Afghanistan is going through a major shift as the international community moves out; the economy has crumbled and fighting has spread over all the country, which has put this nation at a complete disarray. Billions of dollars poured into this country by the world community are now believed to be either stolen or wasted. And Afghanistan is still considered the worst place to be a woman. 10% of eligible girls attend school, and of those a significant number do not attend regularly or drop out before 7th grade. This is due to war, poverty, displacement and the danger from being attacked with acid or poison.

Amidst all of the heart-wrenching news coming daily from Afghanistan, here at our orphanages in Kabul, we have different stories to tell you. The every single dollar came from sponsorships in these years resulted in bringing up hundreds of strong and ambitious girls and boys who have been raised with an acute awareness of equality and the power of education, and they are now thriving in all walks of life. Evaluating our girls who have graduated, 60 girls have finished grade 12 and of those 10 have finished university, 35 are presently in university and 32 have good jobs.

How, you may ask, could such a little NGO have such hope and success amidst ongoing, seeming endless war? It is, in the end, the children themselves. AFCECO’s vision was not to raise dependents, but “doers”. Thanks to Ian Pounds, who volunteered 4 years of his time teaching liberal art and leadership to these students. They are given the tools to become leaders and believers, dedicated to helping their people and their country. Today, AFCECO is run by a team of graduates, and they make up almost all of the staffing of orphanages, who teach, do maintenance, payroll, communications with public, outreach and other duties. Who better to self-perpetuate the raising of a generation of professionals and leaders?

And few others have become women activists like Mursal who struggled to defend Furkhunda, a girl who was brutally murdered and burnt alive by Islamists in Kabul few months ago. She became a vocal voice for this cause, appeared on TV challenged the hardline views. Our girls are not “weak” or “innocent, they are strong, ambitious and full of fire.

We have also impressive examples of these girls who when visit their village over winter break are received by their people like celebrities. Zainab, a young girl from this orphanage who had participated in Leadership program goes back to her village on the request of her community to teach there for 6-months and comes back to orphanage to continue her education. Their villages await them with eager arms, appreciative of the skills the girls are gaining and what that can mean to a poor community with no skilled human resources. How much more of a boon, then, to instill in our oldest girls the final platform they need from which to face the challenges ahead?

This story is not limited to academic achievements, AFCECO girls have presented a modest way of life that defies the misogynist ideology and all perilous traditions that exist in Afghan society. In Afghanistan, boys have to buy girls and pay around $15,000 for the “bride price”, and spend another $20,000 on wasteful wedding parties. Hence, you wouldn’t be surprised to see hundreds of lavish wedding halls all over Kabul. But we just had a wedding at Mehan orphanage where Hajira spent a total of $40.

In villages everywhere in Afghanistan they are appreciative of what AFCECO is doing for their children. They value the skills our girls gain and how they can contribute to a poor community with no skilled human resources. Everywhere the people realize that education is the one process to develop a country striving to have a real democracy without war. If their children, even girls, can bring money into the family, it is greeted as equal to that of boys.

The success of AFCECO and the investment of those who sponsor our children can be judged by how these girls and boys are raised. They are the true hope for Afghanistan. As Ian Pounds says, this is one NGO that is truly making a difference. 42.3% of the population of Afghanistan is 14 and under. These children grow up with equality and a true Liberal Arts education that will lead them to think critically about every deed they become involved in.

We feel there is no better model for the future of Afghanistan than our orphanages, islands of real and lasting hope for a people that continue to suffer after so many decades of strife. We also feel there is no better model of people from within Afghanistan and all around the world working productively together to create peace and prosperity than you, our AFCECO family.

AFCECO wishes to thank all the individuals and organizations at home and around the world that have stood by us these years. We look forward, against whatever winds are blowing, to standing by our children and their integrity. We are pushing through harder times, and we need all support possible to keep our achievements from fading. Once you visit our parwarishga, you will understand how against all odds these children are happy, hopeful, ambitious and driven to experience, and why they would easily walk into the fire, stand against evil, protected only by the truth, if for their people it is the only way to bring them one step closer to equality, liberation from poverty, and peace.