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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.

 

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The Importance of Computer Literacy in the Age of Technology

By Ruth Yohannes (Sahar Intern)

Computer learning programs give students the opportunity to expand their horizons to learn skills they would not have the opportunity to acquire in the traditional classroom. Computer proficiency is increasingly indispensable in every job sector. For this reason,  it’s important to make sure that learning centers are available to students, regardless of what neighborhood, city, or country they come from.

The computer literacy program was born out of Sahar’s dedication to empowering girls and helping them be more independent. In fact, it meets a high demand in high schools across Balkh province, in the northern part of Afghanistan. Sahar recognizes that Afghan girls need to be equipped with a strong set of skills in order to enter a competitive workforce where they are disadvantaged because of social stigma. The goal is to provide a model to be applied in all schools across Afghanistan by the Ministry of Education.

First opened in 2011, the computer centers served about 3,224 girls to date. They offer a 3-month long training, at the end of which the students are awarded a certificate of proficiency. Participants are chosen based on their grades and English skills. The program has been met with enthusiasm by teachers and students alike. “I am so happy that I participated in this class, because this program helped me very much with my school lessons. Before this class, I didn’t even know how to turn on the computer.”, says Fatima, a student from Roshana Balkhi High School.

In addition to interning at Sahar, I volunteer for a Seattle based elementary school also offers computer training to elevate student opportunities. Yesler Terrace computer center provides the Central District neighborhood youth a space where they can reflect on their surroundings. They have created the Yesler Youth media, which produces mini-documentaries on the unique lives of their community-home to folks from a wide range of ethnic background. The program allows them to be creative, and to explore STEM projects that are not available to them at school. “I like using the computers here because I don’t have one at home”, says Maraki, a 5th grader at Bailey Gatzert Elementary School. “I was able to use it to make a project for school”.

Computer learning centers provide opportunities for students who do not have the resources to use them at home or at school. Afia, a former student of the computer center in Gawhar Khaton High School, says “now, when I want to work for a company, I don’t have any problems. I can do administrative and financial work on the computer”.

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Addressing Islamophobia with Seattle School Children

By Malahat Mazaher

When people don’t know something, they fear it. One of the reasons for Islamophobia and the fear of Muslims is knowing very little or none at all about Islam/Muslims. Talking about Islam and having an interfaith and intercultural exchange can help resist preconceived notions, biases and discrimination against any group of people.

Because prejudices in the United States affects people everywhere, I would like to share with you how Sahar, as an organization that serves Muslim girls in Afghanistan, helps raise awareness about Islamophobia.

One of my responsibilities as a Sahar Fellow is to engage the Seattle community with our work as well as multiculturalism in general. I’ve spoken in different schools in Seattle. One of the schools I recently worked with is the Meridian school. I had 45 minutes with each class, from grades 1-5.  In their small classroom and that library, we accomplished a lot.

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.With older students (grade 4-5), we discussed stereotypes and how these stereotypes not only affect Muslims in the US but across the world.

To my surprise, when I asked about Islam, many of the students had already heard about Islam. However, some believed that Islam is somehow something bad. When I asked a student from the 2nd grade where he heard it, he replied “ The presidential election.” But, as you read this, please don’t lose hope – this was not the perspective of all the students. Some students were aware that people who practice Islam are treated unfairly.

In order to familiarize them with ordinary American Muslims, I shared this video. I also shared stories of American Muslims to give them a view of the struggles they face. I shared Hebh Jamal’s story, 15, from Bronx NY, who instead of being busy with normal teenage concerns like homework, clothing, or hanging out with friends, has had to struggle with the growing anti-Muslim sentiment, adjusting her routines to avoid bullying and worrying about how she appears to the rest of society.

Hebh says, “If a Muslim hasn’t been called a terrorist in middle school, lower school or high school, then they’re probably in a really great school — and I’m happy for them! I find myself coming home, and my parents say: ‘Why are you so tired? What did you do?’ And I say, Absolutely nothing. You feel like the whole world is against you, she added. It’s exhausting.” (NYT)

We talked in depth about this story and how the students felt about it. By the end of the class, I could see and feel that these students were realizing that there is nothing out of the ordinary about Muslims. Muslims could be of any race, ethnicity, and language. They just never knew that such things could be true about Muslims.

Through all my experiences of interfaith and intercultural work, the lesson I learned is 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. Again, prejudice and discrimination here affect people everywhere else and vice versa.

 

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School and community collaboration: The impact on students’ education

By Ruth Yohannes (Sahar Intern)

When I came to the United States as a freshman in 2015, one of my first experiences was an immersion trip with a few students and my college orientation advisor. I had visited Seattle before, but it was my first time seeing Seattle University and its neighborhood. After visiting the historic Central district, we stopped by Bailey Gatzert Elementary school. Growing up in Ethiopia, I viewed schools as a place to learn, and not much more. However, when I first stepped in the Gatzert cafeteria, I could see parents serving food to students, helping them eat and clean up. There was lively conversation around the room, and it looked like a really close-knit community.

Currently, Seattle university’s Center for Community Engagement (CCE), engages more than 250 students to participate in their after-school tutoring program; in the summer, they provide learning opportunities for more than 300 students. This ongoing effort has led Bailey Gatzert to achieve the highest academic growth of any school in Seattle from 2012 to 2013.

I have now been an employee in the Bailey Gatzert after school program for almost a year. Twice a week, I spend the afternoon with 1st graders; along with other student leaders, we lead activities to strengthen their knowledge in math, reading and writing. Our ultimate goal is to have them reach grade level as soon as possible.

Early Marriage Prevention’s session- students’ discussion.

Most people would agree that students with stronger family support are better equipped to succeed at school. That probability is further increased when families can lean on individuals and institutions in their neighborhoods. The Bailey Gatzert after school program helps students that do not always have the same opportunities as their counterparts in other neighborhoods. Although students may face hardships outside of school, community involvement gives them a chance to achieve success.

In Afghanistan, Sahar takes the
effort one step further: one of their most important contributions is the rebuilding of schools in order to provide a safe and dignified learning space for girls. I came to Sahar as an intern because I felt like their work was truly empowering girls by giving them an environment where they can grow and expand their horizons. What’s more, Sahar encourages community building through efforts to raise support for girls’ education. Their early marriage prevention program brings together community leaders as well as school officials in order to ensure that girls are educated in a nurturing environment.

The program aims to impact girls beyond the traditional classroom: “girl leaders in schools are identified as candidates for self-esteem programs to encourage them to remain in school, and to spread the awareness of their legal rights to not marry until age 16. At home, the program aims to increase fathers’ awareness of the long-term economic gain of having an educated daughter”.

School-community cooperation has an immense impact on students’ academic improvement and participation. It is an important factor for the return of Afghan girls in the education system. At Bailey Gatzert school, it provides a safe and nurturing environment in which students can thrive.

 

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Altruistically Speaking podcast: Educating and empowering girls in Afghanistan

Our Sahar Fellow Malahat Mazaher sat down with Dave Tomlinson of Altruistically Speaking, a podcast that shines a light on those people who make a real difference in our world, every day. In this episode, Malahat and Dave discuss the work of Sahar, what drives Malahat to do the work she does, and Sahar’s Early Marriage Prevention Initiative.

Give it a listen!

For more information on Altruistically Speaking, check them out here: http://www.altruisticallyspeaking.com/
Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/altruisticallyspeaking/
Twitter: https://twitter.com/altruspeaking
Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/altruisticallyspeaking

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May 3rd Issue Briefing – Islamophobia: Understanding Islam and the Experience of American Muslims.

Event Description:

Sahar Education for Afghan Girls is hosting an evening discussion on Islam and Islamophobia featuring Aneelah Afzali, the Executive Director of American Muslim Empowerment Network, and Sahar Fellow Malahat Mazaher. We will discuss the increase in Islamophobia in our country and how it poses a significant threat to all of us, along with specific concrete actions each of us can take to combat Islamophobia. We will also highlight Sahar’s work on this topic with schoolchildren in Seattle.

We are particularly honored to be joined by Aneelah Afzali – one of the many fantastic speakers from the Seattle Women’s March on January 21st of 2017. If you’re interested in listening to her speech from the Seattle rally, please follow this link.

Heavy hors d’oeuvres, coffee, and dessert will be provided.

When:
Wednesday, May 3rd 2017
Doors open at 5:30pm
Program runs from 6-7:30pmWhere:
Impact Hub Seattle – 4th Floor Learning Studio
220 2nd Ave S
Seattle, WA 98104Cost:
$10 per attendee

Questions?
Email: qxhna@sahareducation.org

Register HERE.

Speaker Bios:
Aneelah Afzali is the founder and Executive Director of the American Muslim Empowerment Network (AMEN), a new initiative to provide a strategic and visionary response to the challenges of our times. Aneelah is an attorney and graduate of Harvard Law School who worked at two law firms in Seattle. After a spiritual awakening and witnessing the growing divisiveness in our country, Aneelah took a break from her legal career to pursue two things her faith emphasizes – knowledge and service. For the past three years, she has served as a community activist, interfaith leader, social justice advocate, and seeker of knowledge.  Aneelah graduated from the University of Oregon Honors College, and was named a Chayes International Service Fellow at Harvard Law School.  She enjoys traveling, snowboarding, and football, and is a proud Seahawks and Ducks fan!
Malahat Mazaher began working with Sahar as a fellow in November 2016. She is from Afghanistan and came to the United States for her studies through a youth exchange program sponsored by the U.S. State Department. She graduated from Lafayette College in Pennsylvania, with a double major in International Affairs and Economics. As a college student, she interned in various private and nonprofit organizations in Afghanistan, the United States and Switzerland, focusing on Communications & Marketing, Women’s Empowerment and a Campaign to Ban Landmines.
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It’s official! Sahar is Recipient of Dining for Women Grant!

Sahar is excited to announce that we are the recipient of a $50,000 grant from Dining For Women for our Early Marriage Prevention Initiative.

Chosen from 135 applicants, Sahar’s grant will go towards the second phase of our Early Marriage Prevention Initiative. The second phase will impact 500 girls attending two schools in the northern region of Afghanistan, Balkh Province. The Early Marriage Prevention Program integrates conversations about early marriage and education within the schools and with community leaders, solidifying the long-term importance of educating girls within the cultural framework and teaching girls their rights to not marry and stay in school.

The Dining for Women mission states that, through collective giving circles, the organization inspires, educates and engages people to invest in grassroots programs that make a meaningful difference for women and girls living in extreme poverty in developing countries.

We at Sahar cannot think of a partner that is more mission-aligned. Thank you so much for investing in global girls empowerment!

For more information regarding Dining for Women, please see their website: https://diningforwomen.org/

Sahar is listed during the month of October. Our page can be found here: https://diningforwomen.org/programs/sahar-education/

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Sahar to participate in Seattle’s Giving day, GiveBIG – May 10th 2017!

Hello Supports of Sahar!

We are excited to announce that we will be participate in Seattle Foundation’s giving day, GiveBIG: Now More than Ever!

GiveBIG Seattle is a one-day online giving event to raise funds for nonprofit organizations serving Greater Seattle. GiveBIG 2017 is Wednesday, May 10 from midnight to midnight Pacific Time.

Stay tuned for more information, how to get involved, and how to donate!

 

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Successful Issue Briefing!

On March 23rd 2017, Sahar co-hosted an issue briefing with Global Washington, addressing some of the challenges facing global women’s empowerment in the current US political climate. Titled “The Courage to Persist: Standing Firm in Support of Women’s Opportunities Globally”, the talk was led by Sahar Afghan Fellow, Malahat Mazaher and Sahar Board Member, Kelsey Noonan and moderated by Ginna Brelsford, Sahar Executive Director.

There were over fifty people in attendance – we had representatives from many different organizations, including Landesa, Camber Collective, Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, Women’s Enterprises International.

Kelsey began the issue briefing with the question “Why do we need to talk about this now?” She went on to touch upon the dramatic repositioning of America on the global stage – in both the political and philanthropy spheres – and how this has an outsized effect on women and girls. The current Trump administration has put in place a 37% budget reduction for USAID, a heavy-hitter in supporting women and girls. This reduction will take a toll on many global programs. The administration has suggested other countries should step up as the United States step back, but other western nations already give a larger percentage of their GDP than we do. They are unlikely to be able to increase budgets to account for the United States decrease.

While giving in the United States has increased after the November 8th election, this surge in individual philanthropy has been directed primarily to domestic causes. It’s certainly great news that giving has increased, however, Kelsey warned us: “we need to be careful to not build a wall around our own rights, while women and girls in other countries are blown backward by this political wind.”

Malahat then stepped in to provide the context of Sahar’s work. Sahar is closely connected to education as a tool of empowerment. Malahat noted that the Asia Foundation did a population survey from 2006-2009 to find out what was the biggest challenge women faced. Lack of education was cited as the number one barrier to women’s engagement by women. One way to improve quality of life in a developing nation is to educate girls – the status of women is tied directly to the health and success of a country. Education is the greatest success story of Afghanistan. The literacy rate has increased by 10% since 2001, currently at 38%. The Afghan government goal is to be at 59% by 2020.

Sahar Executive Director, Ginna Brelsford, moderating questions.

This success is possible because of the commitment of the international community, NGOs and the Afghan government’s’ efforts. It is important to continue this challenging work because Afghanistan is one of the world’s youngest countries. 50% of its population is under the age of 15 and 79% of the population is under the age of 35. Without supporting education, there is an incredibly large amount of lost potential.

 

Malahat also touched upon education as a bridge to understanding the unknown. Education can help resist preconceived notions, biases and discrimination against any group of people. When people don’t know about something, they fear it. An example of this is Islamophobia and fear of Muslims. Malahat has spent time at various schools around Seattle, teaching classes on Islamaphobia. She noted that “To my surprise, many of the students already knew that Islam is somehow something bad but also that people who practice islam are treated badly/unfairly. We talked a lot about muslim Americans and the scarf/hijab that muslim women wear. By the end of the session, I could see that these students were realizing that there is nothing out of the ordinary about muslims. That’s why we are engaging with schools here because global issues are related to local agenda. It continues to be very important and it’s not at odds with domestic issues. We need to do both.  The prejudice here affects people everywhere else.”

Kelsey and Malahat ended with three takeaways for the attendees, that you can also take into consideration!

  1. Give more, Seattle! Seattle is in the bottom 10 cities of individual giving. Talk to donors, colleagues and peers about Seattle’s low rank, and why now may be a good time to stretch your giving.
  2. Combat Islamaphobia! Call on Sahar as a local resource for education and dialogue to breakdown stereotypes about Islam.
  3. Women’s rights are global rights – help us expand the conversation about gender equity to include women and girls beyond our borders.

    Closing remarks from GlobalWA’s Executive Director, Kristen Dailey.
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Afghan Fellowship Opening

Sahar Afghan Fellowship Job Description

The overall purpose of the fellowship is to provide Sahar with a consistent Afghan cultural lens and expertise both in person, in the Seattle office, and also within our programing. This opportunity also provides the Afghan fellow with an experience in the American workplace that will advance their career objectives.

About Sahar:
Sahar is a Seattle-based non-profit that provides access to an educated future for Afghan girls. In partnership with the Afghan Ministry of Education and experienced locally-based organizations, we build schools and educational programs for girls in Northern Afghanistan, empowering and inspiring children and their families to build peaceful, thriving communities. Special initiatives include early marriage prevention, computer coding for girls, innovative building designs and teacher training. Learn more at www.Sahareducation.org

The Opportunity:
This 30+ hrs/week position offers flexibility in a growing organization with high impact in the international arena. Sahar provides a small, entrepreneurial environment that has lots of room for making a contribution while learning about organizational development, non-profit management and girls’ empowerment.

Ideal Candidate:
The ideal candidate will bring excellent research and writing, public speaking and presentation, fundraising, curriculum development, and communication skills. A strong aptitude for organization is required. Non-profit experience and technical skills are a plus. Afghan women nationals are strongly encouraged to apply.

Timeline and Process:
Fellowship will run from July/August 1st, 2017 until May/June 30th, 2018.
Application deadline is April 10th. Please send your resume and cover letter to qxhna@sahareducation.org. In your resume, please be sure to answer the question “Why do you want to work at Sahar?”
We will reach out if candidate is selected to interview. Final decisions regarding the position will be made at the end of May 2017.

Job Description: The fellowship will include, but is not limited to:

Grants:
-Research and writing potential grants.

Research:
-Further research on Sahar’s different programs such as early marriage prevention, coding project, teacher trainings, and education in Afghanistan.

Content Creation:
-Writing blog posts to give context to Sahar’s work, raise awareness about its beneficiaries, etc.
-Input and collaboration creating newsletters
-Input and collaboration regarding Global Giving reports

Social Media:
-Regular social media updates and strategies.

Fundraising:
-Donor management, Sahar’s donor data on Salesforce; creating donor reports throughout the year
-Early Marriage Prevention fundraising events
-Fundraising events, speeches with different American schools to engage them in our mission and in cultural understanding.

Other:
-Updating curriculum of programming, contact with team in Afghanistan
-Research monitoring and evaluation best practices and how to implement
-Public speaking in meetings with donors, board members, etc.

Reporting:
Reports directly to the Executive Director

Compensation:
$20,000 stipend. It is up to the fellow to provide figures for health care and an agreement will be reached about coverage, up to $2,500. Bus pass provided. Housing is not provided – if interested, Sahar will assist in locating a host family or student housing in the Seattle vicinity.