Enhancing Life in Kabul

Kabul’s Char Deh district is transforming from a problem neighbourhood to a place where people want to live, thanks to a project by the Aga Khan Trust for Culture financed by the German Federal Foreign Office through KfW. The partners prepared a comprehensive package for Char Deh that combines recreational opportunities, infrastructure and vocational training and education. In particular, the neighbourhood’s women are benefiting from the project.

Chihilsitoon Park is an oasis in the heart of the Afghan capital of Kabul. The lawns are well maintained and flowerbeds have been planted around water basins and fountains. There are sports facilities, newsstands and small restaurants. The 19th century Qasr-e Chihilsitoon Palace towers over the park, which covers an area of 12 hectares. Today, the palace and its former guesthouse offer state-of-the-art facilities for meetings, cultural events and conferences.

In this war-scarred city of 5 million people, such recreational spaces are few and far between. Until just a few years ago, Chihilsitoon Palace and Park were a sad sight. The building stood in ruins and the park was completely overgrown.

The conditions in the Char Deh district adjoining the park were also very poor. Char Deh is one of the many settlements in Kabul that were originally illegal. While the municipal administration tolerated the emergence of these neighbourhoods, it offered no support and did not provide them with the infrastructure they needed.

KfW Development Bank (KfW) and the Aga Khan Trust for Culture (AKTC) recognised the location’s potential, however. In close consultation with the administration and the residents, working on behalf of the German Federal Foreign Office (AA), the partners put together an urban development programme with the park as the centre.

The Qasr-e Chihilsitoon Palace was reconstructed and the grounds restored. The project included the adjacent Char Deh neighbourhood. Because the settlement evolved without planning, the first step involved taking inventory of the existing infrastructure and recording it in a geographic information system. Working with local people, the project partners then used this information as the starting point for expanding the infrastructure. Work included improving access to Char Deh via the main road, developing a sanitation system, installing street lighting and renovating the local mosque.

A major factor in the success of the urban development project was the integrated vocational education and training project. Between 2015 and 2018, more than 660 women and 460 men from Char Deh were trained in six-month courses. The training project is continuing. In the specially renovated Jangalak Vocational Training Centre, students can choose from eight vocational courses, including tailoring, embroidery, carpet weaving, joinery and gardening/landscaping. After completing their training, the graduates are supplied with basic equipment such as a sewing machine to help them get started as self-employed workers.

The project run by KfW and AKTC has improved living conditions for the 350,000 people living adjacent to Chihilsitoon Park and beyond. A safe, attractive and peaceful place has evolved in the heart of the busy Afghan metropolis. More than 25,000 citizens visit the park every month. Women, children and young people in particular now have the opportunity to take walks undisturbed and play outdoors. The park, as a small ‘green lung’, also improves Kabul’s air.

‘Before the park was renovated, it was a bad place, especially for young people. Now the area is green and safe and it’s a recreational space that’s also suitable for children,’ says Shaker Mohammad, 44, who lives near the park and is one of the graduates of the KfW and AKTC training programme. He participated in two landscaping and gardening courses. Shaker is now in charge of horticulture management at Chihilsitoon Park and is responsible for keeping the green areas in shape. As a child, Shaker had already done gardening on his father’s property. His years of experience provided him with a good foundation for his training as a professional gardener. ‘The training was very helpful for me,’ Shaker emphasises. ‘I can provide for my family and my children can go to school and their sports club. Like me, many of the residents have found work through the park, the training course and the projects associated with it. Life is good for them.’

Marzia Salimi Afshar, a 48-year-old professional tailor, agrees that the conditions in the vicinity of Chihilsitoon Park are improving. She works as a teacher at the Jangalak Vocational Training Centre. Marzia reports that she and her family benefit from the training centre, as do the many girls she teaches. ‘My salary is high enough for me to have been able to renovate my house and pay for my children’s university education. My daughters are working as teachers today. The project has improved my life – and I love my work.’

Marzia’s tailoring courses each take six months. The training is free and the young women attending the course have their expenses for travelling to school reimbursed. The Jangalak Vocational Training Centre offers the women a safe learning environment geared to their needs. The training centre is highly respected, not just by the women themselves, but also by patriarchs, local citizens in positions of responsibility, and mullahs, whose support is crucial for girls and women to be able to attend the training centre.

Marzia teaches 70 girls in each course. Despite the large class sizes, demand still exceeds the number of course slots available. She often has to turn away prospective pupils and keep a waiting list for the next course.

Most course participants are widows who urgently require paid work to feed themselves and their families. In the tailoring course, they learn to make children’s clothing along with blouses, dresses and coats. Afghan families often refuse to allow girls and women to work outside the home. Thanks to their training, however, the graduates can also work from home and still earn money. ‘I estimate that 80 per cent of my pupils work at home after they have graduated,’ says Marzia. However, the Jangalak Vocational Training Centre also offers a job placement programme and maintains contacts to businesses throughout Kabul.

Marzia is especially proud when former pupils invest their earnings to acquire additional qualifications or when they find jobs as teachers themselves. The income opportunities also help boost the women’s self-confidence, she says: ‘Some women clearly state that they want good job training so that later on, they do not have to ask anyone for money. Some of my pupils now earn more than I do, although they come from very difficult conditions. For me as a trainer, seeing them succeed is very reassuring.’

Publication: 12/2019
Programme: Revitalisation of the Chihilsitoon Park in Kabul
Commissioning by: German Federal Foreign Office (AA)
Implementing organisations: Aga Khan Trust for Culture, KfW Development Bank
Provinces: Kabul
Programme objective: To improve recreational amenities for the neighbouring population by installing gardens and sportsgrounds and providing spaces for cultural events in the rehabilitated Chihilsitoon Park in Kabul
‘Before the park was renovated, it was a bad place, especially for young people. Now the area is green and safe and it’s a recreational space that’s also suitable for children’
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