blending an assortment of thoughts and experiences for my friends, relations and kindred spirit

blending an assortment of thoughts and experiences for my friends, relations and kindred spirit
By Alison Hobbs, blending a mixture of thoughts and experiences for friends, relations and kindred spirits.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

The Afghan Canadian Community Centre

From the Toronto Star:
Ehsan Ullah Ehsan
It was the spring of 2006, and the school [Ehsan Ullah] Ehsan had opened to teach girls and women English, basic health, computer skills and other courses in the Taliban stronghold of Kandahar was fast running out of money. He was on the brink of shutting it down when the Toronto Star's Mitch Potter happened by, wrote about the looming disaster, and touched the hearts of two readers in Ottawa: Ryan Aldred and Andrea Caverly.
Ryan Aldred
I met Ryan Aldred last Thursday at a meeting of the CFUW's University Women Helping Afghan Women; he had come to tell us about what had happened next. He and his wife Andrea wrote to the reporter, asking, "What can we do to help?" and eventually received a grateful and detailed response from Mr Ehsan himself. He had no school buses, the computers were wearing out ... The young Ottawa couple decided to fund the Afghan school for 6 months, raising money from their friends and acquaintances in order to send donations. Meanwhile, in Kandahar, Ehsan chose a new location for his school, paying the teachers $100 a month and hiding the project from prying eyes because it was (and still is) very dangerous for Afghan girls to go to school. Families informed one another about the place by word of mouth, however, and with its lifeline of income from Canada the 100-strong student population quickly quadrupled. Then it transpired that men and boys wanted to be taught there too. "Almost overnight," said Mr Aldred, "we had 800 students." And eventually CIDA chipped in with a $310K grant to spend on buses and school equipment.

Afghan girl (photo by Paul Watson)
The girls are "fierce and fearless," according to Mr. Aldred, but the new buses protect them (from acid-throwers and other such extremists) on their way to school.

The CIDA money will not last forever. "You don't pull up stakes and leave everything flapping on the ground," when it runs out. What's to be done next? The request for three more years of funding was rejected, but people kept lobbying the Canadian government anyway, and then on International Women's Day a year's extension of funds was granted. "This is a big boost," says Mr. Aldred, "It helps us to keep going." During the several years since the project began, only half a million dollars have been spent, not a huge sum. The administrators of the NGO insist upon low cost developments, using members of the local community as staff. One of President Karzai's brothers has recently donated land for a new building, which some of the students themselves are excitedly designing.

In 2009 Ehsanullah Ehsan and Ryan Aldred founded the Canadian International Learning Foundation which supports not only this project in Afghanistan but similar projects in Nepal and in four African countries. Their initiative was reported in the National Post last month in an article by Jane Armstrong.

On its premises, the Afghan Canadian Community Centre now teaches over 1,500 students ...
...Business Management, Information Technology, English and Communications [...] with access to the Internet and online classes from Canadian and international institutions. The school’s programs provide students with the skills needed to obtain employment to support themselves and their families, improve their communities and participate in the reconstruction of Afghanistan. The skills taught at the ACCC are in high demand by international development agencies, local businesses and the Afghan government ...
Each former student now employed supports seven family members, on average. When a young daughter of a family man becomes the primary breadwinner, it makes people think, and attitudes begin to change.

Accreditation of such an institution is very bounded by rules and requirements. Mr. Aldred's NGO still needs to acquire 501(c)(3) status, but the developments continue, regardless.
... 32 students at the Afghan-Canadian Community Centre are enrolled in the Business Management certificate program offered online by the Southern Alberta Institute of Technology (SAIT), a Calgary-based Polytechnic Institute that offers internationally-recognized post-secondary education. The Business Management program often allows students in Kandahar to secure high-paying employment after as little as one course. A group of 5 ACCC students have also been given scholarships to study online classes with the Canada eSchool, where they will study a range of subjects including Science, Math, English and Civics. 
A network of volunteer tutors in Canada tutors the Afghans at the Centre using Skype (mostly) for classwork and in one-on-one sessions. Other volunteers engage in online text chats with them, helping them with their projects and with career guidance. The young Afghans (the age of a student at the ACCC might be anything from 10 to 40 years old!) ask their Canadian mentors for help with online research, use of English, study skills. The only drawback to the system is the time zone. If you join in with the volunteering you may have to do your transcontinental chatting from Canada at 3 o'clock in the morning.

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