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SFS-Qatar Students, Alumna Working on School for Afghan Refugees

November 24, 2014 – Three students and an alumna from the School of Foreign Service in Doha, Qatar, are working to create a school in a slum village – predominantly inhabited by Afghan refugees – in Islamabad, Pakistan.

The group of students – Ahwaz Akhtar (SFS’16), Thanos Sardellis (SFS’16), Haroon Yasin (SFS’15), and an alumna, Fatima Ramadan Sanz (SFS’13) – came together with Warwick University student Ahsan Malik a year ago to create the Orenda Project after they were selected for the 2013-2014 WISE Learners’ Voice program.

“According to UN-Habitat, today almost 1 billion people live in crowded, unsanitary shantytowns around the world due to massive migration to urban areas in search of a better life,” notes Sardellis, a junior studying culture and politics. “But because of poverty levels, there’s little access to education, and many environmental and health risks.”

“We believe all those in shantytowns have the potential to achieve,” he adds. “They just need the tools and education to shine.”

The proposed school is for the Afghan Basti community and will begin with about 50 students ages 4 to 12, with a goal of eventually serving about 200 children. Through the process of co-creation, the refugees will be involved in the building design and curriculum, giving the project sustainability and longevity.

Alleviating Poverty

Participants in the WISE Learner’s Voice program were invited to create an innovative project that addresses a current educational issue. The group presented the project at this month’s WISE Summit, hoping to secure funding from the public.

“Orenda Project's mission is to use contextualized education to alleviate poverty among marginalized populations, by establishing schools that are co-created with the beneficiaries," says Haroon Yasin, a senior international politics major.

Yasin has prior experience in helping children in distressed circumstances get a quality education.

In 2011 he created Akhuwat-e-Awam, a school providing free education to impoverished children in Pakistan. The school provides lessons to 40 children ages 5 to 15.

The successful project turned into an SFS-Qatar campus club, with student members deciding all matters pertaining to the school.

Visionary Leaders

For the Orenda project, Yasin flew to Islamabad in the summer of 2014 to conduct a survey to document the appalling living conditions of 160 Afghan refugee households.

He then held brainstorming sessions with members of the Afghan refugee community, sharing the findings of the survey and working with them on the building design and the pillars of the curriculum.

If the students are able to secure funding for the project, construction on the school could open as early as August 2015.

“One of our missions at Georgetown University is to educate critical thinkers who will become visionary global leaders,” says Gerd Nonneman, SFS-Qatar dean. “The impressive work our students have already done in establishing campus organizations that give back to the community, along with this impressive proposal for a co-creative approach to education, is a testament to those leadership skills, and we look forward to seeing it come to fruition with the proper funding.”

Sustainable Plans

SFS-Q alumna Fatima Sanz says the school will be built with local materials, making the building cost-effective and sustainable.

The curriculum will include basic hygiene education to help prevent disease as well as entrepreneurship training, so that slum populations are equipped with the skills needed to improve their communities.

For more information about the Orenda Project visit the website or follow updates on the project’s Facebook page.