Kabul Connection


Students create scholarship program for Afghan high schoolers

By Lauren Pongan '09
Photography by Ling Zhu '09

John Campbell ’09 and Qiamuddin Amiry ’09

Anyone who has been following Qiamuddin Amiry’s story knows the Colby senior has big dreams. Now those dreams are coming true.

In his sophomore year at Colby, Amiry, who is from Kabul, Afghanistan, began laying the groundwork for the Afghan Scholar Initiative. The program was formed to bring selected Afghan students to attend private American high schools for their junior and senior years on full scholarships.

In September the pioneer Afghan scholars, Meetra Ameni and Sikander Ahmadi, began their junior year at Gould Academy in Bethel, Maine. While Amiry is confident that the students will be on par with the rest of their classmates by the end of their first semester, he is aware of the tough adjustments they face.

“The whole system is new [to them], so they have to get used to the style of teaching and teachers’ demands,” Amiry said.

Despite the challenges of a new culture, Ameni and Ahmadi realize they have been granted a tremendous opportunity.

“I feel it is challenging when I focus on trying to get good grades, taking TOEFL [an English proficiency test], taking the SAT, doing extra activities, looking for colleges, and finally wondering how I can achieve another scholarship for my higher studies,” Ahmadi wrote in an e-mail. “But meanwhile, I am so proud of having all these opportunities.”

Other Afghan students may soon follow in their footsteps.

Amiry and John Campbell ’09 were awarded a Projects for Peace grant last spring from Kathryn W. Davis, who, at age 101, is funding 100 student projects each year to promote peace around the world. Their proposed plan was to form the nonprofit Afghan Scholars Initiative (ASI), with Campbell as co-chair.

While the program was Amiry’s idea, Campbell saw the long-term potential: “My idea was to turn that effort into a foundation and take control of the process. I wanted to ensure that we could sustain the effort in the long haul,” he said.

Campbell and Amiry used part of their $10,000 grant to fund a documentary about the program filmed by Juliana Montgomery, a Gould Academy alumna. Then Amiry and Campbell used the documentary last summer when they pitched the program to schools around the country. They successfully recruited five new high schools to enroll one or two scholars each in 2009-10.

Matthew Hanly, head of Oregon Episcopal School (OES) in Portland and father of Trevor Hanly '07, said the presence of Afghan scholars will further diversify the school’s student body. “Our entire community will be enriched by the presence of an Afghan Scholar,” Hanly wrote in an e-mail, “and will be indebted to Qiam and others for their hard work and determination in bringing this program to fruition.”

In addition to expanding the scholars program, ASI is evolving in other directions.

The Hotchkiss School, a new member, put ASI in touch with George Boggs, a lawyer in Washington, D.C. Boggs, father of Trenholm Boggs ’03, is working pro bono to assist ASI in acquiring nonprofit status, Campbell said.

Amiry said he is thrilled about the program’s success thus far, and he is continually brainstorming and developing new ways of assisting fellow Afghans. In the future Amiry and Campbell hope to establish a base for the ASI in Kabul, where Amiry was born and raised and the first students were recruited.

Once established there, Amiry hopes to address other deficiencies in the public education system in Afghanistan by creating classes for mothers taught by women and by providing tutoring to help young children believe in themselves and their ability to change their lives.

Both Amiry and Campbell plan to enter graduate school in the next year or two. Amiry said he hopes to focus on development in post-conflict countries, but he pledges to remain dedicated to ASI.

“I have no doubt in my mind that I will be working for the cause of Afghanistan wherever I am,” Amiry said. “I will focus everything to give Afghan kids a chance to learn.”

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  • On December 11, 2008, JH wrote:
    It's inspiring just to know that someone - anyone - has achieved so much by their senior year of college. That Qiam has done this in the face of such huge obstacles, and then made it his mission to enable others to do the same, makes his story one we can all draw from as we measure the true size of those obstacles we believe (rightly, or not) are in our way. Very well written article. More articles from Ms. Pongan please!
  • On December 12, 2008, SC wrote:
    I agree, Mr. Amiry is an inspiration and friend to many of us. I wish him the best of luck. Well done, Ms. Pongan. If I can place a request, I'd like to see a similar piece written on the work done by Professor Julie de Sherbinin to bring CCOR to campus. Best of luck in your future endeavors.