Mr. Ezzatollah and Mr. Nangialeh are two local monitors who received training in Community Integrity Building (CIB) from Integrity Watch Afghanistan (IWA). Between 2014 – 2016, they monitored the construction of Mohammadi Sahebzadeh School for boys in Behsud District, Nangarhar province. According to UNICEF in 2016, 40 percent of children in Afghanistan were not enrolled in school. The estimated adult literacy rate of the country as of 2015 is 38 percent. This is significantly below the international average of 84 percent, and of neighboring countries such as Pakistan (56 percent) and Iran (87 percent).
Mohammadi Sahebzadeh School was badly needed as the school that it was built to replace was in a very poor condition. The old school lacked necessary space and equipment, so students were forced to study in cramped conditions, sometimes also being forced to sit on the ground because there were not enough desks. In addition, the school’s structural integrity was extremely poor. When it rained the school had to close as rain water would soak the school floor. The poor conditions of the building also meant that strong winds were able to penetrate the walls, making it impossible for the students to remain studying during these conditions. All of these problems meant that the children did not have a suitable learning environment to which they were entitled.
In January 2016, residents living in the properties next to the school construction site realised that the school’s windows on the second floor overlooked their properties. This was a serious problem because it meant that the school children and teachers could see into the yards and properties, and observe the families in their homes. Community members shared and discussed this problem with the construction company and school officials on the 25th of January 2016. However, their meetings and discussions were not successful in bringing the desired change to the project plans. The conflict rapidly grew and the community members threatened that if the construction would continue as planned, they would destroy the school windows.
Resolving the dispute
Realising the gravity of the situation the IWA Nangarhar office staff got involved and organised a meeting on the 10th of February 2016 with the community members to discuss the problem. They decided to contact the Provincial Monitoring Board (PMB) to try to resolve the dispute between the community and the construction company. This forum is an initiative created by IWA, which gathers community members, IWA staff and key stakeholders involved in a project to discuss and resolve issues with projects being monitored by IWA.
The PMB facilitated a meeting between community members, IWA staff, as representatives from local government, the donor and the construction company. This meeting was set up in order to draw attention to the problems with the project’s implementation but more importantly to engage with key stakeholders in order to reach a solution. During the meeting it was decided that donor representatives, along with construction company members and PMB members, would visit the construction site and discuss some alternatives with residents of the neighboring properties.
After the visit to the school project site, the stakeholders realised how serious the problem was with the windows overlooking the homes next to the school. During a meeting, which was held after the visit, one of the UNOPS engineers suggested constructing a barrier made from iron to block the view from the windows to the adjacent properties. His suggestions, however, were rejected by community members on the basis that constructing such a barrier would be expensive and that such a barrier would prevent sufficient ventilation for the school’s classrooms. Additionally, if there was an earthquake, the barrier could collapse which would be extremely dangerous for students and for people living next to the school. Another community member then suggested to replace the iron with wood but that proposal was also turned down by community members as it was not considered a suitable long-term solution.
After further discussions all the PMB participants agreed to build a 1.9 meter wall and to install transparent glasses on top of the wall to provide both sufficient light and ventilation for the classrooms. This solution pleased all key stakeholders and addressed the concerns of the community members.
Today, this project is complete. 2,400 students from the community are now able to attend classes. This case study highlights the need of involving communities when planning projects to avoid tensions between stakeholders during project implementation. Using Integrity Action’s Community Integrity Building (CIB) approach, the two monitors have been able to restore the trust between the community and the construction company. Thanks to the training they received from IWA, they were able to identify and solve problems with a project being built in their community. Education is a fundamental human right and essential for the exercise of all other human rights. The Children of the Behsud District in Nangarhar province are now able to exercise that right in a safe learning environment. At the same time the privacy of those living next to the new school has been ensured.
Integrity Watch Afghanistan have been an Integrity Action partner since 2006. During this time they have trained 2,559 people as community monitors. The monitors have overseen 919 projects and their interventions have led to the resolution of 58% of identified problems. In 2016 IWA and the community members’ monitoring and constructive engagement has improved services for around 500,000 people.