Afghan Girls to Benefit From NG-Sponsored Education Fund

George Stuteville
for National Geographic News
September 9, 2002

Since Sharbat Gula, the Afghan girl with the fierce green eyes, was "rediscovered" earlier this year, her story has moved thousands of people to contribute nearly half a million dollars to a fund established to improve the lives of girls and young women in her war-ravaged country.

The portrait of Sharbat staring from the cover of National Geographic in 1985 touched millions of people around the world and became a well-known icon.

The photographer who took the famous picture tracked her down after 17 years, and she appeared again on the cover of National Geographic last April. So many readers were eager to help Gula's family and others like them that the National Geographic Society joined with The Asia Foundation in creating the special fund.

By last week, about 5,600 donors had given $475,368 to the fund, including a $100,000 gift from the Society, said Mark Longo, director of development operations for the National Geographic Society.

The money, he noted, is already being used to establish the National Geographic Society Girls Education and Training Center in Kabul, Afghanistan.

The center will provide educational opportunities that were denied to Sharbat but which she said she wants desperately for her own three daughters, Longo explained. "It was Sharbat's desire and her wish that we use the funds specifically for this purpose. She knows about our efforts and is pleased," he said.

The daily life of women and children in Afghanistan has been disrupted by decades of turmoil stemming from a bloody invasion by the former Soviet Union, violent civil strife, and the crushing ideology of the Taliban.

"Forgotten Girls"

To establish and operate the center, the Society and The Asia Foundation are working with a Kabul-based organization known as the Afghan Street Working Children and New Approach (ASCHIANA).

Carol Yost, director of women's projects at the Washington, D.C., office of The Asia Foundation, said the Kabul group has found a building to lease and is creating a curriculum.

The center is targeted to destitute and illiterate street girls ages 12 through 17, many of whom are orphans or refugees who were separated from their families.

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