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Fall Internship Opportunity

Are you a college student interested in learning more about the field of sustainable international development and girls’ empowerment?

Sahar is hiring a Communications and Operations intern for Fall 2021.

This year, Sahar celebrates its 20th anniversary of promoting girls’ education in Afghanistan. This 20 year mark is exciting for the Sahar team in many ways. It is also a crossroads for the organization as it looks forward to continuing its growth. Within this context, the Communications Intern will support the organization’s external communications. Given the nature of Sahar, the Communications Intern will work closely with the entire Sahar Team supporting them with a number of communications-related work.

The Communications Interns reports directly to the Operations & Campaign Manager. This is a remote position.

All applicants are requested to send their completed application to the Operations & Campaign Manager at sophia@sahareducation.org by July 9, 2021.

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Welcome to our new Executive Director!

“I am privileged to have the opportunity to lead a committed organization like Sahar. I will continue Sahar’s effort in fulfilling educational needs for the vulnerable communities in Afghanistan. With your support and support from the communities we work with, we are going to continue our programs in Teacher Training, Early Marriage Prevention, Computer literacy, and Men as Partners in Change, along with a capital project of building a boarding school.”
– Malahat Mazaher

Sahar is thrilled to introduce our new Executive Director, Malahat Mazaher. Born and raised in Afghanistan, Malahat is drawn to mission oriented and community focused organizations like Sahar. She brings experience in the international development and business sectors working at both private and non-profit organizations. Her previous work includes efforts to advance educational opportunities for girls, women’s rights and empowerment, disability health, and management and acquisition of development projects. Malahat first worked with Sahar as a fellow in 2016. 

Malahat holds a dual masters degree in Sustainable International Development, and Global Health Policy and Management from the Heller School for Social Policy and Management at Brandeis University. Prior to joining Sahar as an Executive Director, Malahat worked as a business development manager with Moore Afghanistan, a consulting company based in Kabul.

As Executive Director, Malahat is eager to continue her work to empower and inspire girls by removing barriers to accessing education. Sahar is excited to embark on this new chapter as we continue to provide educational opportunities for our students, guided by Malahat’s vision for the future of young Afghan women and girls. 

We would like to take this opportunity to express enormous gratitude to Ginna Brelsford. Over her ten years as Sahar’s Executive Director, she expanded the organization, implemented our Afghan fellows program along with our other flagship programs, and led the construction of the beautiful Gowhar Khatoon School. Without her leadership, strategic vision, passion for our mission, and persistence, Sahar would not be where we are today. Please join me in welcoming Malahat to Sahar. We look forward to your continued support of Sahar and the women and girls we serve. 

Sincerely,

Catherine Gelband, Board President

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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 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!

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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.

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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.