A Look at UNICEF’s Work in Afghanistan
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Recently, Vidhya Ganesh, UNICEF Afghanistan’s Deputy Representative, visited UNICEF headquarters in New York. Jennifer Lee spoke with her about UNICEF’s work in Afghanistan.
What are UNICEF’s programming priorities in Afghanistan?
Routine immunization and polio eradication are a priority for UNICEF in Afghanistan. Afghanistan is now one of only three polio endemic countries in the world and the fight against polio has been declared a global health emergency.
Within child survival, we are placing a strong emphasis on strengthening the community dimension of emergency obstetric care, while also working to fight malnutrition through a multi-generational approach that focuses on young children, adolescent girls, and women of reproductive age.
Within education we are working hard to increase the enrolment and retention of girls in school; and in the area of child protection, we are working to expand justice for children beyond a legal concept to a broader vision of care and protection for girls and boys.
4–5 million children in Afghanistan are currently out of school, and out of those enrolled, only 38% are girls. What is UNICEF doing in regards to education, and in particular, girls’ education?
Absolutely, this is a major challenge. One of our main priorities in the area of education in Afghanistan is to increase the number of girls in school and to make sure they stay in school. Girls frequently drop out once they reach puberty, so much of our work focuses on adolescent girls.
Some of the challenges we face include the fact that there are often simply not enough schools in which to enroll all students, and not enough quality teachers to teach them, particularly female teachers. A key factor that encourages girls to stay in school past puberty is the provision of separate toilets for girls and boys.
While we work on tackling these challenges, we should also keep in mind that great strides have been made over the last decade in education. Ten years ago less than a million children in Afghanistan were going to school, and very few of them were girls. Today, more than 8.2 million children are going to school.
Given Afghanistan’s harsh climate and terrain, there are many hard-to-reach areas. How does UNICEF reach the most vulnerable and marginalized populations?
There are a number of areas that are difficult to access with our programs, both because of the harsh terrain, but also because of security concerns. However, we refuse to allow these to be excuses for not doing all we can to reach the most vulnerable and hard-to-reach women and children.
We are continuously developing innovative approaches to program delivery in the hardest to reach areas. For example, in Badakshan, the holistic Community Based Management of Acute Malnutrition (CMAM) program has been implemented through mobile clinics that reach children and mothers living in the most remote areas. The Community Based Schools (CBS) model of engaging local community members as teachers is another successful example where we have been able to bring education to the most marginalized girls and boys in remote areas of the country
What do you appreciate most about working with UNICEF?
The core mandate of UNICEF to support children is very close to my heart. I have always believed that investment in children is the best investment anybody can make…happy children make for a happy future.
The structure of UNICEF is unique. The core business of UNICEF is to deliver results at the country level to respond to local context and using local strategies. This gives us the flexibility to be dynamic, innovative, bold and responsive.