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Azalea Lehndorff - Red Deer Advocate

I believe that each one of us can do something to bring some part of the world's misery to an end. During the summer of 2009, I became inspired to embark on a journey to build 100 classrooms in Afghanistan to help to bring education to the girls and boys of this country so long under the shadow of war. I have spoken at more than 60 schools across Canada, bring home to Canadian students snapshots of life for students a world away in Afghanistan.

A reason to celebrate

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Red Deer Advocate

"Celebrate what you want to see more of."

— Tom Peters

As Christmas day approaches, and a new year is soon to begin, I want to celebrate what is right with the world.

Although there have been many challenges since we set out on this journey together to bring greater opportunity to the children of Sheberghan, I was reminded in the past week by my friends in Northern Afghanistan of how to celebrate what I want to see more of. While in Sheberghan aside from warm hospitality from my friends in Sheberghan, I experienced the celebration of the the ground breaking of the new schools donated by A Better World. The people of Afghanistan take advantage of the reasons to celebrate what is right with the world. Maybe it is because they understand the shortness of life, the value of family and friends, and the privilege of receiving the gift of education.

During the ground breaking Ceremony, we were greeted by the students who were ready to celebrate and show their gratefulness. These children work hard. Many of them live in poor homes, yet instead of feeling sorry for themselves because of the difficulties that they face, they were ready to celebrate.

Celebrating the Gift of Education

Here the Provincial Governor, Chairman of The Provincial Shura, Chair of Tunika Shura, Karim, Myself, and the Education Director are warmly welcomed by the students at Tunika Hassan Tabin High School. For the children of this village, the opportunity for education is a wonderful gift. Their school was used as a Taliban base until 2001. This year, the first grade 12 class of girls will graduate! This is a fabulous reason to celebrate.

Here the students welcome us by singing a traditional Afghan welcome song.

The people of Sheberghan showed what this gift of two schools means to them. The Provincial Governor, Police Chief, Education Director, Chair of the Provincial Shura (MP), and Intelligence Chief all attended both the ceremony for Kinara and for Tunika. We then had lunch with them and the shura members and school directors. Pictured (R) The Education Director, Police Chief, and Karim Fahimi (Project Manager) who does and excellent job in implementing the projects and ensuring that they are delivered on time and with quality. He also translated in every meeting that we had with the Shura, Education Director, etc. The Governor requested that I sit with him. He introduced the Provincial Police Chief, Intelligience Chief, And Chairman of the Provincial Shura, then said, "So, now you see, you will never need to worry when you are in Jawzjan Province. You will be safe." he explained, "I came to this ceremony because I respect you and your efforts." Then, jokingly he said, "Would you like to have Afghan citizenship."

The Honourable Provincial Governor, Mohammad Hashim Zareh addressed the audience. He talked about the future of Afghanistan. The need for parents to understand the value of allowing the children to attend university-including the girls, so that they can also be leaders, and so that their villages will not be without the professionals who can contribute the the future development of their country. He talked about the need for peace and stability and that one day soon he hopes that the government not be dependent on aid from outside, but will be able to provide for the educational needs of the people.

They could have made a token visit but obviously they want to connect with the people as well. The Governor thanked the landowners who had donated the land on which the new schools will be built. This donation is meaningful, especially since the cost of land has increased significantly, and these landowners could have sold the land and profited from it. After the Governor, the Education Director, Karim, the Mullah, and I all addressed the audience, the ribbon cutting took place. This ceremony took place at both Kinara and Tunika. The first stones were then laid. Here the governor places the first stone for Kinara Secondary School.

Picture (far right), many of the villagers showed by their presence that they support this change that has come to their community. They came to celebrate.

What is right with the world – there are children still – no one has given up on having them, saying that they do not have a future. What’s right – the people of Sherberghan want to see their future secure through education. Even though they have not had opportunities, they want the best future possible for their children. This was expressed by the Shura (Town counsel) from Tunika Village. In a meeting at the ADRA office, these leaders explained the challenges that they face. In the past, the families did not see the need for education, but in the last few years, since the end of the Taliban regime, more and more parents are doing their best to make it possible for their children to have the opportunity for literacy first (they explained that for many years, their village and surrounding areas (10,000 people) only had one or two literate individuals.) As a result of this, they explained, "there is not one doctor, nurse, engineer, lawyer, or any type of professional in our village." The Chairman of the Shura explained, "When a woman is giving birth and there are complications, we aren't able to bring her to Sheberghan in time for treatment. She will die on the way." (most of the villagers don't have cars or motorbikes, to the 15 or 20 km to Sheberghan makes medical care in emergencies largely inaccessible. In the future they would like for their village and surrounding communities to have a Medical Clinic.

Pictured below: Members of the Tunika Shura, and (R), the location where the new school will be in Tunika. The Shura made an agreement with us that they will build the wall surrounding the school. This is essential for security and for the girls who attend school there to feel most comfortable.

Besides attending the ground breaking celebrations, since we want to see more opportunities for the students of Jawzjan Province, we also visited two girl's schools introduced to us as priorities by the Education Director, and held extensive planning with Mr. Yashin and a Senior Teacher Trainer who has managed a large scale training program operated by Save the Children. Aside from building a physical structure, the students need access to a library, science lab, and teachers who are well qualified and able to communicate from a base of knowledge both in Methodology as well as the subjects (especially high school). The school pictured below is one that we visited where 517 girls attend. It is a mud building with 5 small rooms. The other school was similar, except the challenge that they are facing is with termites that are destroying the support beams that hold up the mud roof. The school also has about 500 girls in attendance (both schools are all girls and are grades 1-12). Part of my future planning was to discuss with this professor (pictured), who is an expert teacher trainer. We have a plan that has been approved by the MoE board, and now must be discussed within ABW and ADRA Afgh and with the donors by which we will offer a one year program that will include two 24 day workshops (one focused on teaching methodology and one on the different academic subjects), and a 10 month focused program where there will be specific trainers assigned to focus on Math/Science, one for Dari and the Social Sciences, one for English and Computer training, and Methodology (this person will also manage the other trainers). There would be evaluation at baseline(beginning), in the middle of the program, and at the end. This evaluation will be of both the teachers, and the students (to evaluate improvement). Throughout the duration, the trainers will provide sessions for the specific subject areas where the teachers are weak. Many of these teachers have not attended university and are in need of professional development in order to manage their classrooms and communicate concepts to their students.

This holiday season, what is in our lives that we want to see more of in the lives of others? Maybe it will be love, opportunity, compassion, laughs, celebration, or just a great conversation?

Click here to see more photos with captions

Merry Christmas to you a truly Happy New Year!!!!

"It is through education that the daughter of a peasant can become a doctor, that the son of a mineworker can become the head of the mine, that a child of a farmworker can become the president of a great nation. It is what we make out of what we have, not what we are given, that separate one person from the another" Madiba, Nelson Mandela in his autobiography, Long Walk to Freedom, pg. 194

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