One unique aspect of our work to revive Istalif, Afghanistan was the approach we used. First, we focused on rebuilding the marketplace. The marketplace was the heart of the town and really a wreck. Getting the villagers on board to help clear the rubble on each of their shop locations enabled us to afford the rebuilding which came to a bit more than $1000 per shop. Secondly, rather than bringing in large numbers of outside contractors, we worked with the local people to help them rebuild their own village. By employing a cooperative model, we were able to achieve maximal results while engaging and mobilizing the community.

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The project evolved basically along the following steps:

  • We wanted to revive a village with enormous strengths and resources. Istalif was famous for its great physical beauty and centuries-old artisan community. We hoped to both bring back the artists, who had scattered to the winds, as well as restore some of the beauty and former life of Istalif.
  • Abdul Istalifi and Ira Seret targeted rebuilding the shops as the most effective way to use our funds to achieve our goals.
  • This was followed by extensive dialogue with villagers before any construction began. The elders identified the number of shops, 120, in the main marketplace on both sides of the street from the mosque.
  • We eliminated any middlemen, and avoided partnering with any NGO. Instead, we cooperated directly with the villagers who provided much of the labor for the project, thus, giving them an active role in shaping results. We did engage an American for-profit contractor, Timothy Allish of the Five Stones Group, to bring the supplies to the site at little more than his own cost.
  • Once the project was underway, and construction began, the villagers enthusiastically came out to clear their spaces and to be part of this historic event in Istalif.