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Program Update March 2022

Education is a fundamental human right; however, it is well known that since the Taliban has taken over Afghanistan, education has once again been taken away from millions of Afghan girls. Currently girls are only allowed to participate in education through age 12, but we know that many girls under 12 are no longer pursuing education out of fear for their safety and the lack of teachers. 

Sahar is also aware of the dangers that are associated with any United States-based organizations working in Afghanistan (and their grassroots partners). This is why Sahar is working collaboratively with grassroots organizations based in Afghanistan and equipping them with evidence-informed curricula, project management, training, and support to help advance their efforts across the country. We are currently supporting the operations of two mobile schools that serve nearly 500 children who are members of a nomadic tribe who have not had access to education prior to this effort.  Founded by a remarkable young Afghan woman, these schools are teaching basic literacy skills to girls and boys of all ages.  

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Welcome to our new Executive Director

After an extensive search, the Board is thrilled that Meetra Alokozay will join us as Executive Director on March 14th.  As a passionate advocate for social justice and gender equality, Meetra has worked with non-profit organizations, focusing on youth and women empowerment through education in Afghanistan and in the United States.  Her experiences with diverse communities have enabled Meetra to build a rapport with a number of grassroot organizations. Meetra will take advantage of her network in the education arena in Afghanistan to lead Sahar’s next chapter.

“Having lived and worked in Afghanistan for most of my life, I recognize the importance of the work Sahar is doing in helping improve girls’ lives in Afghanistan. My lived experiences as an Afghan woman, and background with American Councils for International Education in Afghanistan has led to an in-depth understanding of the educational needs of Afghan women and girls and the social and cultural barriers around it.” –Meetra Alokozay

Meetra earned her master’s degree in Women’s Studies and Gender Studies from Loyola University Chicago through the Fulbright program in May 2020. She has a bachelor’s degree in Political Science and Public Administration with a minor in Law from the American University of Afghanistan.

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Sahar’s Response to the Current Crisis in Afghanistan

The news from Afghanistan is devastating. All of Afghanistan is now out of the control of the government and in the hands of the Taliban, including Kabul. President Ghani has fled to Tajikistan with his advisors. Our Afghan staff is safe, but their situation remains extremely difficult due to their affiliation with Sahar and our work. We are taking every measure we can to protect and support them and their families. 

It is hard not to feel grief as the Taliban returns, but we must remain in solidarity with the people of Afghanistan, especially the girls and women. They remain the future of the country. We are reminded of the secret schools that mothers across Afghanistan ran during the Taliban.  Perhaps we have educated the next generation of these teachers. 

Over 250,000 girls attended the schools we helped to support. Every day we showed our belief in them and their futures. Even in difficult times, the power that comes from educating a girl is not erased. They will have daughters and sons who will hear their lessons and learn from their experiences. 

Right now, the voices of many Afghan women are muted for security and safety. They will emerge again. Now, it is our voices that need to be heard supporting all Afghans, especially the women and girls in Afghanistan. We urge you to speak up for their protection and show your solidarity.

Websites of NGOs around the globe are being scrubbed and images and names have been taken to protect staff and girls. They cannot be visible so we must be. Post your messages in support of Afghanistan with the #IStandWithAfghanGirls and #IstandwithAfghans. Contact your representatives and demand that the U.S. expand its visa programs to allow NGO workers and supporters to apply for visas while they are trapped in Afghanistan. Cite Canada as an example of a country that is providing adequate support to Afghan refugees. 

Sahar believes in the future of Afghanistan and its people and we must support them now in every way possible. We have taken down our social media accounts to protect the women and girls we have served. Please visit our website to learn how you can help. We will update our landing page with organizations and resources aiding Afghanistan. Thank you for standing with us in support of Afghanistan and girls education.

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Our response to recent security developments in Afghanistan

Together in 2001, we began our journey to provide access to education for Afghan girls and boys. Since then, with your generous support, we have witnessed incredible strides in girls’ lives through education. The literacy rate for Afghan youth aged 15–24 has substantially increased and now stands at 65% (UNESCO, 2020). In Afghanistan, Sahar has built a trusted relationship with the Ministries of Education and Economy, who view us as a vital partner supporting their critical educational systems. 

Considering the recent increase in security concerns across Afghanistan, we have made the difficult decision to pause program operations and the construction of our boarding school until September 12, 2021. We will continue to employ and support our Afghan staff during this time. The safety of our staff is our priority. It is our hope that we will be able to resume operations in the fall. 

Sahar’s Board of Directors and staff remain committed to continuing to support girls in Afghanistan. Sahar’s decision to stay in Afghanistan is a testament to our trust and ongoing partnership with our team on the ground and our shared commitment to girls’ education.

As members of our community, donors, and champions of girls’ education, we ask you to join us and continue your commitment to the education of Afghan girls during these challenging times.  

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Spring Appeal 2021

War and trauma have impacted both genders in profound ways. Working with young men brings change to our communities. Education of the younger generation is the single most important work Sahar can do. Youth are the future and their generation will determine where our country goes in the face of the US and NATO troop withdrawal. Our programs are not Western ideas, they are organic and come from within Afghanistan. Young people are able to learn, to grow and change. All of this reduces violence.

Shogofa Amini

As we reflect on the past year of turbulence, loss, and protest, we are moved by the importance of Sahar’s mission to educate Afghan girls and to partner with young men in the communities where we work. We continue to recognize that by educating the next generation of Afghan leaders, Sahar’s work is a part of creating a better world. 

Our newest program, Men as Partners in Change (MPC), lays the foundation for developing gender allies so that both men and women are the leaders for the future of Afghanistan. The MPC program aims to engage young men in conversations that challenge current perceptions of masculinity and honor, and seed new thoughts about gender equality and human rights. By including men in the conversation around girls’ empowerment and connecting with young people in the communities where we work, young men have the opportunity to learn about themselves, their vulnerability, and their responsibility to improve the lives of women. 

“In Afghanistan with 40 years of war, men are also victims of war and trauma but we did not hear their stories. The reason that men are more violent toward women and causing violence is that they were brought up that way, with society and culture shaping who they are. Men who experienced war, abuse during childhood, or dealing with a post-conflict situation were more likely to be violent  towards their wife, sister, and mother. Working with men can reduce domestic violence and improve gender equality.”

Shogofa Amini

Throughout the course, students and trainers discuss fatherhood and caregiving, human rights, gender stereotypes, conflict resolution, mental health and trauma, and physical health. As reflected in focus groups and in-depth interviews with students and staff, there have been notable positive impacts on boys learning about the ways to improve the quality of life for girls and women. Reflecting on the program, one student shared:

“Before MPC, I used to feel ashamed walking with my mother. I didn’t want my friends to see me with her,  but now I feel proud walking by her side. I hold her hand. I do not care if people are watching me. This is because MPC changed how I think about women’s rights.”

MPC Student

Both MPC and our other educational programs aim to serve our students with the foundational understanding that with support, young people are able to address the needs of their own communities. 

Each and every donor friend of Sahar is an essential member of our community that champions Afghan girls’ education. We hope you will make a donation gift of a minimum of $100.00 today to provide safe learning environments for girls and foster gender allies that also support the human rights of girls and women in Afghanistan.

With Gratitude,

Ginna Brelsford, Executive Director

Catherine Gelband, Board President

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Sahar remains in Afghanistan

We know many of you have questions about the impact of President Biden’s decision to withdraw American troops from Afghanistan by September 11, 2021. In response to President Biden’s decision, Sahar’s Board of Directors and staff have reaffirmed our enduring commitment to educating young Afghan women and girls. We’ve served over 250,000 girls since September 2001 and witnessed the incredible strides in girls’ lives through education. We will continue to stay on the ground, support our Afghan team, and maintain the vital security precautions that enable our students and staff’s success. 

As an organization that serves Afghan girls and women in a conflict zone, we’ve long anticipated the impacts of a US troop withdrawal. Over the years, we’ve developed a sophisticated risk mitigation strategy that will guide our decisions as further developments and changes occur. 

In announcing the decision to withdraw US troops, President Biden reiterated the United States government’s commitment to diplomacy and humanitarian aid, including the ongoing support for girls education. We are pleased that the Biden administration has outlined significant financial resources for these efforts.

Sahar’s decision to remain in Afghanistan is a testament to our trust and ongoing partnership with our team on the ground and our shared commitment to girls’ education. We will continue to update you as the withdrawal process unfolds. 

As members of our community, donors, and champions of girls’ education, we thank you for your continued commitment to Sahar during a time of significant change. 

With Gratitude,

Catherine Gelband – President of Sahar Board of Directors

Ginna Brelsford – Executive Director

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