A month ago I joined the team here at Ayni. Since becoming a part of this unique group I have been inspired by the dedication each member commits to promoting the goal of access to quality educational experiences for girls in Afghanistan. As a recent graduate of Seattle University the importance of education is increasingly apparent—leading to greater household decision making power, lowering fertility rates, and giving women more economic independence.
Education is often pushed to the back-burner in periods of extreme conflict, yet it is an essential component of achieving long-lasting peace. Recently our Afghan intern Airokhsh sent a short email describing the current situation in Mazar-i-sharif, the town where our new school is being built. In it she described a shocking environment, an environment that has recently seen violence and brutality used where peace was once prevalent. It is in this lens that I approach the dire need to emphasize increasing access to quality education. It may seem like a small role in the larger scheme of development, but education creates widespread positive change and meaningful impact. In Afghanistan specifically, education has the ability to raise the status of women, reduce the occurrence of early marriage, and engage a historically disenfranchised population in a countrywide conversation about their common future.
It’s easy to feel disconnected when you’re sitting in an office in Seattle, but hearing Airokhsh depict the on-the-ground situation stimulates reflection and action toward our mission. I’m happy to be at a place that is directly impacting the lives of girls and hopefully we can only improve and enhance that mission.
This week one of our Afghan associates Farkhonda visited Gohar Khaton and sent us some construction updates. They may see small from over here, but we are fast approaching the opening of this one-of-a-kind school and excitement is building in the Ayni office!
Workers are busying putting plaster on the walls and putting the final touches on the principal and administrative offices.
The brickwork is moving quickly and looking good. The second block will be finished this week and 99 percent of the brickwork is done on the entire building.
Ayni Education International is hosting an artist competition to select artwork for the new school. The competition is open nation-wide to Afghan women and girls of all ages, with the aim of promoting and encouraging creativity in and outside of the classroom. The competition will take place over six weeks, with the winners’ work being exhibited during the opening ceremonies. Three prizes will be awarded and twelve honorable mentions noted. A workshop will be conducted for all 15 artists to learn how to install their work on the walls of the Gohar Khaton Girls’ School.
The architecture of the Gohar Khaton Girls’ School is the brainchild of architect Bob Hull and Janet W. Ketcham with input from the University of Washington’s Assistant Professor Elizabeth Golden and her design studio students. Gohar Khaton’s emphasis on community engagement started with young Afghan girls gathered in a small classroom drawing their dream school on pieces of paper. From that small dream an even bigger dream emerged—Gohar Khaton is the first of its kind. A school designed to work with the elements to regulate the sweltering summers and harsh winters of northern Afghanistan, while also fostering curiosity and learning through its unique design.
The artist competition is a part of Ayni’s new emphasis on innovation in education. We want to move beyond merely supplying education, by trying to empower girls by giving them a voice. For us this starts in the classroom, but quickly moves beyond when girls are given the opportunity to express themselves creatively. We have seen firsthand the power of these efforts—girls are able to join the public sphere like never before by voicing their opinions and experiences.
The artist competition kicked off this week when young female artists were shown around Gohar Khaton to get a better feeling of the space. Here are some photos highlighting this trip.
Stay connected with the competition through our blog and stay tuned for more information about our fall fundraising event focused on the importance of artistic expression in shaping girls’ education.
When I was a kid, a fortuneteller told my mom that later on what I do for a living would have to do with saving lives. My mom guessed I would be a doctor. I used to dream of being a teacher one day. But neither doctor nor teacher worked out.
I know how fortunate I am. My parents gave me the best education one could have. They sent me to college to study management in France. But I always knew there was one thing they could never help me with: finding a career that would fire me up everyday. My whole time in college felt like climbing up a ladder without knowing where I was heading. I was so unsure about my future career.
Then came business school. It opened up my world so that I had exposure to different areas that I never had before which, ironically, brought me to the non-profit sector. I realized how fascinated I was listening to people from Path talking about vaccine delivery in Sub-Saharan Africa, how passionate I feel watching the TED talks of Melinda Gates about empowering women around the world. It was an epiphany to me that what I cared so deeply about wasn’t the profit a company makes a quarter, but the number of lives saved in the wake of a new vaccine development, the number of girls getting an education in the most remote areas in the world (it’s still numbers anyway since I study business J). I was deeply touched and inspired by the film Girl Rising that tells the stories of girls from different countries and backgrounds who face the greatest barriers but strive for a better life. A calling flooded over me after watching the film. I need to do something for these girls. And that was when I first met Ginna, the executive director of AYNI Education International who happened to be in the panel leading to the film screening. Her speech was inspirational.
And that was how I end up spending the summer between my 2 years of MBA with AYNI. AYNI’s mission of empowering girls and bringing education to them really resonates with me. I didn’t know much about Afghanistan before my internship but I have learned so much about the country and its people over the last 5 weeks. I just finished reading A Thousand Splendid Suns by Khaled Hosseini. The book gripped me of how much suffering Afghan women experience in their lives, which I never imagined could happen in a person’s life. And for the last five weeks, the first thing I did in the morning while having breakfast was read a piece of news about Afghanistan, and as one can imagine, it was all about war, conflicts and women struggling. My days start a little bit heavy like that, but when we were stuffing envelopes to send out appeals, I learned about how much money has been given by donors to our organization, I realized the world we are living in is still a blessing place. There are still a lot of people who care about unfortunate lives. That’s one of the reasons why I enjoy what I’m doing so much.
This internship is only my first step into the non-profit sector. I don’t know what the future looks like, but I know for sure that I will keep nurturing my passion for helping and empowering people and pursuing a career in international development. And if everything turns out as I expect, I guess the fortuneteller was right.
Ayni Education International works in the space of empowering girls’ education in Afghanistan. To most this means providing access to school buildings, including teachers and texts from which to learn to read and write. To me, it has come to mean that as the executive director I must keep our international NGO nimble, innovative and responsive to the ever changing on-the ground needs of the more than 28,000 girls we serve in a post-conflict zone. This means different things at different times.
This year has already seen a number of new innovative programs and projects—from our new school, Gohar Khaton, that combines environmental initiatives with artistic expression, to new approaches to learning such as our short story competition and a recently announced artist competition, that encourage girls to creatively use their voices to affect change in their local community. Education has the power to go beyond the classroom and empower girls to engage in their nation’s culture and politics.
Afghanistan has seen increased violence around the recent elections and emphasized the increased need for widespread education of both boys and girls. We are more committed than ever in providing education as a pathway out of violence and into peace.
In the spirit of engaging in conversation with our donors, readers and students, Ayni is re-launching our blog as a platform of communication. Come here to learn about our projects, and watch for pieces that allow you to connect more deeply with the Ayni team in the U.S. and Afghanistan. You’ll hear from board members, our interns—who keep the organization moving forward operationally, to our Afghan partners and Ministry of Education interviews to the very girls whose stories capture that elegant edge between hope and war zone realities. Our blog will represent as best as we can a platform for Afghan Girls’ Voices.
Welcome to our team. We hope you will become as passionate about the potential of education as we are.
Ginna Brelsford, Executive Director
July 16, 2014 Airokhsh Faiz
Every time I go to visit the girls in any school, there are always obstacles on our way which makes me disappointed for a while but what gives me more hope and energy to make sure and return to talk with these girls is the courage and thirst of these girls to education and exchange of ideas. When I talk with them, it is like no one has ever asked about their dreams before. They are full of love and joy, they each have stories to tell and a totally different world they live in. They are working hard for their future. They say I inspire them, but to tell the truth they inspire me, with their fullest smiles and the kisses they throw at me, with their motivation and continuous effort regardless of the harsh situation life has brought upon them. If you look at the first and second picture, you can see the difference. In the first one, the janitor is not allowing the girl to come close to us. But then she runs, towards us, to tell us she is free, to tell us she wants to run towards her dreams and that she can achieve anything she wants.
July 11, 2014 Airokhsh Faiz
Maryam is one of the participants in Omulbelad computer center who dreams to develop a software when she studies computer science in the future.
When I talked with Maryam a 10th grader in Omubelad high school, I found her full of hope and energy about her future. It is just amazing to see girls who are dreaming to achieve what they want. This wasn’t possible 10 or 20 years ago. Still many young girls in Afghanistan are married at the age of 16. Maryam thinks it is crucial for young Afghan girls to learn how to use computers. She believes by learning computer girls can get jobs along with boys in the society because today technology plays an important role in every aspect of our lives. “We can learn about the new technology in the world. Everything is now connected with computers. I would like to study computer science after graduating from high school and someday I hope to develop a software like Microsoft. Creating this computer center has helped us in so many ways and will have so much positive effects in our lives. The three most important facts about this computer are: It is inside our school, safe and comfortable. This way our families don’t have to worry about us, because they know we are in our high school. In our class students are all girls. We can exchange ideas and ask from each other. It wouldn’t be the same if there were boys in our class. There are enough computers for all of us here in this class. Each girl can use one computer which gives her a lot of time to practice using the computer on her own”.
June 17, 2014 Airokhsh Faiz
Life is busy as usual here in Mazar-e Sharif. The weather is 100 degrees celsius and young and old are busy with their work. In spite of the efforts by those who want to disrupt the security, the city is quite safe and you see little girls and boys walking to school everyday. Everyone is full of energy and hopes for their future as Afghans await for the second round of presidential elections.
Ayni has made it possible for hundreds of girls and boys to be able to dream about their future. They consider themselves the lucky ones to have the opportunity to be a part of Ayni’s services. One wants to become a journalist, the other who is currently attending one of our computer center wants to develop her own software someday while she dreams to study computer science. Talking with these girls and just asking about their future plans and telling their dream is legit and is possible to happen gives them more hope. In their daily life, they don’t face a lot of people who can listen to what they have to say. Every decision is taken for them; at home by their parents and at school by their principle or teachers. Talking to these little agents of peace makes me think that Afghanistan won’t go back, that these girls will grow up to become the future leaders, that they won’t be stuck in the cages anymore. Their smiles, their laughter, their joy, and kisses being thrown towards you says it all!
We held our ‘Afghan Girls: Their Time is Now’ event at Seattle University on May 11th. The event was a great success. We would like to give special thanks to our intern Halla Ahmed for her tireless efforts in organizing this event that highlighted the different aspects surrounding girls’ education in Afghanistan. We are extremely grateful to the many interns and staff who helped put on this event. Specifically, we want to thank our speakers: Serena Cosgrove of Seattle University, Farhana Ahmad of the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community, and Catherine Gelband, president of our board of directors. We would also like to thank the many friends and family of Halla Ahmed who contributed to making this event possible. Thank you!!!
Please enjoy some photos of the night’s events.
Halla pictured on the left and one of our speakers, Farhana Ahmad.
A Place to Learn: Sustainable School Design in Afghanistan opens in the AIA Seattle Design Gallery on Tuesday, May 14. Join us at the opening reception where our Executive Director Ginna Brelsford will discuss the Gohar Khaton Girls’ School design. The reception is from 5-7pm and there will be drinks and light snacks.