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Tragedy in the U.S. Leads to Hope for Thousands in Afghanistan

  • Ira Mellman

Afghan Orphans

Afghan Orphans

In July of 2008, a 25 year old Afghan American woman was murdered in a residential suburb of Washington DC.

Homaira Rahman was a popular member of Washington's Afghan American community. Her family says they called her "Sunshine."

"She was truly the light of the family and we all miss her very much", said one of her cousins, Wais Achikzad. "But her legacy will live in through the foundation."

Achikzad now serves as director of Public Relations for that organization, one formed by the family called the Homaira Rahman Foundation, or HRF.

Homaira's sister Roya Rahman is the foundation's President. She says "We thought what was the best way we could help our nation, Afghanistan as well as the orphans, the kids? Homaira was involved with orphans. She actually sponsored an orphan through another foundation, and she really loved kids, she adored kids. So we thought this was the best way to honor her."

Roya Rahman says the first fundraising efforts were to partner with organizations already operating in Afghanistan. "With the support of our donors, we, then in turn, worked with other organizations and we helped that way," said Roya Rahman.

"For example, we already had two campaigns, a winter campaign and a spring campaign. The winter campaign, we partnered with two organizations, one in Kandahar called Sanna Orphanage, and the other was Jahan which is located in Kabul. This was throughout the winter of 2009 where we provided them with blankets, clothing, hats, scarves, you know, items for the kids."

Wais Achikzad said a decision was made about working with governmental organizations. They were going to be an apolitical foundation.

"You know inevitably, in a country like Afghanistan, you're going to deal with some situations that are less than desirable dealing with various entities and people on the ground in the certain culture that's there at the moment, and obviously with some of the dangers you have to be really careful. But it helps us that we do know a lot of people on the ground, we do know a lot of people who have been successful in running their own organizations on the ground. So, we've kinda learned to go through certain channels so it's not like we're completely blind to what's going on there."

In April of this year, Roya Rahman visited her native Kabul.

"During my visit, I noticed these children were mainly on the streets, a lot of them. They were either selling plastic on the streets, chewing gum, washing cars. I mean these kids were five to seven years old, eight years old, nine years old. They ranged from different ages. And instead of getting an education, they're outside on the street."

So the decision was made to focus on the education of the orphans.

The foundation recently held a raffle.

"That supported, actually a library has been established and dedicated in honor of Homaira," said Roya. "I actually visited that in Kabul at the Orphans and Widows Association and it was really rewarding to see the library established, the kids utilizing it. There were computers, books, desks where they could read and sit and converse with each other. So it was very rewarding to see that."

That library is a stepping stone to HRF's next project, says Wais Achikzad.

"We're in the midst of trying to build a school for orphans that would be named for Homaira. So, to have an actual school with orphans and sustaining that over time, affecting many many children over time, I think that's something we're really aiming to do in the near future."

The Homaira Rahman Foundation is still small compared to similar organizations and the problem is big. In 2008, UNICEF, the United Nations Children's Fund, estimated that there were 1.6 million orphans in Afghanistan. One might assume that number has increased. Roya Rahman says the best way to honor the memory of her sister is to some way contribute to the future of her homeland.

"Our aim is really the children of Afghanistan and helping them, in particular orphans. So, we believe that education is a fundamental human right and that by protecting and supporting these Afghan orphans, we want to witness their contribution to in rebuilding their homeland one day."