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Saving Afghan Girls

by Catherine Patten, RSHMCategory: Updates

young woman, shoulder length black hair, wearing white button down shirt with school logo

Last Spring, I was asked by a friend to join a small group who were trying to save five girls from the Taliban in Afghanistan by bringing them to the United States. There is a long back story, but the good news is that all five are now here and enrolled in schools in New York City. One of them, Dunya, is at Marymount School of New York in grade 11. The other four are at Birch Wathen Lenox, another private school in New York City that offered them scholarships.

Of course, the fall of the government of Afghanistan on August 15, 2021, and the coming of the Taliban threatened the work, the children, and Andeisha herself. Because the program had significant American funding and emphasized art and music education (forbidden by the Taliban), they have struggled to protect the children. Many are still in Kabul and other cities, some in safe houses. Boys have been allowed to return to secondary school, but secondary education for girls is forbidden.

Meg Chapman and her husband Mo have been involved with an organization called Afghan Child Education and Care (AFCECO) for many years. I am so impressed with the work of this organization; I hope that you will take a look at their inspiring website. AFCECO was founded in 2004 by an Afghan woman, Andeisha Farid, who grew up in war-torn Afghanistan. Andeisha, grateful for her education, wanted to help the children in her country not only to be sheltered and safe but also to be educated so they in turn could help rebuild Afghanistan. She understood the culture, the tribal conflicts, and the importance of keeping the children connected to their home families and villages. With the help of CharityHelp International, a not-for-profit that had a program inviting people to sponsor a child, she was able to fund her work.

Two young women standing on corner in NYC, both with long dark hair, one wearing white blouse and pale blue uniform skirt and white sneakers, the other in navy polo shirt and khaki slacs and white sneakers
Dunya and her sister Setayesh

These five girls were in special danger, among other things, because they were studying art and music. AFCECO managed to get them to Pakistan on one-year student visas. Despite having letters from the U.S. State Department that they qualified for special assistance, the consulate in Islamabad was unable to process this type of visa and they were in imminent danger of being deported back to Afghanistan.

Our little group decided to try to get them here on student visas. This meant finding schools approved to accept foreign students who were also willing to offer full scholarships, finding host families who would parent them, and raising funds to get them here and to provide support. It also meant finding help to navigate the U.S. immigration system. Acceptance at a school was the key to being able to apply for student visas. The first school we approached was Marymount School of New York which accepted Dunya. Her younger sister, Setayash, is with the others at Birch Wathen Lenox.

Our group is committed to shepherding these girls in their adjustment to life in the United States and their very challenging educational journeys. For the moment, however, we are rejoicing that they are here and that they are doing well.

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