Women encouraged to partner on last leg of 100 Classroom Project


Inspiring a lot more Canadian women to help Afghan girls go to school — that’s what Azalea Lehndorff is keen to do over the next three years.

During A Better World Canada’s 26th annual Humanitarian Day on April 16, Lehndorff will launch a fundraising campaign to encourage 100 women to donate $1,000 each to build a school in 2016 and again over the next two years. If all goes well, Lehndorff’s 100 Classroom Project through A Better World Canada will finish the end of 2018.

Campaign donors of $1,000 will be invited to an annual event and they will be regularly updated. Women can also pool together and contribute $1,000 as a group.

“We’ve had so many small donations and we want to keep that up,” said Lehndorff. “We’re also looking for women who can be leaders, who can contribute ($1,000) and make this dream a reality.”

As a result of Lehndorff’s persistence to bring more schools to Afghanistan, there are now 15,300 students enrolled, $800,000 invested and 71 classrooms completed. Three more schools or 29 classrooms need to be finished.

One classroom equals $14,000 CAD or one school equals $140,000 CAD (10 classrooms plus four rooms for teachers and lab and library).

Lehndorff has already inspired many women to contribute since she began fundraising in 2010 while studying at Lacombe’s Canadian University College, now Burman University.

Gail Misek of Surrey, B.C, Helga Bairos of Branchton, Ont. and Mary Lou Figueiredo of Cambridge, Ont. became major donors after seeing the project manager’s dedication to the cause, her vibrancy and her strong partnership with A Better World Canada, which oversees the project.

Lehndorff’s passion to help thousands of children get an education captivated Misek, a retired teacher who travelled to Afghanistan in June 2012. She and her husband Paul, a contractor, also wanted to build schools for the world’s poor. He would help with construction and she would teach. Although he died in 2007, their dream didn’t die.

Misek became the main financial contributor of the Kinara Secondary School and also gave a major portion to Quanchugha Girls High School. Bairos and Figueiredo contributed to Qara-Kent Girls High School. All ABW-sponsored schools are found in Jowzjan province in northern Afghanistan.

Lehndorff said the women were instrumental in seeing these schools built and that’s why she’s so grateful towards them. She credits Misek for building the Kinara and Quanchugha schools.

When Misek went to the grand opening at Kinara, the school had placed a plaque on the school that included her husband’s name.

“It was a once-in-a-lifetime experience that I will never forget and still remains in my heart,” said Misek, who would like to return with a small group to train teachers.

Bairos, a retired office manager with her husband’s company, believed it was the right project to invest in and with the right organization.

“I just felt that God has blessed us and that we have to bless others,” added Bairos. “I have high respect and trust for A Better World and what it does.”

A Better World uses everyone’s sponsorship dollars directly towards the project. No money is held back for administrative costs since  A Better World is volunteer-driven.

“Azalea’s heart is in the right place,” added Bairos.

Bairos also isn’t bothered her donations are going to projects within one of the world’s most volatile areas. Schools can be destroyed by conflict, she said.

“It’s about giving money so that kids can have an education, especially girls,” Bairos said.

Figueiredo, who has worked with Bairos, said she feels good to help others less fortunate, particularly for girls in Afghanistan because it means that they will have an opportunity to succeed in life thanks to an education.

She also likes that key partners in Afghanistan are involved. The community, government and local agencies must manage and operate the completed projects so that they are self-sustainable.

According to the United Nations Girls’ Education Initiative, 36 per cent of girls receive an education today compared with three per cent under the Taliban regime, which was overthrown in 2001.

Lehndorff, a first-year medical student at the University of Calgary, plans to return to Afghanistan in March. She said the Minister of Education is committed to the girls receiving an education and so her school projects are endorsed.

Often, the girls are receiving an education, but they aren’t going to school inside a proper building. Instead, they are being taught in tents. In the case of Quanchugha, the school had a snake infestation and was destroyed by a flood.

When schools are built, more children have the opportunity to go.

The Kara Kent school was intended to be just for girls, but boys are now using it as well because their school wasn’t a good space for them either. The girls and boys study in separate shifts each day.

“When these three women came on board (to sponsor the projects), we were able to mobilize other supporters,” said Lehndorff, 28.

Lehndorff is pleased to see positive results from the schools that have already been built.

“We’ve seen girls finishing Grade 12 and I feel we’re part of something big that is happening,” she said. “We get to be a huge encouragement to them.”

While there’s a lot of fear going on around the world, particularly around extremist groups, Lehndorff is optimistic about what’s she’s seen in Afghanistan.

“They’ve been victims of that extremism as well,” she said.

The exciting part is seeing how Canadians are willing to help out in Afghanistan, Lehndorff added.

“They are giving hope and helping people rebuild their lives,” she said.

Gail Misek

Children surround Gail Misek during a trip to Afghanistan in June 2012. She visited schools she supported as part of A Better World Canada’s 100 Classroom Project.