Building Bridges: Canadian Volunteers and Schools in Need
In 2006, Afghan educator Ehsan Ullah spoke with Toronto Star reporter Mitch Potter about the struggles he faced educating Afghan women in Kandahar. He described the fear the female students felt while attending school, and the threats that he himself had faced for daring to help women receive an education. He said, “We have hope, but it is fading.”
Potter’s article, Behind the Burqa, had a profound impact on Ottawa residents Ryan Aldred and Andrea Caverly. The pair reached out to Ehsan and asked how they could help. Though they had only intended to make a modest donation, Ryan and Andrea were so inspired by Ehsan’s passion and dedication that they agreed to help him found a new school to help provide a safe and secure place for women to receive an education.
The new partnership quickly provided results. The Afghan-Canadian Community Center opened its doors to women in January 2007. There were no signs to mark its presence, and only a small group of students knew of its existence. But those students eagerly spread word of this small school in residential Kandahar, and soon it was packed with Afghan women eager to learn.
Ryan and Andrea, along with a small group of friends, founded the Afghan School Project (www.theafghanschool.org) to provide further support to the school. With the generosity of donors in Canada and computers provided by the Kandahar Provincial Reconstruction Team, the school continued to grow and thrive. With the help of the Afghan School Project, women at the ACCC were enrolled in online business management studies with the Southern Alberta Institute of Technology.
Within a few months, the school had grown from a handful of people to over three hundred students. The business management and computing courses were in high demand with international organizations and local businesses, and many of the students received jobs soon after they enrolled.
At the request of the community, the school soon established an evening program for local men who would pay what they could to attend. A local Maulvi (religious leader) enrolled his daughter in the school, and then his son, and then himself. Before long, so many students wanted to attend school at the ACCC that the small house in residential Kandahar was at capacity and Ehsan was forced to turn students away.
Their hopes for a larger building were answered when the Government of Canada approved a capacity-building grant for the school through the CIDA-administered Kandahar Local Initiatives Program. With these funds, the ACCC was able to hire more teachers and move to a 15-room facility in an even safer area of the city. No longer hidden, word of the ACCC continued to spread, and hundreds more students have enrolled since then. At the same time, a growing number of talented, dedicated volunteers have joined the Afghan School Project.
The ACCC enjoyed sustained growth over several years and now provides skills education to over 1,500 students, the majority of whom are women. In late 2012, the U.S. State Department announced a new development grant and as part of its mission to entrench itself as a local institution, the ACCC changed its name to the Kandahar Institute of Modern Studies (KIMS).
In January 2009, Ryan Aldred, Andrea Caverly and the dedicated volunteers of the Afghan School Project founded the Canadian International Learning Foundation, a registered Canadian charity which provides and promotes education for students in areas affected by war, poverty and illness.
The Canadian International Learning Foundation has rapidly grown to more than 40 volunteers with a wide range of skills and experience. From high school students to Project Managers with Research in Motion, we are united in our belief that education for those who need it most can build a more peaceful and prosperous world for us all – and that we can all play a very important role in bringing education to those in need. Our second project began in late 2009, and has already proven highly successful.
We are proud of what we’ve done to support the Kandahar Institute of Modern Studies and the Kabira Adult Attention and School of Orphans and look forward to helping offer the same opportunities to students in need around the world.