for National Geographic News
An outpouring of public support has resulted in the funding of three projects instrumental to reviving the education of young girls and women in Afghanistan.
The Afghan Girls Fund (AGF) has worked to realize the wish of Sharbat Gulawhose arresting childhood photograph graced the cover of National Geographic magazine and captured the hearts of its readersto improve the prospects of Afghan girls and women through education.
The fund has received $731,791.72 in public donations and an additional $100,000 gift from the National Geographic since its inception in March 2002.
Grass Roots Effort
"No one anticipated just how strong the public response would be. It really seemed to pluck a chord," said Mark Longo, National Geographic Development Office. "We received hundreds and hundreds of checks and online donations. The response has been mostly grass roots. It's really been wonderful to see."
Take the efforts of Sara Percy, Elizabeth Percy, and Morgan Smith, three high school students from Stowe, Vermont, who launched Project Hope, a campaign to raise $5,000 to donate to the AGF.
Working through the Stowe Community Church, the girls studied Afghan culture and issues, then organized talks and raffles to raise donations and developed a web site to track their progress. Started in December 2002, Project Hope exceeded its goal this October. Their motivation? "To someday receive a hand-written letter from three girls that we have supportedbecause we helped them learn to write!" their site states.
On the Ground
With such enthusiastic support from the public, the AGF soon accumulated enough funds for the National Geographic Education Foundation to move ahead with projects on the ground in Afghanistan.
The first of these projects, the National Geographic Girls Education and Training Center, opened in October 2002. Based in Kabul and administered in conjunction with The Asia Foundation and their local partner, Afghan Street Working Children and New Approach, the center provides educational opportunities for 270 girls, ages 12-17. The curriculum is designed to bring the girls up to a 6th grade level in three years and help them reintegrate into the existing school system.
The center provides these girlsmany of whom are orphans living on the streetwith basic necessities such as one substantial meal per day, toiletries, hygiene instruction, and basic medical care. In addition, the girls receive vocational training in tailoring, computer science, calligraphy, and art and physical education classes.
"There is a generation of illiterate girls with few social skills. They don't laugh, run, and play like boysthey don't know how," observed Mark Bauman, National Geographic Mission Programs, who visited the school on behalf of the Geographic this past summer. "How much fun it must be for them now to play and learn with girls their own age after being locked away at home for so long."
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