Teaching Afghanistan's New Generation About Cultural Heritage

February 14, 2014
A moment of terrible destruction led to the life-long dream of being an archaeologist for Muzhgan. 
 
“I have been interested in archaeology since I was 16 years old and the Taliban were in power,” explains Muzhgan. “When they destroyed the second Buddhist statue in Bamiyan, I could remember that we all felt sad and my mother explained the significance of the statues. After that I decided to be an archaeologist in the future to protect the cultural heritage of my nation.”
 
As an archaeologist and assistant professor at Kabul University, Muzhgan is able to both protect that heritage through field work and educate the next generation of Afghans. Courses in cultural heritage preservation are limited; however, Muzhgan and two department colleagues worked with faculty from the University of Arizona Drachman Institute to develop educational curricula that meet the needs of Afghanistan’s budding heritage conservation professionals. The opportunity was made possible through the Professional Education Program for Afghan Cultural Heritage Conservation supported by the U.S. National Park Service and funded by ECA’s Cultural Heritage Center. 
 
The needs are great as “Afghanistan is a country rich in cultural and natural resources,” says Muzhgan. “It plays a key role in understanding the history of Asia because it was the crossroad of civilizations.” There are 5,000 identified archaeological sites in the country that reflect such deep history, all of which require protection and preservation.
 
The program took place in Tucson from September to December 2013.  Muzhgan learned ways to incorporate site management, disaster preparedness, heritage conservation law, and more, into her teaching.   Faculty participated in classroom and one-on-one instruction, museum work, and laboratory research to master new teaching styles and academic resources. Muzhgan also gave presentations to American professionals and public audiences on the problems faced by Afghan cultural heritage managers. 
 
Participants also visited some of Arizona’s famous heritage sites like Casa Grande Ruins National Monument and Tumacácori National Historical Park (pictured here) to inspire the type of preservation possible in Afghanistan. “I really enjoyed visiting [these sites] because they have been protected and well preserved,” says Muzhgan. “What was most surprising, especially at Casa Grande, was the use of old architectural styles for new buildings. It shows how much people are interested in preserving their culture [and traditions].”  
 
This program comes at a critical moment for Afghanistan as “our heritage sites are still being looted, more than 70% of the collection from the Afghanistan National Museum has been [damaged by Taliban forces or] smuggled out of the country, and reconstruction is progressing,” explains Muzhgan. Despite the current situation, Muzhgan is confident she and her colleagues can deal with these challenges by raising public awareness through social media, professional networks, and better university curricula focused on cultural heritage preservation. She plans to implement three new courses at Kabul University and share her newfound knowledge through seminars and publications. 
 
“I really enjoy teaching the new generation about the value of their culture because I don’t want my knowledge to remain unused,” says Muzhgan. “The main goal in my life is to share my experience.”