Day-Care Center, Aschiana provides basic education and vocational training for women and children while offering art-based therapy to help children who may have been traumatized by war, among other initiatives. Aschiana also organizes “mobile library units” to improve literacy and arranges legal aid for children charged with crimes. Today, Aschiana operates in seven provinces in Afghanistan and has impacted the lives of more than 150,000 women and children.
  3. The Noor Foundation. Founder Noor Ramazan was once an Afghan street kid himself. However, he broke free from his family’s cycle of poverty and became a successful businessman. He opened a tour guide service, Let’s Be Friends Afghanistan, in 2015. Recognizing the importance of providing an education for street kids in Afghanistan, Ramazan founded The Noor Foundation early in 2021 with the hope of saving street kids in Mazar-i-Sharif from the fate he managed to escape. At present, Ramazan is concurrently working on two projects. The first, Noor’s Nest, will be a shelter for about 30 street kids. It will have comfortable lodging facilities and staff to support the children’s educational and extracurricular endeavors in a “family-type setting.” The other project, The Noor School, will accommodate up to 200 children. Street kids will receive free tuition and priority access. Ramazan intends to start constructing the school by 2022 and has obtained financial support from 264 Education, a German NGO that reached out to Ramazan after hearing about his aspirations through the popular YouTube channel, Yes Theory.

Looking Ahead

Both local and international organizations have managed to make inroads concerning education in Afghanistan. However, the ongoing withdrawal of U.S. troops from the country threatens to undermine current and future progress. As the Taliban expands control of the country due to the power vacuum created by the United States, the future of education for Afghan children, especially girls, remains precarious. Without the continued provision of education for street kids in Afghanistan, there is a high risk of child recruitment by the Taliban. In a land rife with volatility and instability, prioritizing the education of children is imperative to equip Afghan children with the knowledge and tools to create a better and brighter future.

Vyas Nageswaran
Photo: Flickr

Gaming For a Cause, Poverty-Based Simulation Games Raise AwarenessSimulation-based games have introduced a new realm of possibilities for video game creators, from surgeon simulators to first-person shooting programs. Some creators have decided to use this trend to garner empathy and attention for the important issue of global poverty. Despite 10% of the world living in extreme poverty, sympathy can be difficult for some to experience when they are not aware of the circumstances those living in extreme poverty face day-to-day. As such, simulation games are key to raising awareness and catalyzing change. Some creators have begun to take on the gut-wrenching task of creating poverty-based simulation games meant to simulate the experience of living in extreme poverty.

SPENT

“It’s just stuff. Until you don’t have it.” The ominous slogan on the beginning page of SPENT perfectly encapsulates the accidental ungratefulness that so many people who live comfortably feel. SPENT spotlights this luckiness for being able to go to a healthcare clinic or afford the rent by forcing players to experience extreme poverty. SPENT gives players $1,000 and 30 days to survive while making necessary purchases such as healthcare and rent. Although this sounds simple, it is anything but. Players must turn down concerts, miss bill deadlines and rely on friends for money. This sheds light on the physical and emotional toll that poverty has on people and how necessary donations are to their well-being.

This poverty-based game was a partnership project between McKinney Advertising Agencies and the Urban Ministries of Durham. SPENT has been played more than four million times in more than 218 countries. At the end of the game, a pop-up reminds players that the hardships they faced in the game are a reality for millions, prompting them to donate through the site. In its first 10 months, SPENT raised $45,000 from 25,000 new donors.

Survive125

Survive125 is a poverty-based game centered around an impoverished woman, Divya Patel, who lives in India with her four children and a daily salary of $1.25. Players control her life by making impossible decisions such as, “Should you send your teenage daughter to work at a factory (whose potential employer might be a sex trafficker) in order to earn more money?” or, “Should you pull your son out of school every three days in order to get the nearest clean water, which is four hours away?”

Millions of people living in extreme poverty face these questions every day. Each time players answer a question, they lose or gain money and points. The goal is to survive 30 days without running out of money or points. Live 58, a nonprofit organization working to end global poverty, developed this simulation. Live 58 is comprised of 10 charities that work to end global poverty by raising awareness through projects such as the game Survive125. While Survive125 doesn’t have a donation component or statistics, it is making an impact by raising awareness and giving people the opportunity to walk a mile in Divya Patel’s shoes.

This War of Mine

This War of Mine may be a war game, but it starkly differs from its counterparts in one main aspect: the perspective. While most war games such as Call of Duty focus on a heavily militant and violent storyline from the point of view of a soldier, This War of Mine revolves around impoverished civilians in war-torn countries fighting to survive. This poverty-based game simulates an all too common situation in which war impacts innocent children and citizens. Characters search for food, shelter, medical help and safety from bombs, introducing a new angle not seen in war games.

Another interesting take in this game is the idea of mood as a surviving factor; if a character becomes depressed, their work slows, and they suffer negative effects. This factor of depression is prominent in stressful environments such as in a country impacted by war but is often overlooked in mental health care.

Along with raising awareness, the creators of the game, 11 Bit Studios, partnered with War Child, a British organization that helps children in areas of conflict, to raise donations. Through this partnership, they created downloadable content by utilizing the art of graffiti artists who created war-themed artwork. All of the proceeds from the third of these poverty-based simulation games went directly to War Child, ultimately adding up to $500,000 as of 2018. The donation went toward war-torn countries, including Afghanistan, Iraq and Yemen. The proceeds support different projects, notably temporary learning centers, a child helpline and a division of War Child that works specifically with gamers.

Fighting to End Extreme Poverty

In a world where technology replaces human connection, games that remind people of empathy can bridge the gap created by a technological world. New methods, like poverty-based simulation games, appeal to large demographics and rekindle the spirit of generosity in a unique way.

– Mariam Abaza
Photo: Flickr

Vocational education centers in Afghanistan
After spending nearly 20 years in Afghanistan, the U.S. is withdrawing from the conflict with Taliban insurgents by August 31, 2021. The U.S. withdrawal is leaving the Afghan people and government susceptible to a Taliban takeover or all-out civil war, which could lead to the souring of Afghan-American relations. Perhaps U.S. support of new and improved vocational education centers in Afghanistan could help provide Afghans with the skills to repair the infrastructure that war has ravaged and maintain positive relations between the two nations.

History of Afghan Vocational Training

Afghanistan established its first institutions for technical and vocational training in the 1950s, with the help of countries such as the U.S., USSR, Germany and the United Kingdom. The Afghan education system integrated technical education with the creation of the Faculty of Agriculture and Engineering in 1956 and Kabul Polytechnic in 1968. However, following the Soviet invasion and the rule of the Communist Regime in 1979, many male students were unable to pursue technical education. These students either entered the military, fought with Mujahideen freedom fighters or fled the country. Additionally, many intellectuals who others associated with vocational education centers, opposed the Soviets and either went to prison, died from violence or had to flee.

The Soviet invasion severely hampered Afghan economic development and destroyed much of Afghanistan’s infrastructure, including many technical education centers. However, Afghanistan did not rebuild the infrastructure that experienced destruction in the civil war after the Soviet Union left and since the U.S. entered Afghanistan in 2001. Additionally, much of Afghanistan’s basic infrastructure, including clean water, proper sanitation and electricity, has experienced damage from the country’s previous conflicts. More vocational education centers in Afghanistan may increase access to trained individuals who could remedy these infrastructure issues.

Benefits of Vocational Education Centers

As of 2020, the World Bank reported that Afghanistan has an unemployment rate of 11.7%. According to UNICEF, 3.7 million Afghan children do not attend school. The formation of additional vocational education centers in Afghanistan could create more employment and educational opportunities for the Afghan people. Additionally, it could potentially provide the centers’ graduates with the capability to repair the infrastructure of a country that war has ravaged. Providing Afghan citizens with more vocational education centers would aid in the alleviation of poverty throughout the developing country. As UNESCO stated in a report concerning the development of Afghanistan’s Vocational Education programs, “education is one of the keys to sustainable development, peace and stability.”

U.S. institutions and Afghan vocational education centers have worked together successfully in the past. Prior to the Soviet invasion, Afghanistan had a rapidly developing set of vocational education centers. The Faculty of Engineering at Kabul University received almost all of its training in the U.S. and used U.S. textbooks for their classes. From the school’s formation in 1956 until 1978, the school had a significant affiliation with U.S. institutions through USAID support. As of 1977, the admission rate of the Faculty of Engineering at Kabul University grew from 300 to 1,000 per annum.

Additional vocational education centers in Afghanistan prior to the Soviet invasion included:

  • Kabul Polytechnic Institute
  • Kabul Mechanical School
  • Afghan Institute of Technology
  • Kandahar Mechanical School
  • Khost Mechanical School
  • Mazar-i-Sharifi Technicum
  • Kabul Technicum

The Soviets methodically dismembered these vocational education centers following the 1979 invasion. Soon, the communist ideology took precedence over all aspects of education. This lasted until the collapse of the communist government and the subsequent civil war in 1992. After that, all technical colleges and schools in Afghanistan underwent severe damage.

How USAID Assists With Development

The U.S. has been helping with the development of Afghanistan’s vocational education centers more recently as well through the Afghanistan Workforce Development Program (AWDP). USAID conceived the program in 2012 and sought to expand employment and wages in Afghanistan. It did this by increasing the employability of Afghan citizens in areas where skilled labor was necessary. This task reached completion through a four-step process. Firstly, a “labor market demand assessment” occurred to identify the skills in demand by the Afghan private sector. Following this assessment, USAID guided the curricula of the Afghan training providers to meet the demand of the private sector. After establishing the curriculum, USAID provided subsidies to help local training centers educate trainees in lacking areas. Finally, USAID provided pre-employment, job placement and follow-up services to ensure that those who completed training programs found work.

Positive Results

The AWDP was effective in many ways. As of 2018, 48,873 Afghans, 36% of them women, received training in competency-based technical and business management skills. Additionally, 28,790 participants of the program obtained assistance in finding work as a result of the AWDP. To ensure progress following the program’s completion, USAID also allowed private institutes to open career counseling centers. These five institutes trained 1,758 university graduates and landed 807 trainees jobs as of 2019. Furthermore, the program provided Master Training of Trainers (MToT) training to 1,401 master trainers attending institutes of higher learning. About 1,060 of those trainees earned jobs relevant to their expertise or received a promotion at their current jobs.

Since the U.S. military is withdrawing from Afghanistan in 2021, it may be beneficial for the U.S. government to support vocational education centers in Afghanistan further. Continuing to provide resources and increase funding may help maintain positive relations between the U.S. and Afghanistan. Furthermore, new or improved vocational education centers in Afghanistan would increase employment opportunities and empower more Afghans with the ability to repair infrastructure and further develop the state.

– Wais Wood
Photo: Wikimedia Commons

E-Commerce Connecting Afghan Women Entrepreneurs to the Global MarketIn 2020, 47.3% of Afghanistan’s population lived below the national poverty line. Poverty in the country increased sharply over the last decade due to a stalled economy and the rise of Taliban insurgency. It left almost 90% of Afghans struggling to live and unable to support their families with their current income. This combined effect of stagnating economic growth and deteriorating security resulted in poverty hitting record-breaking heights. The high poverty rate is especially dire for Afghan women. However, e-commerce is providing Afghan women entrepreneurs the opportunity to join the global market and push their communities out of poverty.

History of Female Entrepreneurs in Afghanistan

Women suffered deeply during Afghanistan’s almost 40-year war. They ferociously and tirelessly fought for gender equality. During the Taliban regime from 1906 to 2001, women were denied access to basic rights such as education, employment, freedom of movement and healthcare. Essentially, women were either invisible in public life or subjected to continuous violence. After 2001, female activists achieved significant legislative progress. However, the patriarchal structures, religious fundamentalism, the Taliban’s remaining rhetoric and the all-prevailing insecurity of the nation still shape the country and hinder the progress toward equality.

The Successes of Online Commerce

Despite poverty, corruption and political instability, Afghan women all over the country found a way to break away from their conservative society through digital advancements. One of the ways women entered into the world of business was through the Afghan e-commerce site Click.af. Founded in 2016 by Masiullah Stanikzai, Click.af provides Afghans access to a domestic online market. The site started shipping globally last year. The main reason behind the expansion was to connect local designers and artisans to a larger base of consumers around the world. It also promoted Afghan-made products. When sellers register on Click.af, they can find technology, tools and infrastructure to help them grow and succeed. The elements include customer management, marketing and sales tools to manage consumers while showing their presence online and boost sales.

Real Stories of Female-run Businesses

Click.af inspires young women to be entrepreneurs. Currently, the e-commerce platform has enabled 45 Afghan women entrepreneurs to launch their own small businesses. One of these women is 25-year-old Maryam Yousufi, who launched the fashion line called Machum. Yousufi’s brand focuses on designing clothes that fuse Western style with traditional Afghan designs. Yousufi’s dream was to see her products reach global markets. She believes online platforms can give others a chance to try entrepreneurship and overcome conservative attitudes toward women. Through Click.af she was able to receive a credit to start a business.

Women entrepreneurs, especially those in the sector of social entrepreneurship, often disrupt patterns of gender inequality. They reshape dominant expectations, norms and stigmas. According to the World Economic Forum, Yousufi couldn’t even dare to believe that one day she would be able to sew clothes. Yousufi is now designing and selling clothes. According to Yousufi, the opportunity she found through e-commerce allowed her to make decisions in a country where others usually made decisions for her. Click.af is about selling and connecting, but it also shows Afghan women entrepreneurs that they have the right to choose a path for themselves.

Advances for Women Entrepreneurs

E-commerce is a powerful tool that is capable of bringing great benefits to female entrepreneurs. It challenges the old barriers of geographic isolation and restricted access to information and financing. Thanks to the expansion of e-commerce, people in Afghanistan today can shop with full information. They now have the knowledge of the pros and cons of the products instead of relying on word-to-mouth. E-commerce platforms, including Click.af, have also made it possible for shops to open 24/7. This resulted in a meaningful increase in sales for local sellers. More importantly, e-commerce is a necessity in Afghanistan since COVID-19 reached the country and mobility was consequently limited. During the lockdown, while most physical stores and public companies closed, online retailers were able to operate without violating social distance regulations.

Looking Forward

Although e-commerce ventures in Afghanistan still struggle to flourish due to issues such as security issues, capital investments and online payments, there is no doubt that online shopping will exponentially increase its presence in the next few years. Platforms similar to Click.af provide an important opportunity for Afghanistan’s war-torn economy, and more specifically, it demonstrates how empowering female social entrepreneurs is key for the country’s economic recovery. Click.af has been able to reframe the definition of success in a more inclusive manner, which includes and celebrates Afghan women who, against all odds, are taking a chance and jumping into entrepreneurship.

– Alejandra del Carmen Jimeno

Photo: Flickr 

The Impact of COVID-19 on Poverty in Afghanistan
Since the first confirmed case of COVID-19 in Afghanistan in February 2020, the total number of confirmed cases rose to 93,288, with deaths reaching a toll of 4,871 on July 1, 2021. Low government capacity and limited public health resources have hampered Afghanistan’s ability to contain the virus, amounting to only 0.9% of the population becoming fully vaccinated. The impact of COVID-19 on poverty in Afghanistan has been a domino effect across the country as many have fallen below the poverty line.

COVID-19 and Afghanistan

As COVID-19 continues to spread, Afghan citizens grapple with increased instability in the form of Taliban attacks on national security. The reduction of U.S. troops and decreased NATO assistance resulted in a 29% increase in civilian casualties and heightened corruption.

One of the most extreme effects of the pandemic is the impact of COVID-19 on poverty in Afghanistan. In 2020, the economy contracted by 1.9%, and poverty levels rose from 41.6% to 45.5%, with more than half of the population living under the poverty line. These higher levels correspond with a significant rise in food insecurity, as suppliers raised prices in response to trade restrictions. However, the World Bank and USAID initiatives promise enhanced development of humanitarian aid efforts for Afghan citizens.

The Domino Effect: How Poverty Affects Food Insecurity

Food insecurity is part of a domino effect. As COVID-19 in Afghanistan continues to spread throughout, poverty levels climb as more civilians fall into unemployment, resulting in them being unable to purchase sufficient amounts of food because of a rise in prices.

According to the office of the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction (SIGAR), the combination of COVID-19 and rising urban poverty levels are resulting in 16.9 million Afghans facing crisis and emergency levels of food insecurity. Of these 16.9 million, 5.5 million are experiencing emergency levels of food insecurity, severely threatening their health.

The surge and impact of COVID-19 on poverty in Afghanistan, along with food insecurity, is partly due to the early closing of borders. In March 2020, one of Afghanistan’s primary food import and export sources––Pakistan––closed its routes to and from suppliers to prevent the spread of COVID-19, resulting in a food shortage.

Although borders opened again in July 2020, the initial closing proved to be disruptive. Nearly half of the children below 5 years old will face acute malnutrition by the end of 2021. To put food on their tables and fund medical treatment, several Afghan civilians resorted to selling their organs illegally. These combined infrastructure and economic pressures outline a need for aid to Afghanistan.

Relief Efforts

To combat the impact of COVID-19 on poverty in Afghanistan, various organizations implemented insecurity-reduction measures. In July 2020, the United States government designated more than $36.7 million to support COVID-19 relief efforts in Afghanistan through USAID. The United States allocated these funds primarily toward refugee assistance, health and disaster assistance and support for the Afghan government. This contribution proved helpful, as Afghanistan’s domestic revenues increased by 1.4% in the first quarter of 2021.

Additionally, the World Bank approved and issued a grant of $97.50 million in February 2021 to support Afghan civilians suffering the effects of droughts and COVID-19. By extension, a portion of this sum will go toward improving nutritional and food insecurity, which worsened as a result of widespread droughts and disease. This grant will also finance the Early Warning, Early Finance and Early Action Project (ENETAWF). The project aims to aid approximately 2.2 million impoverished Afghans and 78 districts struggling with poverty, drought and food insecurity.

Individuals in and outside of the United States can also support COVID-19 humanitarian aid efforts in Afghanistan by supporting Afghan businesses. Greater demand for goods will result in the creation of companies and jobs and the economy’s growth, so more funds go toward alleviating the impact of COVID-19 on poverty in Afghanistan.

– Riya Sharma
Photo: Flickr

Tuberculosis in AfghanistanEvery year in Afghanistan, more than 60,000 citizens contract tuberculosis. A bacteria called mycobacterium tuberculosis causes the disease and spreads from one infected person to another through the air. Individuals recover from tuberculosis with antibiotics; however, some people struggle to recover with regular medicine. Multi-drug resistant tuberculosis (MDR-TB) occurs when individuals develop resistance to the antibiotics isoniazid and rifampicin. The United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), Medecins San Frontieres (MSF) and the Oriental Consultants Global Co., Ltd. (OC Global) work toward diagnosing, treating and improving tuberculosis in Afghanistan.

Medecins San Frontieres

MSF came to Afghanistan in 1980 and strives to serve individuals with critical medical conditions, children and pregnant women. More specifically, MSF started its MDR-TB program in 2017 to improve the quality of life of individuals with MDR-TB. Since the program’s inception, MSF identified over 40 patients with multi-drug resistant tuberculosis in Afghanistan and many of them received treatment that lasted nine months, as opposed to the standard 20 months. The short treatment time helped eliminate the negative symptoms the patients endured with regular treatment. During their treatment, MDR-TB patients received one of the two antibiotics called bedaquiline and delamanid.

Some patients reside at the association’s clinic in Kandahar to receive antibiotics every day. During their stay, individuals affected with MDR-TB consume nutritious food to help them recover faster. Also, the patients receive counseling and learn how to stop the transmission of tuberculosis to their loved ones.

United Nations Development Programme

The Government of Afghanistan provides universal healthcare to all its citizens. However, many Afghani citizens with MDR-TB do not receive treatment due to the inability to travel to medical centers in the city. The United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) noticed the struggle that individuals endured to get medical care and constructed four treatment centers in Kabul, Nangarhar, Herat and Balkh. The UNDP came to Afghanistan over half a century ago and strives to get rid of destitution, establish systemic change and teach citizens to be adaptable. More specifically, UNDP works towards providing better medical treatment for citizens affected with MDR-TB.

With the help of donations from the Global Fund, each treatment center bought over 20 beds and built enough space to manage 200 patients. Next, over 1,000 health care workers learned how to better identify and manage the disease. Lastly, programs teach Afghani citizens about the disease to decrease judgment towards MDR-TB patients.

Oriental Consultants Global Co., Ltd.

OC Global began helping Afghanistan in 2009 and aims to construct innovative projects all over the world. In Afghanistan, the corporation helped build a new hospital in Kabul that aims to reduce the number of MDR-TB cases.

Inside the hospital, a laboratory allows medical professionals to draw blood from patients to diagnose them more efficiently and swiftly. Next, the corporation bought all the necessary equipment needed to provide better medical treatment. Lastly, with the data collected from the patients, the hospital learns more about the disease and spreads this knowledge to others.

Looking Forward

All in all, MSF, UNDP and OC Global assist in lowering the cases of multi-drug resistant tuberculosis in Afghanistan. These organizations strive to provide easy access to medical care, better quality treatment and a quick diagnosis. As more citizens become aware of the services provided by these three entities, complete management of MDR-TB appears achievable.

– Samantha Rodriguez-Silva
Photo: Flickr

Social Change for AfghanistanWar-torn and poverty-stricken, people of the developed world seldom think of Afghanistan as a place where beauty and art bloom. But, in the streets of Kabul, Afghanistan, a movement is growing. Contemporary street artists in Kabul use the ruins of blasted city walls and bombed-out buildings as their canvas, slowly transforming the city from the shell of a warzone to an open-air art gallery. However, the goal of this gallery is not simply beautifying the city’s rubble-strewn streets but actually inciting social change for Afghanistan.

Conflict in Afghanistan

Afghanistan has remained in a state of almost constant conflict since 1978. The internal conflict became global news as other countries, most notably Russia and the United States, involved themselves by supporting various parties and factions. Social scientists predict that thousands of Afghani civilians died as a result of civil unrest thus far.

Since the Taliban, a violent extremist group, was forced out of their occupation of Kabul, many families who fled to seek asylum in other countries are returning. Unfortunately, just re-established as a republic, the capital city did not have the infrastructure to support the influx of impoverished and uneducated ex-refugees. The refugees who fled from Afghanistan under Taliban rule experienced widespread discrimination and restricted access to education and fair wages. Now one of the fastest-growing cities in the world, Kabul is home to almost six million civilians and crime and poverty are rampant.

Social Change Through Art

Decades of war destroyed much of the literature and art in Afghanistan, once a culture-rich place. But, in this tragedy lies an opportunity to bring the historically male and upper-class art world into a more inclusive space.

Street artist groups are popping up in Kabul, using colorful murals to send political messages about social change for Afghanistan. One such group calls itself the ArtLords. The organization consists of volunteers and artists seeking a future for their battered homeland. The ArtLords believe that while there are many things it cannot control, it can begin to alter the country’s narrative and express the people’s desire for peace. By visually bringing social issues such as women’s empowerment, terrorism and corruption to a public space where people cannot ignore them, artists hope to change the future of Afghanistan.

Young people who grew up watching the horrors of war right outside their doorsteps make almost all of Kabul’s street art. After seeing the effects of extreme poverty, constant war and restricted rights, it is not surprising that many seek an outlet for their voices.

These artists risk arrest and even murder to spread their messages of hope and activism to the people of the city. Through art, both men and women are able to speak out against the violence and tyranny Afghans endure. Street art in particular allows messages to reach a massive and diverse audience, ensuring that people from all corners of society are able to see and enjoy, be inspired or be incensed.

Female Artist Shamsia Hassani

Probably the most famous name in Afghanistan’s art world right now is Shamsia Hassani. The first female street artist known in the country, she is making history with her art. Growing up in Iran to Afghan immigrants, Hassani was labeled a “foreign national” in school and experienced many roadblocks to her education due to a preponderance of discriminatory laws against Afghan refugees. In 2015, her family decided the situation in Afghanistan was stable enough to return home. Never having been there, Hassani was hesitant about the change, but once they had settled in Kabul, Hassani felt she finally understood the meaning of home. No longer a foreign national, she was free to pursue a fine arts degree at Kabul University, where she now lectures. Although the city was still in ruins, Hassani declares “even if it was ruins, it was my ruins.”

Her street art style developed over a few years. She describes its accessibility to everyone draws her to the medium, although it puts her in danger every time she creates a piece. Hassani’s art does not fight against the wearing of hijabs or other forms of cover. Instead, she focuses on the need for women to have access to education and careers. She states that if women did not require hijabs but were still unable to go to school or get a paying job, it would not be true freedom or real progress.

Looking Forward

There is deep symbolism to Hassani’s signature art character, the woman with closed eyes. The character conveys sadness and pain, the desire to look away from the destruction of war and the struggle for women, in particular. But, the image also inspires joy through Hassani’s use of bright colors, the inclusion of musical instruments and the simple pleasure of seeing a crumbling wall transformed by a beautiful work of art.

Hassani is confident that art can bring about social change in Afghanistan. Like the ArtLords and many others who use art as a form of activism, Hassani is part of a generation who has never known peace. They spent their entire lives in wartime and can only dream of peace in Afghanistan. Until then, they will continue to illustrate a vision of a future in which there is peace, equality, justice and unity.

– Kari Millstein
Photo: Flickr

the drought in AfghanistanSince the 20th century, Afghanistan, an arid country in the Middle East, has experienced repeated droughts. The below-average rainfalls in 2021 may be an indication of another impending drought. The droughts have impacted food security in Afghanistan, leaving many Afghans struggling to acquire food. However, the Afghan government and aid groups are stepping in with assistance in preparation for an upcoming drought in Afghanistan.

Drought in Afghanistan

A majority of the precipitation used to water fields and crops in Afghanistan comes from snow, ice and glaciers up in the mountains. This water is funneled down through either canals or underground irrigation systems set in place. The Hindu Kush mountains provide roughly 80% of Afghanistan’s water supply. The last two decades have seen two droughts a decade. However, all previous decades typically saw only one drought in a cycle of three to five years. The most recent drought in Afghanistan in 2018 caused around 250,000 people to migrate elsewhere.

Furthermore, the drought left farmers unable to reap crops from dry land and herders began selling off livestock for bare minimum prices. The massive displacement of people stems from a lack of assistance from the government and aid groups. The 2018 drought impacted 22 out of 34 Afghanistan provinces and led to 13.5 million people facing heightened levels of food insecurity. The Afghan government and aid groups were slow to respond to the last drought but now assert that they are better prepared for the impending drought.

The Current Situation

According to Reliefweb, close to 11 million people in Afghanistan are currently experiencing soaring levels of acute food insecurity due to COVID-19, conflict throughout the country, escalating food costs and high levels of unemployment. Due to the drought, wheat production is suffering and causing the economy to become even more unstable. Effects of the COVID-19 pandemic already heightened issues within the economy and farmers and herdsmen are driven into a cyclical pattern of loans and debt if the drought in Afghanistan causes crops to fail, leading to significant instability.

Humanitarian Aid in Response to Droughts

The country saw little to no aid in the 2018 drought, but some of the aid received did prove valuable. In Afghanistan’s Badghis Province, aid came in the form of basic water pumps and solar-powered irrigation systems to prevent families from being forced to abandon their homes. The New Humanitarian visited this village in 2018 and reported that the land was green and no families had left. In essence, “a safe source of drinking water was enough to keep people home.”

The Food and Agriculture Organization put together a drought risk management strategy that was released in 2020 and manages the risk of drought in Afghanistan until 2030. The plan is extensive and could help millions of people, but it is quite costly. Furthermore, it may require more than the estimated 10 years to complete. In the meantime, the help of humanitarian groups garnered a $390 million drought contingency plan. This plan includes food and monetary aid as well as initiatives to “support livestock and rehabilitate water wells.”

Droughts in Afghanistan have been a devastating issue since the mid-1900s and continue to this day. With the severity of the 2018 drought, the government of Afghanistan and other humanitarian aids are working to be better prepared for impending droughts. Slowly, the country will be able to pull itself out of increasingly severe food insecurity levels, improving the lives of people in Afghanistan.

Allie Degner
Photo: Flickr

Bank Access in Afghanistan
Bank access in Afghanistan is a step toward financial inclusion for the rural poor. According to Jan Chipchase and Panthea Lee’s research on the nascent mobile-phone-based financial services that were available in Afghanistan in 2010, theft and bribery plagued the banking system. Person-to-person transfers were not widely available until the creation of the M-Paisa mobile money transfer service. Roshan launched the M-Paisa mobile money transfer banking in Kabul in 2010 when 83 bank accounts existed per 1,000. Through this service and other programs, improvements in the availability and quality of bank access in Afghanistan have been a major contributor towards reducing income inequality and poverty.

Gradually Improving Access

With limited credit available, Afghans were hiding money at home under the mattress, and forms of money ranged anywhere from banknotes to gold jewelry to livestock. The rural poor did not trust the banking system, and the use of the word “Paisa” helped to make the service seem more trustworthy, although it posed access challenges for the rural poor. By 2014, banking access improved for 40% of Afghanistan’s population, with a 7% increase in the availability of financial services. However, access to credit was still out of reach to the rural poor as most of the banks were located in Kabul province, an urban area. This made it more difficult for rural people to get loans to start businesses.

In 2015, a project to bolster bank access in Afghanistan made a step toward financial inclusion for the rural poor with the start of the Afghan Rural Enterprise Development. The project sought to integrate rural agricultural communities into the economy. Employment opportunities emerged in poor rural villages by the creation of savings and enterprise groups along with loan associations. According to The World Bank, the rural poor received assistance in building their own businesses, which increased the value of trade, ensuring new opportunities. This created access to credit through internal lending, which focused on small and medium-sized enterprises, or SMEs. This program was so important because it targeted people who traditionally could not access the banking system.

The Reason it Matter

As of November 2019, more data exists to support the successes of bank access in Afghanistan that The United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific published. The goal of the report was to assess the status of financial inclusion for all adults in Afghanistan age 15 to 64 including women. Financial inclusion in a “broad range of quality and affordable financial services including but not limited to account, payment, saving, and credit provided by formal financial institutions in a fair, transparent, and sustainable manner.” According to this presentation, 15,000 bank accounts exist per 100,000 adults, and in 2021, projections determined them to be 20,000. Expectations have determined that mobile money accounts and accounts that women hold will also grow during the same period. Although the success of banking the unbanked in Afghanistan has been slow, steady progress has occurred toward financial inclusion of the rural poor and women.

It is clear that bank access in Afghanistan and credit is allowing the rural poor in Afghanistan to do better financially. However, according to the World Bank Afghanistan, “the COVID-19 crisis will have a serious and sustained impact on Afghanistan’s economy. Recovery is expected to take several years, with new investment constrained by political uncertainties, continued insecurity, and questions around ongoing international support.” It is important to maintain international support for improving banking access to preserve opportunities for Afghanistan’s rural population.

Kathleen Shepherd-Segura
Photo: Flickr