Last summer, my sister was surprised when my 7-year-old son Abdullah told her, “Don’t throw that on the street,” referring to an empty ice-cream container.

After the Taliban regime ended in 2001, many Afghan refugees returned home from Pakistan and Iran, where almost 5 million people had fled during three decades of war. Most of those who returned came to the city of Kabul, where it was easier to find jobs and earn a living. As a result, Kabul’s population has increased by 4 million in 12 years. In 2012, there were more than 5.5 million living in the city.

Kabul was originally built for 1.5 million people, so that many more people meant more traffic — and more trash. Most people were not helping to keep the city clean. They threw garbage on everywhere, it seemed, but in the trash cans. Kabul became very dirty.

Shir Sultan has introduced the “Green and Clean” campaign to 175,000 schoolchildren in 125 schools throughout the city. Above, Shir Sultan and Malika sing Afghan poems with children at Allaudin School. Photo credit: USAID Kabul City Initiative

Shir Sultan has introduced the “Green and Clean” campaign to 175,000 schoolchildren in 125 schools throughout the city. Above, Shir Sultan and Malika sing Afghan poems with children at Allaudin School. Photo credit: USAID Kabul City Initiative

To help overcome this challenge, USAID — together with the municipal government of Kabul and the Afghan Ministry of Education — launched the “Clean and Green” campaign. The campaign focuses on schoolchildren, using visual materials and live performances to share key messages. Two Afghan artists, acting as Shir Sultan (Kabul’s “Lion King”) and Malika (his queen), put on live shows for the children. Through Shir Sultan’s campaign of coloring books, billboards, posters and live theater, schoolchildren are learning how to plant trees, what to do with their garbage, and how to keep their city clean for many years to come.

When I was at school, we didn’t have practical campaigns like these to teach us about our social responsibilities. I am proud to work with USAID, which is supporting the development of countries such as Afghanistan. My son is one of the children who has learned from Shir Sultan’s performance at his school, and from the campaign billboards and coloring books, that he should not litter. He is also stopping others from littering — even his own aunt — and encouraging them to throw their garbage in trashcans.

Shir Sultan reads his storybook to children at Amani School in Kabul. Photo credit: USAID Kabul City Initiative

Shir Sultan reads his storybook to children at Amani School in Kabul. Photo credit: USAID Kabul City Initiative

“I am very proud of my little nephew,” my sister told me, “who understands his responsibility toward society and is even teaching me. I hope we will have a prosperous country and a bright future with children like him.”

“I hope that Abdullah and other children like him who grow up in this time will build this country. I hope with the support of American people and the international community, Afghanistan will come out of these problems,” my sister added.

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