On March 8, 2002, International Women’s Day, Clotilde Dedecker, then a freshman at Nardin Academy, attended a program on Women in Afghanistan at the local YWCA. This panel of speakers introduced her to the tenets of Islam as well as the plights of Afghan women and girls in a post September 11th Afghanistan. One of the speakers, Susan Safi-Rafig, Executive Director of Atlanta Afghan Women’s Association, gave an impassioned plea for assistance in educating Afghan girls.
Clotilde attends an all-girl high school. While attending the program, she had a response to Ms. Safi-Rafiq’s call and approached her after the presentation to see if there was some way she could help. She informed her that there were eight girls’ high schools in the community, and this may be a great opportunity for them to be a part of rebuilding Afghanistan by doing what they do best, support the education of girls. Clotilde then spend the second half of her freshman year developing a project proposal and presenting it to the eight principals of the schools.
All of the Administrators were supportive of her proposal and five of them agreed to have their schools participate. The Western New York (WNY) Girl Schools Coalition-Afghanistan Project was then created. This group is comprised of a delegation of four students and a moderator from each of the participating schools. They have met monthly since September 2002 during the school year at the various school to plan and implement strategies that support their goals, which are to raise awareness of Islam and Afghanistan within their school communities and to raise money to build and adopt a girl’s school in Afghanistan.
Their first goal of raising awareness resulted because of the traumatic events on September 11th. There are more than 3,500 students that attend the participating schools. They have all addressed the stereotypes and learned about Islam and deepened their understanding and appreciation for Middle Eastern cultures.
One year after the tragic events at the World Trade Center, the WNY community was faced with ethnic profiling challenges as the “Lackawanna Terrorist Cell” was implicated. These girls were able to have a very different dialogue about this challenging situation, as they understood the difference between extremist groups and the rest of the Middle Eastern community.
The Coalition is now completing its second year of operation. To date, they have raised and sent more than $15,000 for the rebuilding of the Zarghona Middle School for Girls in the Kandahar Region. They are now in the process of raising additional dollars to furnish the school and library. Their fundraising has included school drives, an all schools dance, grants and in-kind support from the community. The Coalition’s in-country partner is Afghan’s for Civil Society. They have been e-mailing photos of the school’s progress and of the students that are being served. The WNY Girls Schools Coalition-Afghanistan Project is excited to be a part of raising consciousness and awareness about the Middle Eastern community while promoting peace and education.