A group of high school students in Keaau has helped provide a library to education-starved students in Afghanistan.
Students at the Christian Liberty Academy in Keaau, or CLA, have completed their first major project in a three-year United Nations pilot initiative, High School Partners for Peace.
The international cooperative program brought together the students in Keaau with students at Baba School, a high school in the Bamyan Province in central Afghanistan.
Maui resident Gary Thomas works with the Swiss-based nonprofit Global Hope Network International and reached out to Principal Troy Rimel at CLA about the opportunity to test the pilot program with Baba School.
“We’ve always talked about how important it is to have a greater awareness of communities that have to deal with risks and conflict,” Rimel said. “It’s incredibly beneficial for students to go outside of their community and learn about someone’s homeland. It broadens their understanding and has made them better problem solvers.”
Students from both schools have been working together to identify three sustainable projects for Baba School, while overcoming various challenges such as language barriers, spotty internet connectivity and COVID-19.
“The idea behind the program was to bring high school students from the U.S. and a conflict country together to build a sustainable project that would benefit the future of the community and school,” Rimel said. “When I visited Baba School, I realized only a couple students had books, and many of them wanted to improve their English, so they could get a higher education.”
When the students identified that they wanted to build a library together, the goal was to fill it with hundreds of books in the native language, Dari, as well as English.
Today, the library is full of bookshelves, furniture and a few laptops, and 150 to 200 books will be delivered next month.
Kaitlin McWilliams is a senior at CLA and has been involved in the program since it began during her freshman year.
“It’s so hard to wrap our heads around the fact that something we’re doing here is helping someone overseas in conflict,” McWilliams said. “I’m just so excited that we’re finally done with the library after working on it for three years.”
McWilliams has always had an interest in missionary work and was excited to look beyond herself to a community so far away from her normal life.
“The best part for me is the relationships you build, even through bad (internet connectivity) and language barriers,” McWilliams said. “There’s a close friend I talk to over Facebook any time I can. Hearing her story, and hearing how excited she was that there were people in the U.S. that wanted to help her, was so special.”
McWilliams has enjoyed seeing her classmates and the students at Baba School interact and problem-solve together, with the ultimate goal of creating a library for students who desperately want more education.
“We take education for granted here, and I always hear my classmates complain about being in school,” McWilliams said. “Those kids over there are begging for it. That’s the thing that makes this whole project memorable.”
While her time in the program is nearly over, McWilliams wants to continue to help as much as she can and stay in touch with the friend she’s made.
“When conflict arises over there, it’s scary, but it propels me to do the best I can right now,” McWilliams said. “Time always seems to be running short, and I want to make an impact while I still can.”
While the library has been completed, there are still two more projects to be done with Baba School.
The students in Afghanistan were interested in creating a high school career center, so CLA is working to make that happen. Rimel, with the help of other teachers, put together a curriculum for career classes, which just needs to be translated to Dari.
There also are plans to build a gymnasium, for which the foundation already has been poured.
Although the experience has been positive for both schools, there have been many barriers in the way.
Any materials for the library had to be delivered from Kabul covertly at night or through air travel to circumvent Taliban roadblocks, which is why contacts with Global Hope Network International could not get the books to the school until next month.
COVID-19 also significantly impacted the students’ ability to communicate; however, Rimel and the head teacher at Baba have been able to keep some line of communication active.
COVID-19 also pushed back a plan for the students to present the High School Partners for Peace and the outcome of the program to the United Nations assembly in Geneva from June 2021 until June 2022.
Both student teams are invited by the UN to talk about the peace initiative and how the schools were able to work together cooperatively to make something positive happen.
“The students will present the basic framework of the program and delve into the difficulties we’ve faced,” Rimel said. “Due to language and technological barriers, we also learned that the administrator in charge of the program will have to go and meet the people involved in the conflict country.”
As long as they are actively involved in the program, current and graduated students will have the opportunity to travel to Geneva, meet their counterparts from Afghanistan, and get in front of delegates from across the world to present their work.
CLA and Baba School hope to have the gymnasium and career center completed by June 2022.
Students and teachers at CLA have facilitated many fundraisers to raise money for the projects at Baba School. Rimel was able to purchase politically motivated art from women living in Afghanistan and auction the pieces to raise money for the program as well as the artists.
Rimel sent money for furniture and books to a field contact with Global Hope Network International who has been able to help by purchasing items and bringing them to Bamyan Province from Kabul.
On Friday, CLA hosted a fundraiser for the High School Partners of Peace, with half of those proceeds going to four families that were injured during a bombing in Kabul. Money raised also will go to support a health clinic food program in Haiti.