Yesterday my heart heard the call and felt the tug when a beautiful young Afghan girl named Pashtana Rasol came to my church, Peace Lutheran, to share her story.
13 years ago when she was 8 years old Pashtana's father was murdered by the Taliban. Her mother fled with Pashtana and her younger sister to Pakistan and, unable to care for her children, left them in an orphanage for Afghan refugee children.
This orphanage had been started by another young Afghan woman named Andeisha Farid who as a child had herself been a war refugee when Afghanistan was invaded by Russia.
To learn more about this heroic woman check out her biography at: http://www.afceco.org/index.php/andeisha
"When I entered this place I just sat down on the floor. I was astonished to see all these children. Playing. Learning."
Pashtana was amazed that children of all different tribes, Pashtun, Hazara, Pashae, Uzbek, Kuchi, Tajik, were playing together, learning together, living together and caring about each other like brothers and sisters. And, as she soon learned, this was a place that offered the children more than a basic Afghan education. This was a place that offered art, languages, music, drama, sports, opening a new world to these children where they could blossom physically, intellectually and culturally.
And for girls, most importantly, this was a place where they could learn independent thinking and leadership skills.
"In Afghanistan women can take no responsibility for their lives," Pashtana explained to us. She told of how the women in her country are ruled by the men. And the men, sadly, are ruled lack of education and crushing poverty. "And so everyone is hopeless," she said.
But at the orphanage boys and girls were being educated and the girls were being taught to be leaders. "At the orphanage it's very democratic."
And so Pashtana immersed herself in her studies, worked hard and rose to the top of her class.
Meanwhile Andeisha Farid's orphanage was getting international recognition and was taken under the wing of CharityHelp International for the purpose of raising financial support. Ms. Farid named her organization The Afghan Child Education and Care Organization.
"Then," Pashtana told us, "we were ordered out of Pakistan by the government, and the orphanage moved back to Kabul in Afghanistan."
But with international funding from corporations such as Goldman-Sachs Ms. Farid has been able to open 10 more orphanages in Kabul and other cities. And, through her association with CharityHelp, she is able to collect private donations and sponsorships for individual children.
One of these sponsorships by a family in Connecticut went to Pashtana, and in 2010 she was invited by her sponsor family to come to America and spend 3 months with them. Pashtana threw herself into leaning English and returned to Afghanistan resolved to devote her life's work to AFCECO and bettering the life of Afghanistan's children, and through them the future of her country.
"The other girls, they talk about getting engaged or married when they finish school. For me, I choose something else. To work for the children."
Pashtana, now 21 years old, works as a Managing Director of the AFCECO orphanages in Kabul.
She is also a business student at the University of Kabul. Each day she wakes up at 4 am to attend her classes, which start at 5 am. To get to the university she must share a taxi with a group of other women. A woman still does not dare to travel alone through the streets of Kabul where she risks being kidnapped or beaten. Pashtana attends classes from 5 until 8 am then travels from the university to the orphanage where she puts in a full day of work.
Pashtana's peircing dark eyes burned as she spoke with passion about her life's calling. She repeatedly interspersed her description of her orphanage and the children with such words as "peace", "love", "caring", "sharing", "together", "hope".
The AFCECO orphanages are dependent on donations, and unfortunately, corporate donations have been cut along with corporate cut-backs. And so this summer during her second visit with her sponsor family in Conneticut Pashtana has been traveling on a fund-raising mission, telling her story to groups such as ours at Peace.
If you click to the One Time Donation page you'll be offered a number of options for where you'd like your donation to be directed, such as towards school supplies, physical activity supplies, bedding, etc.
The option I chose was "safe, loving environment".
*See post from 10/24/2013.