The World Bank, Kabul Province – Negina, 18, is focused on becoming the best pianist and orchestra leader in Afghanistan. She is working towards her goal at the Afghanistan National Institute of Music (ANIM), the country’s only music school, located on a busy street in Kabul City.
“We don’t have a single female pianist and female orchestra leader in Afghanistan, so my efforts are geared toward becoming the best pianist and orchestra leader,” says Negina, who is in 11th grade.
An orphan, Negina’s life changed radically after becoming a student at ANIM five years ago. “Before coming here, I was studying at Spin Kalay School, a public school,” she says. “I did not have any hopes of being recognized for any talent and known both in Afghanistan and other countries in the region and the world.”
” Music can play a significant role in building bridges between different ethnic groups in Afghanistan, and teach the children and youth to live in harmony in the same way they sit in an orchestra and play together,” said Dr. Ahmad Naser Sarmat, Founder and Director of ANIM.
ANIM students have performed on international stages, showcasing the country’s rich musical heritage. “I could never imagine that I would be able to serve Afghanistan as much as I have after enrolling in the music institute,” Negina says.
The majority of ANIM’s 300 students are girls, reflecting the institute’s dedication to promoting women’s rights and ensuring gender equality in the music sector. Half the students come from impoverished backgrounds. They are taught a full curriculum, focusing on both Afghan and Western classical music, as well as core subjects such as science, English, and mathematics. The library holds books ranging from English to ear training to theory and history of music to chemistry.
The World Bank, together with other donors, has been providing support to ANIM since its establishment. ANIM, which operates under the Ministry of Education, received support under the Afghanistan Skills Development Project (ASDP) that aimed to build a high quality Technical and Vocational Education and Training (TVET) system. ASDP, which was financed by the World Bank and Afghanistan Reconstruction Trust Fund (ARTF), closed on June 30, 2014.
However, the World Bank is continuing to support Afghanistan’s TVET system through a follow-on project, the Afghanistan Second Skills Development Project. ANIM continues to receive support through this project, which focuses on providing incentives to schools and institutes offering formal TVET programs through a challenge fund scheme, while simultaneously strengthening the TVET institutional system as a whole.
“Funding from the donors, including the World Bank, provides financial support for the well-being and living costs of students from disadvantaged backgrounds,” says Mohammad Sarwar Azizi, Acting Deputy Minister for the Ministry of Education.
Power of music
World Bank funding has also enabled the institute to purchase additional musical instruments, according to Dr. Ahmad Naser Sarmast, ANIM’s founder and director. The school began with a broken guitar, a few violins, and a broken saxophone. Today, hundreds of Afghan and Western instruments are housed in a wing of the institute. A large donation added five tons of instruments to the institute’s inventory in a single day.
“I strongly believe in the power of music,” Dr. Sarmast says. “Music is a powerful tool which can enormously contribute to the healing process of a traumatized nation like Afghanistan. Music can also play a significant role in building bridges between different ethnic groups in Afghanistan, and teach the children and youth to live in harmony in the same way they sit in an orchestra and play together.”
In another building, 22 upright pianos sit in wood-lined practice rooms, with 11 more being shipped from Dubai. Doors off the main hallway open into a sitar studio, tabla studio, and percussion rooms. A Pink Panther poster covers the window of a saxophone studio. In a room, students are practicing the xylophone and marimba—the institute is the only place where these instruments are taught in Afghanistan.
Allegra Boggess, who is from the US, teaches piano, oboe, and bassoon and is passionate about the work she is doing at ANIM. “Music had been banned under the Taliban, and I was really drawn to the idea of being able to provide music education to a population that hadn’t been able to study music under the Taliban.”
Allegra, who has been teaching at the institute since 2012, also directs a girls’ ensemble. “I have 22 students. I love doing the individual classes, it’s so much fun. One of the pieces we have worked on recently is ‘Music alone shall live,’ which was translated into Dari,” she adds enthusiastically.
In one of the school’s workshops, a clarinet lies in sections on a workbench, while screwdrivers, pliers and horsehair violin bows sit on the walls ready for use. ANIM is the only facility in the country that provides repair and maintenance for both Afghan and Western musical instruments. Professional instrument repair technicians train the students as part of ASDP’s skills training objective. The students are thus given the opportunity to secure a better livelihood by having a profession in music as well as instrument repair.