April 25, 2012
In 2008, when two local businessmen created the “Afghan Girls Financial Assistance Fund” (AGFAF) at the Community Foundation of New Jersey (CFNJ), they thought they might change the life of the first young woman selected to attend college in the United States. But what they could not have imagined was a program that is now assisting twenty students and growing every day. One of these students, like so many of her fellow AGFAF students, is now even changing the lives of those around her.
Noorjahan Akbar (at left in photo) was accepted into the program in 2010 and is a rising junior at Dickinson College, where AGFAF covers expenses beyond her scholarship. Having survived the Taliban, earning a college education in the United States would have been achievement enough. But for Noorjahan, or Noor as she’s known to friends, there was more work to be done.
In Afghanistan, where she spends every summer break, Noor helped found a program called Voices for Hope which teaches creative writing to Afghan orphans. More recently, Noor co-founded Young Women for Change (YWC), an organization that seeks gender equality in Afghanistan. In this role, Noor led her fellow YWC members in a daring protest against harassment in downtown Kabul.
Noor’s activism has not gone unnoticed. For her remarkable courage and skill, Newsweek named Noor “one of the 150 fearless women in the world” and invited her to the Women in the World 2012 program in New York City. There, Noor participated in a panel moderated by Chelsea Clinton on social networking for positive change. She was also able to speak with other presenters at the conference, many of them experienced activists and high profile individuals, including Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and actress Meryl Streep.
Though Noor’s determination is unrivaled, achieving a college education in the United States would have been nearly impossible without the support of AGFAF. That is why CFNJ is proud to host and help manage this fund and why its founders are constantly striving to reach more students. Just recently, the founders worked with CFNJ to create the “Friends of the Afghan Girls Financial Assistance Fund,” which covers all fundraising and administrative components of the program so that the original fund can focus 100 percent of its resources on helping students.
“While in the United States, the AGFAF students help all of us better understand the conditions of their homeland and appreciate what is most meaningful about our life here,” said Leo Motiuk, one of the fund’s founders. “When back home in Afghanistan, they communicate a new perspective that helps improve mutual understanding and respect. As Newsweek and so many others have noted, these students are real global change-makers.”
Noor’s compassion for women in Afghanistan and rising profile as a committed activist recently led ABC News to ask, “can a 19 year old change an age old order in Afghanistan?” With the help of other young women in Afghanistan, and the support of the Afghan Girls Financial Assistance Fund, the answer will someday hopefully be, “yes.”