Jim Thaden in AfghanistanAdapting to a shifting environment

The operating environment for non-governmental organizations working in countries like Afghanistan and Pakistan has become more and more tenuous over the years.

Following an especially violent year in Afghanistan, fighting does not appear to be subsiding in 2015. This spring, the warm-weather brought the expected annual uptick in fighting. Compounded with the ongoing drawdown of international troops, the war-weary population of Afghanistan saw conflict intensify and spread.

Across the border, Pakistan faced many challenges of its own. On December 16, 2014 seven gunmen affiliated with the extremist Tehrik-i-Taliban, attacked a military school in Peshawar. Almost 150 people were killed, most of them children. The government has targeted militants in a major offensive against terrorism in response to the massacre.

With escalating violence and rampant instability, many organizations working in the region have been forced to either adapt or close their doors. Central Asia Institute has chosen to adapt.

“Today, CAI is more flexible and better equipped to handle whatever may occur as we move forward and continue to grow,” said Jim Thaden, CAI’s Executive Director. “And we have the numbers to back that up. Last year, just under 80% of our annual spending went to active overseas education programs and there were over 100,000 students enrolled in those programs. Our projects are alive and well.”

To accommodate the shifting overseas environment, CAI has made several changes to its operations.  As a symbol of our long-term commitment to education in the regions, CAI recently established a domestic trust, Central Asia Education Trust (CAET). Headquartered in Islamabad, Pakistan, the organization will further facilitate cooperation between the charity and Pakistani government as we work together to promote education.

Central Asia Educational TrustThe establishment of the trust came, fortunately, a few months ahead of a nation-wide crackdown on international aid organizations. To date, CAI has not been subjected to new restrictions, which in-country staffers attribute to the trust’s operations being compatible with the desires and requirements of the local governments.

Recent developments in Afghanistan also forced CAI to examine its international operations and make changes.

Fierce fighting has limited access to certain regions of the country, making day-to-day operations difficult and dangerous for some programs. Yet, despite the ongoing security risks, CAI remains optimistic. The new Afghan unity government announced two of its highest priorities were to expand government support for education and clean up corruption. CAI strongly supports both of these initiatives.

Consequently, over the course of the last few months, CAI began a new era of cooperation with the Afghan government. With the help of the Afghanistan Ministry of Education and the Afghanistan Ministry of Economics, CAI is continuing to make schools safer, more secure, and improve sanitation.

“The conditions in the countries where we work might be constantly evolving, but our dedication to our mission remains constant,” said Thaden. “CAI will continue to grow and adapt with the times, bringing education to the boys and girls of these volatile, conflict-ridden regions.”

To learn more about changes and improvements to international operations, and progress in our projects and programs, check out our recently published 2014 Annual Report.

–  Jim Thaden, CAI Executive Director