Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Supporting new opportunities in Afghanistan

Suzanne Loughlin is an NZAID Multilateral Development Programme Manager. She is currently in Afghanistan, and writes about the development challenges and achievements there.

On Monday I attended openings for two training courses. The first is provided by the NZAID-funded Programme for Professional Development under leadership of Director, Marissa Espinneli. It is an eight-month course for graduates to help them enter the job market. Limited employment openings mean there are few opportunities to develop and so the course aims to fill this gap. It provides for basic skills in drafting reports, developing and managing budgets, communications training and so on. It also offers short-term placements to build practical experience. Marissa provided an overview of the programme and then invited the Provincial Governor, Dr Habibe Sarabi, to say a few words of inspiration. The NZ PRT Commander, Greg Elliott, and I also wished the students well not only for the course but for where it might take them.

The second event opened a training course for tourist guides and is part of the eco-tourism programme again funded by NZAID and implemented by Aga Khan Foundation. Baba Mouseni, head of the Provincial Council, spoke as did Governor Sarabi and others. The three-month training programme aims to ensure that guides are informed of the World Heritage Status of the Bamyan Valley, have an understanding of the history and archaeology of the region, and a more detailed understanding of nine sites for which brochures have been prepared and signboards under construction. Most of the course is being provided by Afghans.

I went back Tuesday to meet with the eco-tourism programme director, Amir Foladi, to catch up on what else the office had been doing. We looked at photos and he told me about a major event held back in March to celebrate Nowruz (New Year) – it’s the first time this festival has been held for some 30 years. Several thousand people attended the festival, which has both religious and secular components. There were skits that were not only fun but aimed to communicate messages about tourism and the need to care for the environment, musicians played traditional instruments and – another first – two young women sang accompanied by musicians on traditional instruments. I asked if this had caused any waves and if he had had any trouble arranging the programme. His answer provided a good example of what is commonly referred to as ‘ownership’. He involved as many community members and groups in the festival planning on the basis that if everyone is involved then all would ‘own’ the festival – both the accolades and the problems. He would not be left alone to deal with any friction should it arise. And it didn’t.

Another summer festival is currently being planned which will be held at the newly established national park at Bandi-Amir in July. I wish I could be there!

For more information on tourism opportunities in Bamyan - click here to read more.

Note: the photos have been taken from the Nowruz Festival in Bamyan.


Tuesday, May 05, 2009

On the ground in Afghanistan

Suzanne Loughlin is an NZAID Multilateral Development Programme Manager. She is currently in Afghanistan, and writes about the development challenges and achievements there.

The first days of this visit were spent getting into Kabul and meeting with partners in their Kabul headquarters. Some discussions focused on progress with implementing projects such as the UNIFEM work on establishing a Women’s Referral Centre in Bamyan, in collaboration with the Government of Afghanistan, to improve protection for women wanting to press charges or who have been accused of crimes and are in need of support. National partner Shuhada Organisation gave a presentation on outcomes of the Winter Teacher Training programme. Support to Shuhada is as much about providing opportunities for organisational development as it is for actual service delivery and the presentation showed significant progress.

One day only was scheduled for me in Kabul as the focus of NZAID’s work is in Bamyan and security is less of an issue there than it is in Kabul. I got to Bamyan mid-afternoon and went to the New Zealand Provincial Reconstruction Team (PRT) to meet with NZ Defence Force personnel and catch up on plans for New Zealand Foreign Minister Murray McCully’s visit and the dawn ANZAC day ceremony.

After a chilly but beautiful dawn ceremony and breakfast, the party set off to Shahr-e Golgola, or City of Screams, and climbed to the top. The views are fantastic with snow-capped mountains in the distance and women, men and children going about early morning tasks in the villages below. The city gets its name from the time when Genghis Khan came through to avenge the death of his son. A young woman within the city betrayed the local Hazara people by giving away the source of water to the citadel and the siege was soon broken. However, instead of being rewarded by Genghis Khan for her troubles she was killed along with everyone else in the citadel – she was no longer seen as being trustworthy.

We then proceeded to the Bamyan Hospital where NZAID and the NZ PRT have been working in support of the Aga Khan Health Services who manage the hospital. New Zealand funding has been used to build a maternity ward, laundry and a new kitchen, which the Minister opened. A new out-patients building is also under construction and should be finished by the end of the summer. Minister McCully commented on the fact the substantial amount of concrete in the building had all been done by a very small mixer and poured wheelbarrow by wheelbarrow.

The group also visited the children’s ward, where staff were dealing with an outbreak of pneumonia. Despite major progress with facilities the hospital still cannot cater to the needs of those who do manage to access health services and currently there are four to a bed – two mothers and two children – in the children’s ward. Staff also noted that they would not be able to cope without the mothers as they are the ones who do most of the care-giving.

After tea and cake we proceeded to Bamyan University. The most significant change here this year is that 118 young women are enrolled in their first year of tertiary study. This is a significant increase on the two that were here in 2006!

Suzanne Loughlin

25 April 2009

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