by Pat Sims

“You can’t believe where these students are at fifteen or sixteen years old,” John Campbell ’09 said of the students from Afghanistan he and Qiamuddin Amiry ’09 are recruiting and tutoring for Afghan Sscholars Initiative scholarships at private high schools including Gould Academy in Maine, the Hotchkiss School in Connecticut, Oregon Episcopal Academy, and the Woodstock School in India.

For example?

Maihan Wali (see main story), 16, has helped to establish a national women’s basketball league in Afghanistan, and played host to her own radio show, and spoken at a conference for Women Deliver, a global advocacy organization, in Washington, D.C.

Like Wali, Sharaf Mirzayee aspires to be a leader. After surviving a tough childhood in Afghanistan in which his family was often forced to move to escape the Taliban, he’s now at the Hotchkiss School in Lakeville, Connecticut. Currently a senior, Mirzayee has organized events to help encourage cultural awareness and founded the Waheed Club (“waheed” means “unity” in Persian). He’s been helped in this endeavor by Hamasa Ebadi, another ASI student at Hotchkiss. “Through that club we are helping girls’ schools in the Baraki Barak Province in Afghanistan,” Mirzayee said. “Clothes and books are going to those schools.”

Manjula Salomon, assistant head of school and director of global initiatives at Hotchkiss, said Hotchkiss is “a national school on a global stage—that’s our headmaster’s phrase.” In keeping with that characterization, Hotchkiss trustees have established a center for global understanding and independent thinking with a classroom that includes a CNN-style newsroom. “So there’s an entire focus on intercultural competencies,” said Salomon, who has taught in India and Iran, in the United States, and most recently in Indonesia.

That emphasis made Hotchkiss an ideal place for ASI’s Mirzayee and Saloman, a veteran of travel in Iran and Afghanistan, was the perfect contact. Saloman says she feels empathy for Mirzayee, but “They haven’t come here to not work hard. I’m quite stern with Sharaf because he has only two years to catch up with a lifetime.”

Born in Pul-e-Khumri, Afghanistan, Naimat Merzayee spent part of his boyhood in Kabul, but political tensions forced his family to escape to Pakistan. They returned to a city devastated by the Taliban. Now he’s a senior at the Oregon Episcopal School in Portland, thanks to ASI.  Once he completes his college degree, he says, he knows exactly what he wants to do. “My plan from the first day was to go back to Afghanistan and work for my people, for my country,” Merzayee said, “because my country is in need of educated people. My goal would be to serve my country in every aspect that I could—economics, politics, any work that I can find.”

That’s exactly the scenario Amiry and Campbell have in mind for ASI students and they can take satisfaction in what ASI has so far accomplished. Salomon, from the Hotchkiss School, says she’s more than impressed by Amiry and Campbell’s achievements. “They themselves are young,” she pointed out. “They don’t have twenty years of experience, they deal with circumstances they can’t always read; they are running on the fuel of passion.”