By Judith Stiehm
Dismayed by the Bush administration’s war-making, I cast about for something an ordinary citizen could “do”. Yard signs, letters to the editor and to Members of Congress , even well attended demonstrations - all seemed to have no impact.
So I began to ask, “What can I, personally, do which will benefit people in a country under attack by my military?”
I concluded that the education of girls would certainly be beneficial, and it was a need that was being neglected-- even resisted--in Afghanistan. My goal became clear: I wanted to help build a primary school for girls.
But where should I start? I was unwilling to work with the U. S. government in any of its “nation-building” programs, and many nongovernmental organizations receive a substantial part of their budget from the government. Going to Afghanistan with some money in my pocket and good intentions and expecting to direct the building of a school, would almost certainly have had either comic or tragic (or both) results.
Thus, I was delighted beyond measure to find that AFSC had built several rural schools in Afghanistan. If I could raise $50,000 it would support their building of a school in a very remote area.
I had never tried to raise money before, but I created a Power Point presentation and sent it to most of my email list. In the following six months I talked about the school and the need for funds at every professional and social event I attended. I even approached strangers in coffee shops.
Many people contributed just because they were asked to and could afford it, but many others were eager to contribute because they, too, were deeply frustrated and wanted to “do” something.
A year later I was able to send photos of the new school in Baj Gah to the many donors and to report that classes were in progress. However, the area was so remote that there was no other school, which meant it was necessary to let boys attend as well!
I have not been able to go to Afghanistan, but this summer I was in the mountains of Tajikistan near the Afghanistan border. I now have an even better sense of the hard life of villagers, and my belief that education is of supreme importance has been reinforced.
Others have been moved to take similar action. Abington Quarterly Meeting near Philadelphia and Medford Meeting in New Jersey have both carried out major fundraising efforts and each has met the goal of raising $50,000 to support the building of a school. Likewise, students, teachers, and parents at Carolina Friends School in Durham, North Carolina, have been contributing to AFSC for several years to support a school.
Given the current financial downturn, AFSC is scaling back its work in Afghanistan. However, the organization has been able to work in partnership with people in Afghanistan and in the United States to build and rehabilitate more than a dozen schools.
The buildings, equipment, and teacher training programs have provided vital educational resources which we in the U.S. take for granted. The schools will have a lasting effect on those who have been involved on both ends.
Judith Stiehm is a professor of political science at Florida International University in Miami.