In May 2012, Natalie Ross, AKF USA’s Program Associate for Civil Society and Youth, visited the Cross-Border Vocational Education in Badakhshan (CVEB) program of the Aga Khan Development Network (AKDN) in Tajikistan
When you travel by road from the Tajik capital of Dushanbe to the mountainous Eastern Gorno-Badahkshan province in Tajikistan, you spend hours looking out a truck window and across the Pyanj River, seeing beautiful green countryside and spectacular mountains on both sides of the river.
An Afghan village seen from across the Pyanj River in Gorno-Badakhshan, Tajikistan. Photo: Natalie Ross
The Badakhshan region of Afghanistan lies just beyond the Pyanj, and during the long drive, I watched villages where Afghan people were living and working a few hundred feet away. I could also see the economic differences of life across the river – electricity poles line the Tajik side’s highway, while the Afghan villages on the other side had no power.
I was traveling to Khorog, where AKDN’s Cross-Border Vocational Education (CVEB) program is implemented by the University of Central Asia. I was looking forward to meeting students from both sides of the Afghan/Tajik border, brought together by the program.
Since its launch in 2009, the program has provided scholarships for Afghan youth to take short courses in bookkeeping, IT, or English. An additional 30 students received vocational training in carpentry and masonry. CVEB’s second phase began in 2011 and will provide an additional 84 scholarships for bookkeeping, IT, and English. Fourteen of the first scholarship recipients were women between 19 and 25-years-old, from different parts of Afghanistan.
Although most of the Afghan students are from Afghan Badakhshan just across the river, and 27 percent of Afghans are ethnically Tajik, most Afghan CVEB students have not traveled to Tajikistan before. The same is true for the Tajiks: one Tajik student told me that although he has seen Afghanistan across the river his entire life, he never met an Afghan before. Despite similar language and culture, social and economic connections between the two Badakhshan regions have been almost non-existent since the Soviet era, and the national boundaries drawn at the Pyanj River date back to 1895. CVEB promotes cultural awareness, and students report being surprised to discover that Tajiks and Afghans share similar music, dance and ceremonies. Historically, Badakhshan’s importance as a trading region dates back to antiquity and the Silk Road trade.
While in Khorog I heard CVEB students talking about a shared heritage and brotherhood across the border, and the English courses offered through the CVEB program bring Tajik and Afghan students together in one classroom.
Two female Afghan students work with Tajik classmate in a CVEB English classroom. Photo: Natalie Ross
The cross-cultural sharing and learning that takes place in CVEB’s classrooms bridges the distance between Afghan and Tajik youth. Many of the female Afghan students are living away from home for the first time, to continue their education. The program integrates a training-of-trainers aspect, so that successful Afghan CVEB students, after studying in Tajikistan, can teach similar courses back in Faizabad, Afghanistan. In alumni surveys, 65 percent of CVEB’s Afghan graduates have reported finding jobs afterward, which is an important accomplishment in a place with high unemployment.
CVEB is just one part of the Aga Khan Development Network’s cross-border activity in the region. Since 2002, the Aga Khan Foundation has built and rehabilitated four bridges over the Pyanj River at Tem, Darvaz, Langar and Ishkashim, all of which now connect the Gorno-Badakhshan region in crossTajikistan with Afghan Badakhshan. Cross-border markets operated by the Mountain Societies Development Support Programme also provide communities on both sides of the border access to an expanded market, which dramatically increases their potential income and improves livelihoods in the cross-border area.
Read more about CVEB here.
CVEB is an initiative of the Aga Khan Foundation and the University of Central Asia and made possible by the generous support of the American people through the United States Agency for International Development.
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