Afghan Girl's Story Sparks School-Fund Donations

National Geographic News
April 26, 2002

More than U.S. $220,000 has been given to the National Geographic Society's Afghan Girls Fund since it was created five weeks ago.

"Gifts have flooded in by mail and online from more than 2,400 contributors, and more are arriving every day," said Anne Cowie, the Society's director of development.

The Afghan Girls Fund was established to help provide educational opportunities for young women and girls in Afghanistan.

National Geographic created the fund in honor of Sharbat Gula, the mysterious "Afghan Girl" whose haunting green eyes intrigued the Society's readers for 17 years.

Sharbat's iconic image was shot in 1984 by photographer Steve McCurry in a refugee camp in Pakistan. Over the years her face became famous around the world, although no one knew her name or what had become of her.

A National Geographic team found Sharbat in January 2002 after showing her photograph to residents of the refugee camp where McCurry found her as a child years ago.

Today she is married and has three daughters. She agreed to National Geographic's request that she be photographed again, but she requested that her privacy be respected.

The story of Sharbat and how she was found captivated the hearts and minds of millions of people worldwide five weeks ago. National Geographic has received thousands of letters asking for more information about her. And money has been pouring into the Afghan Girls Fund.

Matching of First $100,000

National Geographic has pledged to match the first hundred thousand dollars of contributions from the public. All the money in the fund will be distributed through nonprofit organizations with expertise in working in Afghanistan, said Cowie. "None of the funds will be used to defray any of National Geographic's overhead. The Society is donating the staff time to put this effort together," said Cowie.

"We will be working with The Asia Foundation on this project, a nonprofit with the knowledge, history, and presence on the ground in Afghanistan to assist us in identifying or developing programs that can benefit the young women of that country," Cowie said.

"The Asia Foundation will be spending considerable time, including travel to Afghanistan to do the due diligence and assess the needs and accountability of the specific projects they recommend for our funding," Cowie said. "Their involvement will ensure that only credible organizations meeting our objectives receive grants from the fund."

Many readers asked why National Geographic is supporting education for girls and not boys in Afghanistan. Betty Hudson, National Geographic's senior vice president for communications, said: "While we of course believe in the value of education for boys as well as girls, the young women of Afghanistan have been particularly disadvantaged of late. Under the Taliban, girls were not allowed to receive an education. There's a whole generation of teenagers that has not been offered even the most basic elementary schooling.

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