Nowruz Mubarak! Peace Education in Afghanistan.

Nowruz Mubarak! (Happy Persian New Year)

This past week was the Persian New Year. Nowruz literally meaning “a new day,” is an ancient international festival celebrating both the arrival of spring and the beginning of the New Year for those who celebrate it.  It brings with it the season of blossoming and renewal, happiness, celebration, traditions, and reminds us of our rich and vibrant culture. Afghans, Azeris, Georgians, Iraqis, Kazakhs, Kurds, Persians, Russians, Tajiks, Tatars, Uzbeks, and Ukrainians and other people of the West, Central Asia and the Caucasus celebrate Nowruz.

Today, numerous nations, peoples and tribes welcome it as an occasion for reaching out not only to family and friends, but to the less privileged in their midst – it is truly a day for all humanity. Being a part of the Afghan youth, I have a keen interest in the youth of those back home. It is the youth of a nation that will determine its future, I believe as a global community we should be invested in the lives of Afghani youths so to produce a better livelihood for the people in Afghanistan. The war in Afghanistan has had a negative effect on Afghan children, who have been exposed to extreme levels of violence and often see aggression as the primary means to resolve conflict. It should be in the best interest of the international community to improve the lives of children in Afghanistan, starting with equipping them with a proper education, especially peace education, to help them improve their livelihoods. Hence, I decided to write my blog of some of the organizations and projects I have heard about that promote peace education in Afghanistan and help those who are less fortunate.

Skateistan

Skateistan is a Kabul-based Afghan NGO, which is “non-political, independent, and inclusive of all ethnicities, religions and social backgrounds.”

Skateistan uses skateboarding, as a tool for empowerment in places skateboarding hasn’t existed before. It gives young people a voice and local people agency to shape projects according to their needs.

I first heard of Skateistan through social media. A friend had posted a video of Skateistan efforts in Afghanistan and it blew me away. It was an empowering video that showed how such a simple thing as skateboarding, which is so common to many youths around where I live, brought a smile to young girls and boys faces. It gave them an escape from the chaos that was occurring around them, and I was so happy to see these children actually be kids for just a few minutes.

Skateboarding in Afghanistan

Skateistan started in 2007 when two Australian skateboarders dropped their boards in Kabul. Soon enough, they were surrounded by the eager faces of children of all ages who wanted to learn how to skate. Stretching out the three boards they had brought with them, they developed a small skate school.

A group of young Afghans around the age of 18 to 22 became naturals at skateboarding, sharing the three boards and making it a popular sport amongst the youth. The founders’ success with their first students prompted them to think bigger. They brought more boards back to Kabul and established an indoor skateboarding venue allowing them to teach many more youth, and also be able to provide older girls with a private facility to continue skateboarding. On October 29, 2009, Skateistan completed construction of an all-inclusive skate park and educational facility on 5428 square meters of land donated by the Afghan National Olympic Committee.

Skateistan has emerged as Afghanistan’s first skateboarding school, and is dedicated to teaching both male and female students. It aims to build indoor and outdoor skateboarding facilities in which youth can come together to skateboard: “here, they forge bonds that transcend social barriers. Here, they’re enabled to affect change on issues that are important to them.”

How is this important to peace education?

This is important to peace education because it teaches students a new way of interacting with one another, teaching one another, and trusting one another. It gives them a safe haven in a land that has been tormented for years. It allows them to focus their energy on something positive and  something that makes them happy.

The Afghan Education Peace Foundation

The Afghan Education Peace Foundation, (AEPF) a New York City based NGO, seeks to strengthen the security of the United States by rebuilding the economic and social infrastructure of Afghanistan. AEPF sponsors the education of Afghanistan’s best and brightest students in American high schools, community colleges and universities who will return to Afghanistan to contribute their new skills to the reconstruction. A stable and prosperous Afghanistan is key to American national security.

What Afghan Education Peace Foundation Plans to Envision in the coming years…

v Eliminating ideological extremism and acts of terrorism

v Reinforcing U.S. national security by ensuring the political, social and economic stability of Afghanistan and the region

v Equipping Afghan students with the skills they need to contribute to the reconstruction

v Creating the future business and political leaders of Afghanistan

v Promoting gender equality in education and the role of women in Afghanistan’s future

v Broadening the global view of Afghan students and dispelling myths about the West and Westerners

v Broadening American students’ perception of Afghanistan and its people

v Building, nurturing and enhancing cross cultural dialogue between the United States and Afghanistan

v Promoting Afghanistan’s economic prosperity, a higher quality of life, and greater connectedness with the global economy

Advancing Peace Education in Afghanistan

 The United State Institute of Peace (USIP) Grant Program has supported Help the Afghan Children (HTAC) to administer a peace education program at seven middle schools in Samangan Province in northern Afghanistan. The program has been able to educated a total of 2,800 male and female students, trained 315 teachers, and delivered a comprehensive community approach to peace education using performance metrics and paired comparison data to promote long-term impact and project sustainability.

The results of such an effort have been tremendous. The average number of observable conflicts, such as fighting, harassment, and bullying, between students has decreased from 3,457 per month to 345 per month, a 93 percent reduction. Additionally, the average number of observed potential conflicts resolved peacefully between students increased from 100 per month to 2,960 per month. Furthermore, the number of teachers observed consistently modeling peace education behaviors increased by 95 percent. While the immediate effects of training are evident in how children behave in school, the Institute is investing in behavioral change that improves the odds that Afghan youth will apply non-violent strategies to resolve conflicts over the longer term, ultimately contributing to a more peaceful society.

Peace education has wide-ranging impacts across the local community, particularly on the parents of participating students. Seven hundred and fifty parents attended a training session to learn the tenets of peace education and how to implement these values at home, providing students a comprehensive learning environment and a community support structure.

To address long-term sustainability, HTAC also began developing a Peace Education Model that identifies key characteristics and features for the expansion of peace education across Afghanistan. HTAC’s important and diligent work has earned them the support of the Afghanistan Ministry of Education, which will become an integral partner in future endeavors.

Resources:

Skateistan: http://skateistan.org/

The Afghan Education Peace Foundation: http://www.educationandpeace.org/

Peace Education in Afghanistan: http://www.usip.org/publications/advancing-peace-education-in-afghanistan

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