In the Dari language, the word ‘roya’ means dream. Full of hopes and dreams, the young people of Afghanistan are the single greatest resource of the entire country. They dream of a peaceful and developed country… a country without corruption and discrimination. And they dream of being part of the solution to build a better Afghanistan. The single vehicle that Afghan youth believe can help them to realize their dreams is education. ROYA – Resources of Young Afghans was born to help transform those dreams into reality… to help transform the dreams of today into the solutions for tomorrow.
The ROYA Mentorship Program has been our greatest initiative. The concept was simple. Founder, Kara Lozier, and Bamyan co-founder, Asif Sultani, worked together to select ten needy, motivated students in Bamyan who are willing to commit to 2 1/2 years of private English classes and match them with ten individual sponsors who would pay $10 per month – the cost of tuition, books and weekly internet access. We started in June 2016 with ten students, including Maryam and Freshta. An interview with Maryam is featured above called, “We have to be united to move forward.” An article about Freshta is also featured above called, “Learning is a treasure.” The supply of sponsors quickly exceeded our demand, so we aimed to add ten students in Kabul too. Word-of-mouth continued to generate more prospective sponsors and in two to three months we were serving about 100 underprivileged young Afghans in Kabul and Bamyan.
In Kabul, we wanted to help one child street worker. A boy who Kara and Kabul co-founders, Shoaib Mehryad and Asif Rasooly, were familiar with from another joint project in the winter of 2016. Kara was writing an article during her visit to Kabul about child laborers and asked Asif if he could take some random photos for her. But he happened to photograph Rahmat, the one young boy who Kara saw everyday on her way to her temporary office. When the Kabul program was started in July 2016, Rahmat was located, but we discovered that his sister was a carpet weaver and his brother was also a street worker, so we faced the moral dilemma of only helping one child and neglecting the other two. An interview with Rahmat’s brother is featured above, called “Rising from the ashes.” We didn’t know if we could find a sponsor or multiple sponsors to pay their monthly wages which ranged from $15 to $40. To our surprise, we easily found sponsors. Today we support sixteen former child laborers in Kabul, four in Bamyan and five in Ghor with the help of many individual sponsors and our non-profit partners, A More Balanced World, the Bamyan Foundation, Akademos Society, and the Baba Mazari Foundation.
We learned that English classes were not useful for our former child laborers and some of our most needy students. They were too weak academically and struggled with their native language. We kept adapting the program to meet the individual needs of each student. We discovered that the government schools were not equipped to handle students who needed extra attention and one of our volunteers suggested we send them to a private school. Six of our former child laborers attended a special winter session at Tarbyat Private School. Another volunteer introduced us to Pegah Private High School. When the new school year began, we registered one student at Tarbyat and seventeen students at Pegah – all with full sponsorships to cover their tuition, uniforms, books and transportation costs.
In July 2017, we expanded to Ghor Province and now support 70 needy children to attend the only private school in the province, Rahnaward-e-Noor High School. We have requests to expand to Jalalabad, Daikondi, Mazar-e-Sharif and Herat and are currently exploring a partnership in Jalalabad. Our program is being replicated in Argentina. Shoaib Mehryar, our Kabul coordinator and co-founder, submitted the ROYA Mentorship Program model to the World Bank Youth Summit’s competition for the theme Innovation in Education. From 875 entries across the world, the ROYA proposal submitted by Shoaib was selected as a finalist. He and Asif Rasooly, our other Kabul coordinator and co-founder, traveled to Washington DC in November 2016 to compete live against the other five finalists. The jury of experts chose ROYA as a co-winner.
Shortly after the ROYA Mentorship Program began, Jamshid Zafar, a personal friend and one of ROYA’s first volunteers, was killed in the terrorist attacks on the American University of Afghanistan. His former classmates from the U.S. developed a fundraiser in his memory, chose ROYA as the beneficiary and raised enough money for us to create two six-station computer labs for our students, one in Kabul and one in Bamyan. The computer labs have been named JZ’s Tech Zone by Jamshid’s sisters. Our students now have ready access to computers and the internet in safe, supervised and comfortable spaces.
Bamyan had an inauguration of their computer lab attended by Jamshid’s father in January 2017. It was a very moving celebration of Jamshid’s life with speeches, performances, and an emotional tribute by Jamshid’s father. Subsequently we received 30 laptop computers from the World Bank office in Paris which we also divided between Bamyan and Kabul. Kabul’s inauguration is scheduled for August 2017. The computer labs for ROYA students have been a very meaningful way to honor Jamshid’s life and his lifelong wish to help needy children in Afghanistan.
If ROYA’s first year is any indication about what the future holds for our program, then the sky is the limit. There are millions of needy youth across the country who can benefit from the variety of support we provide. The cost is so low and the value is so high. We have many friends working in the development sector of Afghanistan who compare our program to those run by USAID, UN Women and other international aid organizations. They wish the huge programs they worked for showed the tangible improvements that the ROYA Mentorship Program shows. It’s a people-to-people initiative and everybody involved feels blessed to be a part of the ROYA family.
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