ALUMNI PROFILE: Azalea Lehndorff: A Journey of Perseverance and Service
“When my daughter grows up, I hope she’s just like her.”
I remember thinking that after meeting with Azalea Lehndorff, a CUC alumnus with an extraordinary story and a burning passion. I hadn’t heard about Azalea until last week when I was editing a story about co-founder of A Better World and CUC alumnus, Eric Rajah. My supervisor, VP of Advancement Jerrold Ritchey, told me, “You know, you should really talk to Azalea Lehndorff. She’s involved in a project building classrooms for girls in Afghanistan.”
My sister and I are two of the few privileged, Egyptian women growing up in the Middle East who had supportive, sacrificial parents who fought to get us a good education and the right to follow our own dreams. Too many young women back home face struggles to get a decent education while their male counterparts face much fewer challenges. Azalea’s crusade resonated with me deeply. I contacted her and she graciously agreed to let me interview her.
Azalea’s story is amazing. She had a very difficult upbringing that caused her family to move constantly. At the age of 14 and 16, Azalea and her sister decided to run away from home to get a high school education. They attended Union Springs Academy, a boarding school in New York State and paid their tuition with support from friends and with hard work. Azalea wanted to attend a Christian university to study Biology so she decided to come to CUC. Her determination to get a good education and her belief that it is every human’s right to do so fuel her passion for building classrooms for girls in Afghanistan.
Azalea describes herself as shy. In fact, she says that while she was a student at CUC she never ate her food in the cafeteria. In 2010, Azalea learned that girls in Afghanistan didn’t have access to schools and that education for girls had been banned from 1996-2001. She approached Eric Rajah and A Better World with an idea of building 100 classrooms for girls in Afghanistan. With mentoring and encouragement by Rajah and A Better World, Azalea set off to fundraise for the classrooms. And fundraise she has. By 2012, Azalea raised $500,000 which helped build four schools (32 classrooms) that benefit 8,000 children.
Azalea tells me that the project is half way complete – they have now have funding to complete 50 classrooms. She decided to further her own education and is set to graduate in June 2014 with a Masters in Public Health from the University of Alberta. Azalea is currently working part-time at the Public Health Agency of Canada (Edmonton). When I asked Azalea about getting a full-time job, she was hesitant because she didn’t think an agency would allow her to travel to Afghanistan for a month at a time. After all, building those schools and forever changing the lives of those girls is where her heart truly lies.
In my interview, I asked Azalea what her vision for CUC was and what she thought CUC could do to empower its students better. She thought for a moment and said, “I see CUC becoming the ‘Silicon Valley’ for social causes. When I said Silicon Valley, you immediately knew what I was talking about – start-ups, innovation. I want CUC to be known as THE place to come if you want to make a difference in this world. Because young people have the passion and they know what they want to do. CUC can be the place to give them the tools to do it.”
I couldn’t have said it better. I’m proud to be an alumnus of CUC myself. But I’m even prouder now because our school can help people like Azalea Lehndorff and Eric Rajah make this world a better place. Now the challenge is: How will we make CUC the “Silicon Valley” of social causes? How will we continue to help young people change the world?
In big and small ways, CUC is working hard to live up to Azalea’s and our students’ and alumni’s expectations. I’m not going to tell you those big and small ways. You can read about them yourself. What I’m interested in is hearing from YOU. How can CUC better help young people change the world? How can we become THE place to go to train people to change the world?
The floor is yours and we’re listening.
To see the full article, click here.