Ben is right. It has been a while since we last updated our blog. So much has happened and we all have a lot to share. I will start with my February break.
So two summers ago, I founded HELA, a non-profit organization dedicated to empowering Afghan women through education. HELA, Inc., aims to build girls’ schools, women’s centers, and high-school athletic fields for girls around the country. HELA’s founding was inspired by the need to build the first girls high school in Qalatik—my ancestral—village in Laghman Province.
In 2006, elders from my village approached my family to help build a school for them. Back then, I had recently returned from a one-year high-school exchange program in Wisconsin. In Wisconsin I had the opportunity to talk about Afghanistan in various settings. After hearing about the need for a school in my ancestral village, I paid a visit to what was a piece of donated land by a villager to be used as a school. There I saw 13 volunteer men and women from the village teaching children, letting the shade of the few trees delineate the classroom areas. The entire school of about 700 students owned three half-broken blackboards. First-grade children used small rocks to practice counting in their math class.
I was inspired by the students’ enthusiasm despite their circumstances, and the village elders’ dedication to providing education to their daughters. One of the elders told me, “Our sons can walk 4 kilometers to go to a high school. But our daughters… this [middle school] is all they get. As a father, I cannot look into my daughter’s eyes to tell her there is no more education for her. We want a high school for our daughters.” So far the school has six classrooms and a deep drinking well, thanks to an anonymous donor. My hope is to turn this school into the first girls high school in Qalatik village. In order to make that happen, I needs to raise enough money to build additional classrooms, provide teacher training and improve the school curriculum. Building this school inspired HELA’s founding, and has inspired me to accomplish much more for the women of Afghanistan.
HELA is still pending IRS approval to receive a tax exempt status. This has been a hurdle as I try to fundraise to build the school in my ancestral village. However, Middlebury College has agreed to support my fundraising initiative!!! “The HELA Project for Afghanistan” is a $100,000 fundraising initiative supported by Middlebury College on behalf of HELA, Inc. Funds raised through this initiative will support the building of the first girls’ high school in my ancestral village in Laghman Province. I will build the school this summer after I graduate from Middlebury College. Girls in my ancestral village will be able to attend high school for the very first time.
I took advantage of this Feb break to give talks about HELA and the fundraising initiative in different high schools. On February 1 I drove all the way to Boston only to find out most schools were canceled on February 2 and 3 because of the snow storm. Two of my speaking engagements at schools were canceled. Nonetheless, I made it to my last two destinations without any cancelations. I spoke with a group of high school students in Wesport, CT. They are trying to raise money for HELA. Although these fundraisings are small-scale but they add up and are powerful in that they are mutually beneficial to American high school students and Afghan students.