Creating a better, more sustainable world: Education in Afghanistan

Pictured above: Azalea Lehndorff, A Better World’s 100 Classrooms project manager and an alumnus of Burman University, was named to the Alberta Council for Global Cooperation’s Top 30 under 30 list recently.

By Ashli Barrett, Lacombe Globe

Azalea Lehndorff believes opportunity for younger generations is key to building a sustainable future.

To that end, the Burman University alumnus has spent the last eight years working to build 100 classrooms for children in Afghanistan with A Better World Canada – a mission which has landed her on the Alberta Council for Global Cooperation’s Top 30 under 30 list.

While she said being named to the list was an honour, the bigger achievement will be the completion of the project she helped start.

“We’ve been working on the project for eight years,” she said. “Our goal was to build 100 classrooms in Afghanistan and it’s really exciting because this year we’re going to be able to finish that.”

Having reached their goal of raising $1.3 million, the 100 Classrooms Project, which Lehndorff is the project manager for, has funded the builds for eight schools already, with construction on the final two having begun March 1.

It’s been quite the journey, but one that sits close to her heart.

Lehndorff grew up in a home where education wasn’t supported. At the age of 14, she left home with her sister and put herself through boarding high school. Eventually, she found herself in Lacombe attending Burman University as an undergrad.

“My big goal in pursuing education was to one day be able to go to medical school, but while I was an undergrad, I got this book about the needs in Afghanistan, how girls really want to go to school but have too many barriers in their way,” she said.

“I really connected with that reality. I wanted to do something to help.”

Together with several other students, they began the 100 classrooms project in partnership with A Better World.

In 2010, the project officially got underway.

“The first visit was just to see if the goal was possible,” she said. “It was really overwhelming – you could see a school with 5,000 kids and they’re using tents and a bullet-riddled building which had been a military base for a school. Things like that really stuck in my mind from that first visit.”

Almost every year since, she’s been back in the country – including three months where she lived there – to help the project along. Over 15,000 students now attend classes in the schools she’s helped build.

While some might think the project faces opposition, based on the former oppressive regime of the Taliban, she says it’s not the case at all.

“People invite us into their communities. They want opportunities for their kids, for their daughters,” she said. “It’s been really exciting each year we go back because we’re seeing girls graduate from grade 12 for the first time in the schools we’ve built. Parents are supportive of their daughters getting an education, which not everyone knows is the reality.”

Providing safe spaces for that education has been key in parents allowing their children, especially girls, to attend school. Lehndorff says it’s a small part of the big picture, but is crucial in helping create a more sustainable future for those in the country.

“For a country like Afghanistan to have a prosperous future, they need security. They also need the younger generation to have opportunity,” she said. “When people have hope and opportunity in their future, they’re much less likely to get involved in extremist ideologies.”

Lehndorff hopes to travel to Afghanistan once more for the 100 Classrooms Project.

As for what’s to follow?

On a personal front, she’s going to finish medical school, then start a residency program. On a more global scale, she wants to put some of her medical skills to work on creating more sustainable change.

“I don’t know what my next move will be, but I’d like to direct my attention towards medical work in the future,” she said.

“I did go with A Better World over Christmas to Kenya and we did an assessment of a surgical program. That was really cool, so I’m thinking I’ll go down that road.”

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