There are approximately 6,800 miles between Philadelphia and Kabul.
Hirmand Azimi—an Afghan-American senior at SCH—aims to bridge that geographic chasm with an upcoming exhibition and benefit in the school’s Barbara Crawford Gallery.
The exhibit—which will be on view from May 31 through August 4—sets out to raise awareness of and funds for, the Kabul-based nonprofit Shamsa Children’s Village. Shamsa provides housing, care, and education for 160 orphaned children left shelterless by the ongoing conflict in the country.
Seven SCH 6th graders—currently examining spaces in their communities where people are acting on the United Nations’ 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) as a part of their Center for Entrepreneurial Leadership course—decided to profile these Upper School “SDG heroes.” They recently sat down to engage in a series of conversations with Azimi and his project partners Sam Harris (Azimi’s cousin) and Jacob Becker who developed their project—the Heela Foundation—through the CEL.
Selections from these interviews, which touched on topics ranging from unconventional warfare to the fundamental human right for education, follow:
How did you learn about Shamsa Village?
Hirmand Azimi (HA): Shamsa was a project started by my aunt Maryam Gailani. Four years ago, I went and visited. They had a huge garden, playgrounds and nice facilities; they were building a mosque for the kids . . . everything was up to date, modern. They had much nicer facilities than other orphanages in Afghanistan.…[After the Taliban regained power in 2021], sanctions were placed on the country. Shamsa lost its funds. Now, the community doesn’t have enough access to resources, because there are restrictions on the money that is going into the country.
What motivated you to pursue this project? (question from Ari B.)
HA: If you’re from a country that’s been through a lot of war, it’s an emotional thing. We’re at a school—we’re so privileged to be at such a warm and loving school like SCH that has so many great facilities—we decided that if we have these warm and generous people, we could use it to benefit Afghanistan, a country that we’re so passionate about helping. Through collaboration and teamwork, we want to help these kids who’ve lost their parents to war.
What is something you are doing to make sure that the girls receiving education are safe and protected? (question from Ever W.)
Sam Harris (SH): The state pertaining to women is really dire right now, and that is due to the Taliban gaining power. Recently, they’ve overthrown the pre-existing government and instituted their own government. In doing so, they’ve enlisted a slew of female-restricting laws and policies, one of the most detrimental of which is an almost complete ban on education for girls and women. And beyond this, there have been countless bombings on schools. In Afghanistan, girls seeking education are at one of the highest risks. Shamsa is a leading antidote to all of this violence and discrimination because it is a space that provides safety and education.
What goals do you have for this project? (question from Lee M.)
SH: With Shamsa, we’re planning to raise money for actual, specific needs within the orphanage. Our goal right now is about $20,000 to fund a social-emotional learning class within Shamsa, and upgrade all of their technology.
How did the COVID-19 Pandemic affect learning in Afghanistan, specifically at Shamsa Village? (question from Eliseo F.)
HA: COVID-19 impacted the whole world. At the Shamsa Children’s Orphanage, all of the money and supplies that were being sent through planes got restricted because of the pandemic. Trade got restricted, and all these basic necessities were restricted as well from entry to Afghanistan.
Why do you think it’s important for people to care? (question from Emily S.)
Jacob Becker (JB): These children have lost their parents. We can’t understand that, but we can empathize with it . . . Also, when we help others, we actually help the whole world, because the people we help grow up to be those who could further our collective human goals.
What kind of art are you going to display in the gallery? (question from Cate G.)
HA: We have a lot of Afghan local art that we’ve collected from a Kabul-based artist Mr. Ghulam Nabi along with portraits of the kids at Shamsa taken by Mr. Massoud Etimadi, a professional photographer. . . . And then, we have photographs that the kids at Shamsa took through their art therapy program. One of the reasons we’ve partnered up with Shamsa is because they have this great PTSD relief program where kids are given cameras and take pictures around the orphanage.
We really hope you come … there’s going to be food and beverages, so even if you don’t like the art, there’s going to be delicious food there as well.
Beyond this gallery exhibition, are there other ways that SCH is supporting students at Shamsa Village?
HA: My friend and classmate John Gaghan (Jack) started a tutoring project known as Student Connex at SCH to help students at school with homework and class subjects. Ever since we got closer with the Shamsa Children’s Village, we invited Jack to expand his project by having his tutors engage in daily English conversation sessions with the kids at Shamsa to improve their language skills. This incredible collaboration of both of our projects has proved beneficial to all parties involved, by allowing Jack’s project to grow, and the orphans to practice their English.
SCH’s junior reporters noted that Azimi, Harris, and Becker are working to enact a number of SDGs, from “Quality Education” (SDG 4) to “Peace, Justice, and Strong Institutions” (SDG 16).
To learn more about these goals, visit the UN’s site.
“Art for Afghanistan” will be on view at the Barbara Crawford Gallery from May 31 - August 4, 2023. To contribute to fundraising efforts for Shamsa Children’s Village, click here.
6th-grade CEL student contributors to this project—listed alphabetically—include:
Amelia Bachalli, Ari Balin, Noah Branzuela, Eli Chang, Juliana Duggin, Oliver Eckert, Eliseo Fajardo, Cate Gorgol, Penelope Landis, Roman Lawson, Willow Lurie, Lee McGarvey, Lylah Morris, Anthony Norcini, Isabella Pratt, Emily Shapiro, Elin Stone, Max Thompson, Nandini Todi, and Ever Weiss.