Interweave Members in the Community
Ellen Wraith & the Afghan Girls Financial Assistance Fund
Exerpt from Interweave’s Fall 2011 Newsletter
Noorjahan Akbar’s family fled the Taliban and spent six years as refugees in Pakistan; her mother sold her wedding dress and band to pay for her daughters’ schooling. Shamila Kohestani remained in Afghanistan under the Taliban and was barred from attending school from age 8 to 13; her father smuggled books into the house to teach her to read.
These young Afghan women, born in a country where one in eight women dies in childbirth and 90% are illiterate, are now studying at U.S. colleges on full scholarship, and are developing the leadership skills that will enable them to return to Afghanistan to empower others and help rebuild their country. They are here through the efforts of Afghan Girls Financial Assistance Fund (AGFAF) a small NJ non-profit with Interweave connections. AGFAF identifies highly qualified and motivated young women from different regions in Afghanistan, matches them with secondary schools, colleges and host families and provides financial support to defray expenses not covered by either the schools or host families. The fund is currently supporting 13 young women.
Former Interweave board member Ellen Wraith is a founder of AGFAF, which was conceived of by her neighbor Leo Motiuk in 2008. She credits Interweave with setting her on the road to youth interfaith work. In 2005 Wraith was waiting in the office of her son’s tutor, and picked up an Interweave course catalog. (The tutor shared office space with Susan Maitner, a longtime Interweaver.) Wraith was immediately drawn to an upcoming Wednesday class on Islam. “Like many others, after 9/11 I was motivated to find out more about Islam,” she said.
That Wednesday class led her to another Interweave-sponsored event: a lecture by Eboo Patel, founder and president of Interfaith Youth Core, a Chicago-based international non-profit that promotes interfaith cooperation. She was so impressed with Patel and his message that she attended Interfaith Youth Core’s 6th annual conference in Chicago. “I came out of that conference setting the intention very clearly that I wanted to do something in youth interfaith work,” said Wraith.
AGFAF is administered by the Community Foundation of New Jersey, one of whose founders is Tilly-Jo Emerson, an early Interweave member – another example of how Interweave ideas and people have woven their way into the fabric of community in this region.
Shamila will graduate from Drew this spring; the university has pledged another scholarship to a second student. Noor is now a sophomore at Dickinson College. Both women have thrived here, but are committed to returning to Afghanistan.
“Educating a woman is the most cost-effective anti-poverty program, and the fastest way to make an impact,” said Wraith. “We’re looking for a multiplier effect, young women who want to go back home and make a difference in the lives of other young women.”