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Germany Paves the Way for Education in Afghanistan

While the army takes on an extended military mandate in Afghanistan, Germany keeps up a quiet but comprehensive educational mission in the ravaged country.


The Tahey Maskan school in Kabul is just one of many educational projects financed by Germany.

In an interview with Associated Press, Wilfried Grolig, Head of Culture and Education at the German foreign ministry, described Germany's efforts to promote education in Afghanistan as pioneering, saying that Germany is "by far the most active nation in terms of Afghanistan's higher education."

"The gentle power of culture"

Germany's commitment reflects a long history of positive German-Afghan relations. Today, Germany is home to some 90,000 people of Afghan origin -- more than any other country in Europe. After the Taliban regime was toppled in late 2001, Germany was a major player in drawing up the international community's reconstruction plans, even hosting the United Nations talks on Afghanistan held outside Bonn in November that same year.

Grolig emphasizes that the foreign ministry now sees it as its task to contribute to stability in the war-torn country, and bases its policy on civilian crisis prevention. Spending some €8.8 million in 2002 and €9.2 million in 2003 so far, the ministry earmarks almost two thirds of its Afghanistan budget for reconstruction of cultural and educational projects. By building schools, colleges and a media infrastructure designed to promote human rights and encourage the participation of women, Germany is investing in the future of the country.

In Kandahar, for example, Berlin is financing a number of educational projects especially for women, including a residential college and twenty mobile women's centers.

Goethe Institute back on map

In 2002, the Goethe Institute was the first foreign cultural institute to reopen in Kabul. Until its closing in 1990 amid the repression of the Taliban, the Goethe Institute for German language and culture had been extremely popular -- and it now hopes to reestablish itself on the Afghan capital's educational map.

At the official opening center, Wolfgang Bader, deputy secretary general of the institute, stressed that "the focus is on the common search for a new way forward after more than twenty years of war and destruction, a way forward which draws on the gentle power of culture." The Amani School for boys, which opened in 2003, and the Aysha-i-Durani School for girls also both enjoy German backing.

In the last two years, over 200 students and teachers have visited Germany as part of further training programs and grants provided by the DAAD (German Academic Exchange Service). Germany has also awarded more scholarships to Afghan university staff than any other country. In turn, a number of German lecturers now teach at Kabul University, where the Technical University Berlin is also helping set up a computer center.

Creating a media infrastructure

In 2003, the aid organization Cap Anamur, which has been working in the northern provinces of Afghanistan since late 2001, launched an initiative in cooperation with Deutsche Welle to collect donations to help fund 100 classrooms in Afghanistan, especially in rural regions outside Kabul.

Earlier this year, the foreign ministry and Deutsche Welle also set up media training centers for journalists and technicians in seven Afghan provinces. Deutsche Welle is also the only foreign media providing Afghanistan's public broadcasters with daily news bulletins in Dari and Pashtu.

Preserving cultural heritage

The foreign ministry has been quick to support projects aimed at restoring the country's beleaguered cultural heritage. Grolig stresses its importance "for the country's rediscovered national identity".

Projects include reconstruction of Kabul's only park -- the 16th century gardens of the first Mughal emperor Babur -- where the first German delegation to visit Afghanistan stayed in 1923. Another historical preservation project with German funding is the restoration of the 15th century mausoleum of Princess Gawhar Shad in Herat.

With its comprehensive efforts to reintroduce a functioning civil society in the country, Germany is building on a relationship that dates back many decades. "Many Afghans, and particularly the older generation," says Grolig, "told me they have many good memories of German projects in Afghanistan before the civil war." He adds that the projects currently in operation now give plenty of "grounds for hope."

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