Qamar Mohammad Ayoub has already been on an extraordinary journey in her young life as an Afghan woman.
With her help, many more will follow.
Ayoub was born in Bamyan, Afghanistan, and was raised in that mountainous regional capital and in the national capital, Kabul.
The third-youngest child of nine siblings, she showed great academic aptitude in school. Her mother had received little education, and she promoted her daughter’s desire to learn. The family moved to Kabul so that she could receive more opportunities, such as attending an English academy.
Yet there were limits to what her family could give her. Her school, Sayed Shuhada High School, was overcrowded, with a 50:1 student-to-teacher ratio. It had neither computers for the students nor a library for the girls. (Girls and boys are educated separately in Afghan public schools.)
Ayoub wanted to study abroad. She found out about the Afghan Girls Financial Assistance Fund, an American non-profit that helps young Afghan women pursue an education in the U.S. It supports those who want to return to their home country, work for gender equality, and improve life in Afghanistan.
AGFAF made it possible for Ayoub to attend high school in Virginia. An aspiring physician, she became interested in Wagner College. “Wagner stood out to me because of its strong programs in the sciences,” she says. “I wanted to go to a small college where my professors would know me. And I love New York, of course!”
Wagner awarded Ayoub a scholarship. AGFAF supplies other essential expenses, such as books, health insurance, and the cost of traveling home during summer break.
“I’m not seeking to live my whole life here, but to have a safe place for my education and then to return to my country to make change there. Afghanistan needs me,” Ayoub says.
This past summer, Ayoub started her mission of making positive change in Afghanistan: She opened a library for the girls of Sayed Shuhada High School.
While AGFAF provided funds, Ayoub worked with school and government officials, obtained permits, and contracted with carpenters and electricians. AGFAF board member Joe Highland mentored her through this process.
“Girls’ schooling in Afghanistan traditionally is, ‘Sit down, listen, and write down what I say,’” says Highland. “We are trying to create a culture where girls read, ask questions, and discuss what they read.”
The library was created by enclosing a balcony within the school. The 500-square-foot space is filled with 1,000 books. Ayoub named the library Andeshagah, a Farsi word that means “a place to think or contemplate.”
Two local Afghan college students staff the library. In addition to lending books, it offers a book club, a public speaking class, and a photography class.
“The library operates as a center for opportunities beyond what these girls usually get,” Highland says. “It’s life-changing.”
Follow Andeshagah Library on Facebook.