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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 in Balkh province.  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 in Mazar-i-Sharif, 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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“What does Sahar mean to me?” – Nina Boe

I can’t recall the first time Afghanistan came onto my radar, but like many young adults in the United States, I recall U.S. military intervention in the region. As I grew older, I realized how ironic it was – Afghanistan remained mostly a military topic for many Americans for years, and that narrative dominated our consciousness and awareness of the country. It was only later that I learned of the improvements and developments, strides that Afghans and others were making in the country despite ongoing conflict and security issues.

I grew up in diverse public schools in Seattle, later attending community college and the University of Washington. Every person I met shared some small piece of a story, making me want to learn more. Classes tied in international issues and conflict–but I kept asking questions that we didn’t study. What happened after wars were over? What does it mean to pick up the pieces of life and society when those pieces are so broken and scattered, and some people were denied any piece to begin with? Just when I felt I was gaining traction in an area, I’d encounter a question or story that forced me to peel back another layer of my knowledge: where do women and girls fit into this picture? Where does education fit? Digging deeper, I learned how conflict and lack of educational opportunities disproportionately affects women, negatively affects families and communities, and hinders community growth and development.

My international interests began in southeastern Europe, migrating across the Middle East and into south Asia. I gravitated towards languages – for pleasure, communicating, and connecting with new people. After returning to Seattle from two years abroad, I bumped into a job posting from an organization called Sahar. I could tell it was a Persian word, and wondered, “what do they do?” A year later, I bumped into Executive Director Ginna Brelsford and then Sahar Fellow Airokhsh Faiz Qaisary, and resolved to stay in touch. Another year later I came across an internship posting with Sahar, and immediately contacted Ginna to learn more. I am excited to use skills I am learning and honing in my degree work – to be able to ask the questions I’ve always wanted to ask, but also be able to start unpacking the process of how do we work towards answering them. I am honored to support such an incredible organization, and look forward to learning and sharing even more!

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Welcome, Nina Boe!

Nina Boe has joined Sahar for the 2017 summer as our Senior International Research Intern. As a University of Washington Evans School of Public Policy & Governance Graduate Student, Nina is assisting us with our monitoring and evaluation systems development and authoring an Impact Report for Sahar. As a seasoned non profit volunteer and avid linguist, Nina has already demonstrated a special talent for applying her coursework in statistics with impact data Sahar gathers in the field in Afghanistan.

Nina is very involved in the Seattle community and beyond, serving on the board of directors for two non profits, including Kids4Peace. Nina is also a talented photographer. Keep an eye out for her blog posts where she will update us on her work, why she’s passionate about non-profits, and what empowering young Afghan girls means to her.

Welcome to the team, Nina!

Blog News

Youth Initiative: Why We Should Support Young Leaders

By Ruth Yohannes (Sahar Intern)

Capacity building and development is a process by which organizations such as Sahar help communities improve their skills and knowledge needed to sustain themselves. In education, this task consists of training teachers, strengthening schools’ management system and beyond.

Created by Ruth Yohannes.

An important aspect of capacity building is to recognize and empower leaders within the community. In fact, relying on leaders creates a ripple effect, and each of Sahar’s initiatives impacts the community in a different ways. For instance, Sahar’s early marriage prevention program encourages students to start conversations with their peers and family on child marriage. Equipped with critical thinking tools, they are able create their own spheres of influence where more and more individuals become aware of the harmful effects of early marriage.

The same lens can be applied to the creation and strengthening of school shuras (managment). While the government might have limited outreach and influence in some regions outside of the cities, community-led management can close the gap. As trusted leaders in their communities, shura members are better placed to convince parents to send their girls to school. Similarly, increasing the number of female teachers has been proven to raise the female student enrolment rates, as they appear as role models to students and parents alike.

Empowering young leaders is one of the pillars of Sahar’s work. In the case of Afghanistan, policy change is already achieved; girls are legally guaranteed the right to education. However, rural regions often lag behind in reforms. This is where capacity development comes in. It ensures that the change the government is igniting eventually becomes a widely accepted norm. With the support of Sahar and their school shuras, young girls have the capacity to change their communities for the better.


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Culture of Education in Balkh Province: An Unique Example

By Ruth Yohannes (Sahar Intern)

Our previous blog post featured Balkh province, where Sahar concentrates its efforts. In addition to its unique history, Balkh continues to stand out for its approach to the Afghan school system’s main problem: female student enrollment. In fact, the province has one of highest female enrolment rates in the country, 48% as of 2014.

This success is in large part attributed to the shuras (school councils), that  have played an important role in rallying the community behind their efforts to provide a quality education for students. Shuras are the equivalent of PTAs here in the United States. They are composed of local elders, teachers and parents, who meet regularly to discuss the problems facing the school and potential solutions. In Ommolbilad girls’ High School, in Northern Balkh, parents helped renovated the school by gravelling the yard and planting trees in the compound. “Every month we have council meetings and have solved many problems by sharing them with the community”, said the school headmaster.

In addition, shuras are the ones who apply for development grants on behalf of their communities. They communicate their schools’ needs to the Ministry of Education and NGOs like Sahar, who provide them the resources necessary to strengthen them. Through their efforts, they have been able to raise the enrollment rates throughout the region. “Now, we all go out in the community and to the mosques to tell everybody to bring their boys and girls here. If they don’t, we encourage them until they do,” says Hussein Ali, a member of the local shura in Turabi girls’ High School. Parents may be reluctant to send their girls to school for many reasons, such as prejudice or safety concerns, but shuras facilitate communication with families and work to tackle misconceptions about education.

In the face of long standing obstacles to girls’ education, shuras offer a sustainable and proactive solution to those challenges. By involving the local communities in their children’s education, they set a strong precedent for the future generations of girls to go to school. Balkh province’s model of community engagement proves that school-community cooperation is an important factor for the return of Afghan girls in the education system.

Blog News

Building Local Capacity through Educational Opportunity: Seattle Foundation Panel

On Monday, May 22nd, 2017 Sahar Executive Director Ginna Brelsford participated on a panel hosted by the Seattle Foundation titled “Building Local Capacity through Educational Opportunity: Seattle nonprofits promoting educational opportunities abroad.”

Joined by Emer Dooley (Ashesi University, Ghana), Suzanne Sinegal McGill (Rwanda Girls Initiative, Rwanda), and John Brown (Brown Family Foundation & Pangea Giving, Latin America), the panel discussed their work in low-resource countries to provide educational opportunities for underserved communities.

The discussion was moderated by Dr. Ed Taylor, Vice Provost & Dean of Undergraduate Academic Affairs at the University of Washington, with over 40 attendees listening in and asking questions.

Thank you to the co-partners of the event, Seattle International Foundation and Global Washington, as well as all that attended. To stay up to date on all events Sahar, please join our newsletter!




Photo credit: Stephen Robinson

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A Look at Balkh province: Center of Sahar’s Initiatives

By Ruth Yohannes (Sahar Intern)

Sahar’s work is based in the Northern Afghanistan province of Balkh. It is one of the most secure areas in the country, which allows for cooperation between the government and numerous international organizations in large-scale projects such as education and agriculture rehabilitation. As a result, the province has benefited from relatively high development. Balkh province’s capital city, Mazar-i-Sharif, is the nation’s fourth largest city.

Balkh is leading the nation in the reconstruction of the public school system. Since 2001, they have achieved tremendous results in student participation rates, especially for female students. Sahar’s effort to increase education for girls has been positively received in Balkh province. Sahar serves almost 25,000 new female students in 2016 alone.

Compared to the rest of the country, the region has had high educational achievements. In 2016, Balkh province established 49 new primary schools, and restored 52 existing ones. These numbers are more than twice the national average, making Balkh a unique case in Afghanistan. In addition, Balkh province is home to a couple of longstanding higher learning institutions. Balkh university is the second largest university in the country.

Balkh’s distinct position in Afghanistan is in part due to its past as a hub for Persian literature. In fact, its position on the Silk Road—an ancient trade route stretching from Europe to the Far East—has allowed it to participate in large intellectual and spiritual movements such as Buddhism and Persian poetry. The well established presence of education in the region makes it easier to successfully implement progressive programs such as early marriage prevention. Sahar works closely with the local community in order to ensure long-lasting support for girls’ education and empowerment.


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Building Local Capacity through Educational Opportunity: Seattle nonprofits promoting educational opportunities abroad

Please join us for good food, genial company
and inspiring conversation on the topic of:

Building Local Capacity through Educational Opportunity:
Seattle nonprofits promoting educational opportunities abroad

Come learn about effective nonprofits based in the greater Seattle area working in low-
resource countries to provide educational opportunities for underserved communities.

The discussion will be moderated by Dr. Ed Taylor,
Vice Provost & Dean of Undergraduate Academic Affairs at the University of Washington.

Panelists include:

Emer Dooley, Ashesi University (Ghana)
Ginna Brelsford, Sahar (Afghanistan)
Suzanne Sinegal McGill, Rwanda Girls Initiative (Rwanda)
John Brown, Brown Family Foundation, Pangea Giving (Latin America)

Monday, May 22, 2017
11:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m.

(Program starts at noon. Lunch will be provided)

at Seattle Foundation’s new location:
1601 Fifth Avenue, 19th Floor, Seattle, WA 98101

RSVP to Jesus Carbajal at by Friday, May 19

Co-presented by:

Seattle International Foundation
Global Washington

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Spring Campaign Success

Wow! Thank you to the Sahar supporters for believing in the mission of Sahar. Through the Spring Campaign, which included GiveBIG, we have raised over $15,000 towards improving the educational opportunities for girls in Afghanistan.

We are excited to share that, through #GiveBIG, we were awarded $2,500 from the Seattle Foundation as a Dollars for Change winner! Thank you to Ken Schumacher, who’s donation triggered this generous award!

Thanks for being on our team!

Blog News

May 3rd Issue Briefing – Islamophobia

On Wednesday, May 3rd, 2017 Sahar hosted our second issue briefing, titled “Islamophobia: Understanding Islam and the Experience of American Muslims.” Aneelah Afzali, Executive Director of American Muslim Empowerment Network, and Malahat Mazaher, Sahar Afghan Fellow, both shared perspectives and fielded questions. Ginna Brelsford, Executive Director of Sahar, was also present, introducing the speakers and moderating the questions.

“And the servants of the Most Beneficent (Allah) are those who walk on earth in humility and moderation, and when the foolish address them (with bad words) they reply back with mild words of gentleness.” (Quran 25:63)

Malahat began with the above verse to illustrate some of her own experiences and why she believes the topic of Islamophobia is important. While working at Sahar, for example, Malahat heard from students at a local Seattle school that while they had heard about Islam before, somehow they thought it was something bad. But Malahat did not let this discourage her. Instead, she opened up the subject to discussion. “I started the conversation about how people are from different races and ethnic backgrounds, they can have different religious beliefs or have no religious beliefs at all. While I spoke in general about Muslims, I spent most of the time discussing American Muslims in particular. I also talked about the diversity within Muslims Americans in the way they look like, the way they dress, and the way they practice their faith.”

“Through all my experiences of interfaith and intercultural work, I’ve seen that unless we talk about issues and learn about them, it is not easy to get over the fear of the unknown, the stereotypes and Islamophobia. Prejudice and discrimination affect people everywhere,” she noted.

When Aneelah began, she too emphasized the essence of the verse that Malahat shared. Aneelah’s goal is to repeal hate with kindness – that it is what pushes her to do the work of combating Islamophobia.

Aneelah shared local national stories of trends of hate crimes against Muslims or those perceived as Muslims. She noted that these crimes are disturbing and have been on the rise in the last couple of years. While a lot of the most recent focus regarding Islamophobia has come from the demonizing rhetoric of Donald Trump, these crimes proceeded the US President and have been used as a political tool for quite some time.

“Why do we care?” she asked. And the answer is simple: Islamophobia attacks American values, makes us all less safe, and opens the door to other bigotry. Aneelah also noted that fear makes us all more accepting of authoritarianism.

Moving forward, here are some steps we can take to combat Islamophobia:
1. Learn about Islam and meet Muslims.
2. Learn about Islamophobia and the effects it has.
3. Look for opportunities to stand together.
4. Take action and speak out when there is injustice.
5. Write about inspiring Muslims – share positive experiences and stories of the muslims that the mainstream media does not cover.

Aneelah closed with a famous quote from Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.: “In the end, we will remember not the words of our enemies, but the silence of our friends.” This quote punctuated that we are all negatively affected by Islamophobia and that we have the power and responsibility to act.