John Campbell, '09, Afghan Scholars Initiative

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“ When we first started ASI, our biggest challenge was getting people to believe in us, getting admissions staff and heads of school to believe that two college students could, in their free time, identify, prepare and place students from one of the poorest and most politically fragile countries in the world,” says John Campbell, a 2009 graduate of Colby College. He is also the cofounder of the Afghan Scholars Initiative, or ASI (
Originally, ASI was the idea of Qiam Amiry, a Colby alum from Kabul, Afghanistan. Amiry was looking for ways to help other Afghans attend high school and college. This would have the dual benefits of bringing them out of a war-torn, poverty-stricken nation, while providing them with the chance to return and aid others. However, no one seemed interested in Amiry’ s idea. “ I don’ t know if you could blame them,” said Campbell. “ Here was a 20 year old kid calling up and trying to arrange scholarships for high school students.” Eventually Amiry succeeded in finding someone willing to listen – Lesley Nesbitt, the head of admissions at Gould Academy. Campbell began to help as well, accompanying him on the drive to Bethel, Maine, where the boarding school is located. Together Amiry and Campbell wrote a proposal for a Davis Project for Peace to expand their idea, which they were beginning to call the Afghan Scholars Initiative.
Amiry and Campbell worked together to create a documentary about Meetra and Sikander, who had just graduated from Gould Academy. ASI became officially incorporated in January 2009, and has continued to assist young Afghans. Besides Meetra and Sikander, they have helped five more promising scholars attend high school or college. Eight additional students are taking a tutorial program in Kabul. ASI has the potential to benefit many more people in Afghanistan. “ There are fifteen young Afghans currently in our program; they interact on a daily basis with hundreds of other students; they’ re making plans to help thousands of other Afghans,” says Campbell. He hopes to have fifty Afghan scholars in the US by 2015.

None of this would have happened without Colby, according to Campbell, a double Government and English (Creative Writing) major: “ There’ s an old saying about the usefulness of an English degree. There’ s another old saying about the usefulness of a Government degree. Neither saying is very encouraging. But, the truth is, my classes at Colby taught me how to think, how to break a large, seemingly intractable problem into a series of smaller, less intimidating problems. While in school, whether you’ re writing poetry or analyzing systems of political violence, you’ re learning how to solve problems. I use my Colby education every day.” Campbell’ s problem-solving skills have lead to innovative solutions to worldwide issues.

- Katerina Faust, ’ 14, William D. Adams Presidential Scholar