International Assistance Mission

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The International Assistance Mission (IAM) is a non-profit Christian development non-governmental organization (NGO) working in Afghanistan since 1966. IAM runs projects in medicine, engineering, languages, small business and community development. In 2016, IAM's projects directly benefitted 291,000 Afghans, and trained 4300 Afghans.[1] IAM is registered in Geneva, Switzerland, and is the longest continuously serving NGO in Afghanistan, and only works in Afghanistan.


The International Afghan Mission (IAM) was established in Kabul on February 2, 1966. It began from the efforts of teachers and medical specialists who were interested in working in Afghanistan. IAM’s first projects were the National Organisation for Ophthalmic Rehabilitation (NOOR), the Medical Assistance Program (MAP), a school for the visually impaired (BINA), and a literacy programme.

Over the next 40 years, more projects were added in engineering, maternal health, community development, English as a Foreign Language (EFL), disaster management, micro-enterprise development, mental health, and the study of languages. IAM trains Afghans in all of these roles.

The war with the Soviet Union, strife between local Mujahideen groups, and various changes in government have required the moving or closing of some projects at various times since 1966.

In 1978, the International Afghan Mission changed its name to the International Assistance Mission.

In August 2001, the Taliban expelled IAM from Afghanistan.[2] One month later, due to the imminent attack from the USA following September 11, 2001; the Taliban expelled all aid groups from Afghanistan. After the fall of the Taliban, IAM was invited to return. This three-month period in 2001 remains the only time that IAM has not served in Afghanistan since 1966.

In November 2008, the Deputy Minister of Economy, Dr Nazir Ahmad, thanked IAM for more than 40 years of humanitarian work in Afghanistan. Since 1966, IAM has helped an estimated five million Afghans, particularly through its NOOR eye care work.

Ten members of an IAM Eye Camp team, including several doctors, were murdered in August 2010 in the Afghan province of Badakhshan.[2][3][4]

Current projects[edit]

An eye operation at one of the NOOR teaching hospitals.

National Organization for Ophthalmic Rehabilitation (NOOR)

The NOOR programme provides the vast majority of all ophthalmic care in Afghanistan. NOOR takes its name from a Persian word meaning “light”, and is the longest running IAM programme. It has referral eye hospitals in the main cities of Kabul, Mazar-i-Sharif, and Kandahar. Since it was founded, NOOR continues to provide logistical support to the government eye hospitals in Kabul and Herat. NOOR oversees community eye hospitals in Khost and Ghazni. Mobile eye camps serve other more outlying areas.[5]

In 2017, NOOR treated 199,877 patients and performed 10,556 surgeries. In addition, Ministry of Public Health eye hospitals supported by NOOR saw 185,854 patients. NOOR dispensed 25,988 pairs of glasses, and 425,219 bottles of eyedrops. NOOR has a particular emphasis on training and it runs a three-year ophthalmology residency programme. Almost all ophthalmologists and all ophthalmic technicians in Afghanistan have been trained by NOOR.

Community Development Project (CDP)

IAM's Community Development Project works through a variety of projects that are designed to increase a community’s capacity to meet their basic needs. Afghan facilitators and expatriate consultants work within remote communities for several years to help communities manage their own development in just and sustainable ways. CDP projects include food security, agriculture, literacy, health awareness, and training in self-help groups, as well as the building of roads, wells and latrines.

In 2017, roughly 8000 Afghans benefitted from our Community Development Project.

In the past, CDP has assisted thousands of people in Faryab, Ghor and Herat provinces. Currently, our CDP project continues in the Central Highlands.

Mental Health Programme

Our Mental Health Programme currently includes the Community Mental Health Project (CMHP) and the Mental Health Training Centre (MHTC).

The purpose of the Community Mental Health Project (CMHP) is to raise awareness in communities about mental health issues through training and publicity in Western Afghanistan. CMHP has been operating as a project under the Mental Health Programme since 2012. This year, CMHP established close relationships with the health and education departments of Afghanistan, who are giving their full support for sustainable health services; produced 12 documentaries on local television and radio to increase awareness, treatment, and prevention of mental health issues; published and distributed a magazine and other print materials to schools to raise awareness of mental health; conducted a one week Training of Trainers course for 77 teachers and 20 community leaders, who then conducted five mental health training courses in schools and mosques in their own communities; conducted mental health training for 20 female community leaders for the first time, and more.

The Mental Health Training Centre (MHTC) was established in 1996 in response to the high suicide rate among women. It provides a unique role in the country, treating patients and training nurses and doctors who specialize in mental health provision for people who live in Western Afghanistan. The aim of this project has been to build Afghan capacity to manage and provide quality mental health services by providing: mental health training for doctors, nurses, and midwives working in community health facilities; training psychiatry residents in partnership with the Ministry of Health; and training psychosocial counselors to work in government clinics in remote communities across the West and South of Afghanistan. In 2017, 3598 new patients were registered at MHTC, 64 psycho-social counselors graduated from a one year training course and started to work in community health facilities, and 131 doctors and nurses received mental health training to better equip them to recognize and appropriately advise or refer on patients with mental health problems. 

English as a Foreign Language (EFL)

The IAM EFL programme teaches intermediate and advanced levels of English to assist Afghans in their professional and academic careers.

In 2017, 28 students graduated from our pre-intermediate course, 55 students from our intermediate level, and 42 students from our upper intermediate level. In addition, 11 students completed a four-month advanced course in listening and public speaking. There were also two modular classes on academic writing; 13 advanced students and 10 intermediate students successfully completed their respective levels. In addition, there were three conversation classes, including a beginning course for ladies only.

Language and Orientation Programme (LOP)

IAM provides an orientation programme and language courses in Dari and Pashto for expatriate workers and diplomats in Afghanistan.

Professional training

In addition to the above, IAM also seconds professionals to train Afghans in the government, hospitals, other NGOs, and private businesses. Most of the professionals in these Individual Service Assignments (ISA) have years of experience in Afghanistan and speak the local language.

Former projects[edit]

An Afghan IAM RESAP engineer working on a micro-hydro turbine.

Wakhi Language Development (WLD)
Wakhi is a minority language with no written form, and is spoken only in Wakhan, in north-eastern Afghanistan. WLD was launched in April 2009 to research, analyse and document Wakhi and develop easy reading materials, so that Wakhi speakers are able to receive education in their mother tongue. In 2010 this project was handed over to another NGO.

Hazarajat Community Health Project (HCHP)
Initially begun by IAM as a Mother & Child Health Clinic in 1999, this project expanded to include 157 Health Posts, 5 Basic Health Centers (BHC), and a Comprehensive Health Center (CHC). HCHP became responsible to provide the primary health service for the district in Lal-wa-Sarjangal. HCHP trained nurses, vaccinators, and community health supervisors. In 2008, it treated almost 30,000 patients. In May 2009, the responsibility of HCHP was handed over to an Afghan NGO.

Collection of artificial legs from the OWPC

Orthopedic Workshop and Physiotherapy Center (OWPC)

The OWPC aims to reduce the impact of disability in Faryab province. It trains Afghan staff to provide services to people with disabilities. In 2010, it provided over 1900 orthopaedic appliances and assistive devices, and provided physiotherapy to over 1000 people. OWPC also used Community-Based Rehabilitation (CBR) to increase community awareness of disability issues, and to help disabled people with education, healthcare and livelihood development.

Physical Therapy Institute (PTI)
PTI trained physical therapists with a three-year Diploma course, and trained physical therapy teachers. It also developed physical therapy materials and had an outpatient clinic.

Renewable Energy Sources in Afghanistan Project (RESAP)
RESAP worked to build up the local renewable energy industry throughout the country. It used Afghan-made micro-hydro plants and wind turbines to provide electricity for rural regions. RESAP also trained Afghan engineers and technicians to build and install these units.

Adult Learning and Education Facilitation (ALEF)
The ALEF project worked in three provinces to provide non-formal adult education and vocational training. Using folkbildning methods, ALEF offered learning circles in tailoring, mobile phone repair, computer skills, literacy, English language, maternal and infant health, and vocational counseling. It also provided training for trainers of adult learners.

Business Development Services (BDS)
BDS taught very basic business skills and literacy to low-income Afghan women. Its aim is to contribute to the socio-economic development of families and communities by enabling them to run simple home-based businesses. In 2010, BDS taught 145 women, and 35 workers from other NGOs were trained as trainers.


The International Assistance Mission only works in Afghanistan and its Headquarters are in Kabul. IAM is directed by a board of 30 members who meet annually. The board appoints the 9-member Executive Committee and the Executive Director.

IAM is registered as a non-profit association in Geneva, Switzerland. IAM is also registered in the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan under the Ministry of Economy. It was the first NGO to be re-registered under the new Afghan government in 2005.

IAM is a signatory to the Principles of Conduct for The International Red Cross and Red Crescent and NGOs in Disaster Response Programmes,[5][6] and ascribes to the code that aid will not be used to further a particular political or religious standpoint. IAM fully commits to the standard that aid is given regardless of the race, creed or nationality of the recipients and without adverse distinction of any kind.


In 2010, IAM employed 500 paid Afghan staff, and 60 professional volunteers from Europe, North America, Asia and Oceania. Foreign staff members are required to learn a local language and the average length of assignment is 3 years. Some IAM expatriate staff have stayed over 20 years in Afghanistan. In 2009, a German nurse retired after 37 years of working with IAM in a remote rural area.

All IAM expatriate staff come as volunteers and are responsible for their own financial support.

Attacks and casualties[edit]

Twelve expat volunteers and two Afghan staff have been killed while working with IAM in Afghanistan. The second-most recent incident occurred in August 2010 when suspected Taliban militants ambushed and killed a team of 10 doctors and optometrists who were returning from a medical care trip to remote mountain villages in northeastern Afghanistan.[2] Those killed were six Americans, two Afghans, one Briton, and one German.[7]

2014 Herat shooting[edit]

On 24 July 2014 two Finnish IAM female aid workers were shot dead by two gunmen on motorbikes while riding in a taxi in Herat.[8][9]


Projects are funded by foreign donor organizations, governments, the United Nations, private donations, and locally generated income. No project funds are used for expatriate salaries, allowances, home rents, or daily expenses.


Publications in English
  • Enjoy Afghanistan is an orientation manual for expatriate workers and their families in Afghanistan. It includes information about everyday life, history, culture, security, cooking, health and wellbeing, and more.

A collection of language books have been written to assist foreigners in learning the local languages.

  • Conversational Dari
  • Speaking Afghan Pashto
  • Progressing in Pashtu
  • Picture it in Dari and Pashto
  • Dari Verb Notebook
  • 100 Afghan Persian Proverbs
  • Sound the bells, O moon, arise and shine! a collection of Pashto proverbs and tappas.
  • Eat Your Way to Good Health a bilingual cookbook.
  • nosh-e jAn kunEn an IAM cookbook.

The following medical textbooks were written by IAM doctors and personnel in Afghanistan to provide practical, relevant and affordable medical information.

  • Practical Drug Guide a handbook for the correct prescribing of essential drugs.
  • Practical Paediatric Guide information for doctors to reduce infant mortality.
  • Practical Guide to Mental Health Problems
  • Practical Guide to Common Medical Problems
  • Medical Dari a language resource in Dari and Hazaragi for medical professionals.
  • Pocket Medical Pashto
Publications in Dari
  • Eat Your Way to Good Health a bilingual cookbook.
  • Practical Drug Guide is a handbook for the correct prescribing of essential drugs.
  • Practical Paediatric Guide
  • Practical Guide to Mental Health Problems
  • Practical Guide to Common Medical Problems

The following simple business skills books were written by IAM's BDS project to help low-income uneducated Afghan women into self-employment.

  • Step by Step
  • First Steps
  • Teacher's Guide to First Steps
  • Picture Books a set of 24 illustrated story books, each explaining a different business principle.
Publications in Pashto
  • Practical Drug Guide is a handbook for the correct prescribing of essential drugs.


External links[edit]