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TWO AFGHAN WOMEN REACH ACROSS WORLD TO HELP HOMELAND KIDS
Posted by AFSHEEN101 on 10/22/2007

TWO AFGHAN WOMEN REACH ACROSS WORLD TO HELP HOMELAND KIDS

Saturday, October 20, 2007

When two Bay Area college students learned of the plight of Afghan orphans in their war-torn homeland, they took action.

Deeba Haider and Soraya Ahmadyar, who became friends through the Afghan Student Association at Cal State East Bay, launched a successful fundraising campaign in 2004. Just one year later, they had founded two schools - a school for orphan boys in a remote village and a school for girls and women in Kabul - that help Afghans gain an education and learn a trade.

To accomplish this, they founded the Children of Afghanistan Hope Project in 2004 as a nonprofit organization that connects Bay Area residents with war victims a world away.

This unusual effort will be in the spotlight next month when co-founder Haider, a 22-year-old biology student, receives the Outstanding Youth in Philanthropy Award from the Golden Gate Chapter of the Association of Fundraising Professionals. The annual award recognizes a single individual, a high school or college youth leader, whose work has significantly affected the Bay Area community.

"In her young life, Deeba Haider has accomplished so much," said Alan Wendroff, co-chair of the awards committee of the Golden Gate Chapter of the organization.

The president of the chapter, Nicci Noble, agrees. "Deeba has demonstrated the qualities of a budding nonprofit professional by using her time and talent to enrich the lives of the people she works with as well as the people her work touches," said Noble, who is Internet development director at the Salvation Army. In addition to her philanthropic work Haider has twice been vice president of the Muslim Student Association on campus and, last year, was elected to high office in student government, serving as director of the Associated Students' Board of Cal State East Bay.

Colleagues call Haider and Ahmadyar "natural leaders." Both are petite and soft-spoken, and while neither leap toward the limelight, friends say Ahmadyar is more comfortable there.

"I wish Soraya could give my acceptance speech," Haider said, with a laugh. Hers is one of nine awards to be given on National Philanthropy Day, Nov. 15, at an event at the Marriott Oakland Civic Center.

They come from families that fled Afghanistan after the Russian invasion of 1979-80.

Ahmadyar, an only child, was 3 when her family moved to the United States - first to Nebraska, where her father had a sponsor, then to Newark, near Fremont, where an Afghan community had grown. She has never been back to Afghanistan.

Haider was born in 1985 in Peshawar, Pakistan, where her family had moved in 1980; in the '90s, they settled in Fremont. The eldest of six children, Haider is quite devout; she always wears the hijab, or Muslim head covering.

Three weeks ago, Haider traveled to Afghanistan - for the first time since she was a child - to see the schools she and Ahmadyar had created.

"It was awesome, trust me," Haider said. "It was more than I expected."

She found the Girls Literacy and Vocational Training School in Kabul - run by two teachers, both war widows, in their home - to be thriving. New classrooms were being added where previously there had been only two. There are 86 students whose ages range from 6 to 45.

"It's a training facility and a school," Haider said. "They are learning math, Arabic and other languages, and also to cook and sew. We want them to become independent."

Literacy rates are low in Afghanistan. In a nation of 30 million, only 14 percent of adult women can read, while 43 percent of adult men are literate.

Today, U.N. agencies are helping the Afghan Ministry of Education to rebuild schools. After 30 years of near-constant war, many Afghans are in dire financial straits, especially war widows who lack education or vocational training.

Haider was not able to visit the first school she and Ahmadyar founded, Padkhow-e-shana Orphanage School for Boys, which is located in a remote southern province.

"I couldn't visit the boys' school on this trip because the Taliban were kidnapping people in that area," Haider said. "It's dangerous. It's not California. It's not Europe," she said. "You have to know your way around."

One of the young women's mentors is Kate Shaheed, director of alumni relations at Cal State East Bay, who first met them at a fundraiser.

"I bought my grilled chicken sandwich at the Afghan Student Association on campus," Shaheed recalled. "The first orphanage had already been established. I was impressed with this group of students who had said, 'Let's do something to meet a need in our homeland,' " she said.

Through these modest-seeming fundraisers - barbecues, basketball tournaments, bake sales and henna tattoo parties, where women line up to be adorned with traditional body decoration - the two young women have raised thousands of dollars.

After an initial investment of $1,500 in 2005, they have sent more than $15,000 to cover salaries for five teachers (at $100 each per month) plus school supplies, clothing and food.

"The shocking part is how little it costs," said Ahmadyar, 25, who graduated in 2005 with a degree in business and marketing and now works as a business tax representative for the Board of Equalization. "Fifteen hundred dollars goes a long way in Afghanistan."

Some members of Haider and Ahmadyar's families give $50 a month. It's a habit they encourage others to follow on the Web site for Children of Afghanistan Hope Project - www.cahopeproject.com - which offers a donation option for automatic personal monthly deductions in that amount.

On the ground in Afghanistan, Ahmadyar's uncle, Fazel Qader, who lives in Kabul, manages the schools. They wire funds directly to him. Some months they can send more, some months less. In the future, if time and funds allow, they hope to open a third school.

"When you work hard for something it just doesn't go away, even when there are no means for it," Haider said.

"Something keeps us going," she said. "I'm a spiritual person, so I believe it's God. He sees us helping other people, and he is helping us."
 
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