peace and stability in Afghanistan
Afghanistan is one of the poorest countries in the world. The government estimates that 43.6 percent of the country’s total population in rural areas lives below the national poverty line. According to the latest United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs data, about 2.9 million Afghans are internally displaced, 22 percent of whom fled their homes in 2016 alone.

Despite improvements over the past decade, Afghanistan, maintains the lowest educational outcomes in South Asia. The country continues to lag in average educational attainment compared to other low-income and fragile countries. Moreover, girls fall further behind in educational outcomes. As of 2013-14, only 20.3 percent of Afghan women above the age of 15 are literate. The major cause of poverty and the lag in primary education in Afghanistan is the ongoing conflict that has lasted for over three decades.

Instability and Conflicts in Afghanistan

Since the Soviet invasion in 1979, the country endured many conflicts that stunted its ability to prosper and improve. For the past 20 years, the Taliban government became the leading cause of poverty and the prevention of peace and stability for Afghanistan.

After the refusal to turn in terrorist leader Osama Bin Laden to the United States after the 9/11 attacks, the extremist military organization joined countless conflicts with the U.S. whilst refusing any ethical attempts toward peace. Nevertheless, many provided aid to the Afghan people and looked for a peaceful solution.

At the North Atlantic Treaty Organization Summit and at the donors’ conference on Afghanistan in Brussels in 2016, Afghanistan received reassurances of continued international assistance for its security and development needs. The United Nations is part of this group of leaders as it deployed a team in the ground called the United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA). UNAMA, which Afghanistan leads, promotes security, stability and development in Afghanistan. It looks forward to peace negotiations between the Afghan Government and armed opposition groups.

USAID is another organization that works toward peace and stability for Afghanistan. The agency provided food security by implementing an agriculture program that increased agricultural productivity and rural employment. It also provided access to a healthier lifestyle for Afghans by getting health care professionals and introducing people to healthier habits. The ability to build roads, schools and clinics is a huge step toward peace and stability for Afghanistan. USAID is helping make Afghanistan a better place for younger generations.

The Afghan Institute of Learning

The Afghan Institute of Learning (AIL) shares in USAID’s goals and made great strides toward a sustainable future for children. The AIL helps local people set up centers of learning and provides high-quality teacher training and administrative skills training so these centers can thrive. The centers give the Afghan people the opportunity to have literacy skills. Afghanistan has one of the lowest literacy rates in the world, currently estimated at 31 percent of the adult population. AIL addresses this issue by giving children education from preschool and having discussions with adults about current world problems. Children who study at AIL’s learning centers joined government schools at age-appropriate grade levels. Gaining literacy is life-changing for adults and children who often go on to study other subjects increasing their capacity to support themselves.

Many other organizations are addressing the increasing poverty rates and helping toward achieving peace and stability for Afghanistan. As the Afghan government and other international governments involve themselves, there is hope for Afghan people.

Andrea Viera
Photo: Flickr

Agriculture in Nepal

The Federal Democratic Republic of Nepal has an estimated population of more than 26 million and is known for its mountain peaks that include the legendary Mount Everest. Agriculture in Nepal is a major aspect of the economy, employing more than 66 percent of the workforce. Because so many of Nepal’s citizens rely on agriculture for their income, many economic development initiatives in Nepal are focused on efficient, sustainable agricultural practices. Here are four organizations supporting agriculture in Nepal:

4 Organizations Supporting Agriculture in Nepal

  1. Educate the Children – Founded by Pamela Carson in 1989, Educate the Children Nepal (ETC) focuses on three main goals: children’s education, women’s empowerment and agricultural development. ETC’s agricultural programs assist rural Nepali women in furthering their knowledge of sustainable practices. Women learn methods for composting and for making pesticides. ETC also provides tools and seeds so that women can expand their crops. Importantly, the organization tailors its methods to different regions, emphasizing locally viable crops. In the first half of 2019, ETC reports that 31 rural women were able to increase their household income by 10 to 25 percent by growing and selling mushrooms.
  2. FORWARD Nepal – The Forum for Rural Welfare and Agricultural Reform for Development (FORWARD) has been working to aid Nepalis living in poverty since 1997. Committed to promoting economic equality, FORWARD provides vocational training for workers in several industries, including forestry, fishing and agriculture. Its website emphasizes an intent to “utilize and promote local knowledge and skills” and to develop community organizations and resource centers. Some of FORWARD’s agricultural programs have included distributing seeds to earthquake victims, training people to cultivate dry riverbeds and promoting climate-smart rice-lentil cropping systems. In the fiscal year 2017-2018, FORWARD Nepal’s riverbed farming program reached 200 households and its rice-fallow crop program benefited 459. The same year, the organization ran a project focused on dairy production techniques, which reached an estimated 5,000 households.
  3. U.N. Women – The Rural Women’s Economic Empowerment (RWEE) Joint Programme is a collaboration between U.N. Women, the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization, the International Fund for Agricultural Development and the World Food Programme.  The RWEE program is focused on supporting rural women in seven countries, including Nepal. According to U.N. Women, the program supports 3,400 women. One RWEE project involved water access in the village of Paltuwa where water scarcity had resulted in women farmers devoting large portions of their day to carrying water to their farms from the river. As a consequence, crop yields were low and farmers struggled economically. A 2016 RWEE project resulted in the building of an irrigation system in Paltuwa, which has improved agricultural production. The RWEE program also employs women to work on construction projects related to agriculture. During the building of the Community Agriculture Extension Service Centre in Ranichuri, 130 women were employed.
  4. SADP-Nepal – Established in 2004, Sustainable Agriculture Development Program, Nepal (SADP-Nepal) is headquartered in Pokhara, Nepal. SADP-Nepal promotes sustainable agricultural practices, lobbies for organic agriculture and supports collaboration among farmers. The organization’s motto, “Happy Soil, Happy Life,” shows an emphasis on sustainable practices. Some of the SADP-Nepal’s projects include community farms, awareness-raising campaigns and disaster-relief programs. In the wake of the April 2015 earthquake, SADP-Nepal provided rice, lentils, noodles and tents to thirteen families affected by the earthquake. SADP-Nepal also promotes eco-tourism as a way to generate income for local farmers by providing organic food for visitors.

Final Thoughts

While many Nepalis struggle economically, the poverty rate has been decreasing in recent years, dropping from 25 percent in 2010 to 21 percent in 2018. With continued support for agricultural workers, hopefully, the economic situation in Nepal will continue to improve.

– Meredith Charney
Photo: Wikimedia

Technology to promote literacy

Papua New Guinea (PNG) is an independent state comprised of about 600 small islands, that also shares a land border with Indonesia. PNG uses technology to promote literacy in a number of ways. PNG broke off from Australia in 1975 but still receives substantial economic, geographical and educational gains from the country. However, the Australian government reports that in spite of their economic growth and middle-income country status (due to agricultural and mineral wealth), “PNG’s social indicators are among the worst in the Asia Pacific. Approximately 85 percent of PNG’s mainly rural population is poor and an estimated 18 percent of people are extremely poor.”

The World Bank details that PNG also faces a “vexing” situation regarding their remoteness and number of languages. Communities in PNG are very closed off from one another and land travel is strenuous. PNG has 563 airports and air travel has proven to be the common way to get from one place to another. At over 800 languages, PNG is recognized as “the most linguistically diverse country in the world.” As a result of these two factors, PNG’s education system faces a variety of challenges. PNG was ranked 153 on the Human Development Index in 2017, and its adult literacy rate was reported to be 63.4 percent in 2015. Australian Aid and the Voluntary Services Overseas (VSO) cooperated to produce The SMS Story research project, a way to use technology to promote literacy.

The goal of the SMS Story Research Project was to ascertain whether daily text message stories and lessons would improve the reading ability of children in grades 1 and 2 in Papua New Guinea. The text messages were sent to elementary school teachers in the Madang Province and Simbu Province using a free, open-source software program called Frontline SMS. The project was a controlled trial with two groups, one group of teachers received the message and the other did not. About 2500 students were evaluated before and after the trial. Using statistical testing, it was determined that the reading ability of the group who received text messages was higher than that of the group that did not.

It was found that the schools participating in the study had little to no reading books in the classroom and that students in groups without an SMS story were “twice as likely to be unable to read a single word of three sub-tests (decodable words, sight words and oral reading).” It seemed that many classrooms in PNG did not provide easy access to reading materials or proper reading lessons.

Amanda Watson, a researcher involved with the project stated that the SMS stories were helpful to the teachers as well. She says, “The teachers actually received almost like a reminder to teach, a bit of a motivator to keep teaching and they received that every single day and we think that really helped them to realize that they’re supposed to be teaching reading every single day, five days a week.” This suggests that before the trial, some of the teachers may not have promoted reading as much as they should have, either due to lack of access to materials or not realizing its importance.

Daniel A. Wagner, of the University of Pennsylvania and his colleagues, detail the importance of using technology to promote literacy in countries with minimal access to education or educational materials in their paper, “Mobiles for Literacy in Developing Countries: An Effectiveness Framework”. He underlines the importance of promoting literacy through information and communications technologies (ICTs) in today’s world where there are “more connected mobile devices than people” and provides several examples of organizations that are working towards increasing literacy through ICTs.

The Bridges to the Future Initiative (BFI) is run in South Africa by the Molteno Institute for Language and Literacy. They aim to “improve literacy through interactive, computer-based lessons” created by the University of Pennsylvania’s International Literacy Institute (ILI). They provide access to educational materials and issue students with “mother-tongue resources” in regions where computer sources or books are mostly in English. Comparably, Ustad Mobile is an application in Afghanistan that runs offline on phones. They center around instructing reading comprehension, listening, and numeracy. Teachers and students can download and share lessons; the app also includes exercises, videos and interactive quizzes in order to “mobilize education for all”.

BBC Janala is another project using technology to promote literacy in Bangladesh. It is a multi-platform service and can be accessed through TV, internet, print and mobile phones. BBC Janala concentrates on teaching English through three-minute audio lessons, quizzes, TV shows, newspapers, textbooks and CDs.

Illiteracy is an issue in Papua New Guinea; most likely due to the lack of reading materials and importance placed on literacy. However projects like, “The SMS Story” are all over the world and are working towards using technology to promote literacy one step at a time.

Jade Thompson
Photo: Flickr