Zelalem and Gail Amare, age 34 and 38, Founders of One Planet
International School, Addis Ababa, Ethiopia
- Brukty and Shane Etzenhauser, ages 25 and 35 , Founders of
Whiz Kids Workshop, Addis Ababa, Ethiopia
- Sarojini Ray, age 102, Community Pillar, Chennai, India
- Almina Broadbent, age 73, Salem-Kaiser Senior Center, Salem
- Babajan Sediqi, Age 27, Kabul International University, Kabul,
Nazar Mohammed Walizada, age 25, Driver, Kabul, Afghanistan
Nazar is a driver who works with literacy projects in Afghanistan. Nazar has seen 23 years of war in his 25 years. He was forced to start working by the age of 7, and he gave up his opportunity to be literate to work and earn to send his youngest brother to school. He was separated from his family for 13 years in Pakistan, and then returned to make a meager living in Kabul.
One day, Nazar said, “Today I was washing the car. And I thought about Allison who runs the House of Flowers orphanage in Kabul. I thought of her 27 orphans and her noble behavior and how one day when it was raining, she and her husband got out of the car and walked themselves through the mud, so that my car would not get stuck there in the mud. And I thought to myself, when she dies, God will not stop to ask her any questions. She will go straight to heaven, “no questions asked”.
Several months later, Nazar said, “You know, these landmines are bad. One day, there was a girl who was in our neighborhood. And she climbed the stairs, and on the third stair there was a mine. It blew off her leg from the thigh down.
I found her. I tied it up. I took her on my back and started walking toward the city. But in those Taliban days, a man should not even see a woman. Let alone carry her on his back. Between here and the hospital, there were 100 police check posts. They each asked me. ‘Who is this girl? What are you doing with her?’ I told them, ‘She a stranger to me. I am just taking her to the hospital’. Each one wanted money. To get through these 100 check posts, I only had a little bit of money in my pocket. It was wartime and this was the last money I had. So I used this money to take a taxi. I took her all the way to town, to the hospital. Then I walked back to the village to tell her family what happened. After I told them, I walked back to the city. But by the time I reached the hospital, - - she had died.’
Later the comment was made, ‘Nazar, if you had done nothing else in your life, for helping this stranger, maybe you will go straight to heaven, “no questions asked”.’
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Sara Tasleem, age 32, Master Trainer, Kabul, Afghanistan
Sara Tasleem is a tiny brave woman, with a ripplingly infectious laughter and a spunky zest for life. Though she is only 32, she is a widow, has raised two children, the oldest, a boy of 15, and supports all the members of her extended family.
Sara’s bravery was astounding. She recounted, ‘During war years, when the fighting was really bad, believe me in 7 minutes, 360 rockets hit. After 10- 15 days, they would give a break in the fighting so that both sides could collect their dead. When it was so heavy like that, the whole family had to go into a hole in the ground. We all stayed there and there was no food. For 4 days there was no food. Even though I was a woman, I was the bravest one among the family. There was an apple tree in the yard. I would run out and shake the apple tree so all the apples would fall. Then I would run back to the hole. After a half hour when things had quieted down, I scurried out and collect the apples. That way we had some food after that. But we ate only apples for the rest of the time.’
Sara worked as a Master Trainer for the Learning for Life literacy project. Sara recounted, ‘In Kabul province when we were mobilizing communities to hold literacy classes for women. One man said to me, ‘If you come to this village again, I will destroy you with this rocket.’ I said, ‘Fine’, and I went and mobilized classes in nearby villages. After they saw the results and the impact on the village up the road, they came back us to wanted to approach us to start a literacy class in their village. I went to that man and told him “We will start this class for you. If anything we do is against your religion or unacceptable to you, then you can kill me with this rocket.” They agreed. But after seeing the result of the classes, this village became the strongest supporters of the class. So much so that when the project car came into the village, the villagers would surround it and bring gifts and food to the driver.’
Sara completed her tasks with a special sense of zest and love. Wheerever she would go to train village literacy facilitators, the women would surround her and she would shower love on them. Woman who had not studied in 30 years and had no hope that they could teach the other women in their village, were inspired by her to blossom and become competent, capable teachers. In a culture which often restricted women, Sara’s spunkiness challenged the norm, and brought out the best and the integrity of Afghan women. In one training, she sat eating lunch, among 30 women closely packed on the floor with food and legs and children all over the vinyl red mat. There was a village facilitator, nursing one child at her breast, while her 1 year-old child would drag around a plastic water pitcher from the bathroom every where he went. He kept trying to drink from it. Then he sat down with the mother and nursing infant and put his hand on the mother’s other breast.
Sara said, “He is thirsty. This is cruelty!” The facilitators all looked up at her. With a grin and wink, Sara exclaimed, “If the infant is on one breast and the 1 year-old on the other, where is your husband going to put his hand?!” All the village facilitators burst out laughing, --and this was the most effective and frank lesson in birth spacing witnessed in many years in Afghan villages.
Not only was Sara brave, she was also dedicated to the end. In one instance, she had smoke inhalation and found herself alone in an outlying provincial hospital with tubes coming out of her arms, and crowds huddling around looking at this strangely dressed Kabul woman. But she would not leave her post until she completed her training. At the end of the literacy project, most staff were laid off, and only core staff remained to close down the project office. However, Sara said, ‘I will continue working until all the work is done, without salary.’ And she did. She came to the office every day and continued to work, for the sake of completing what needed to be done to help Afghan women become literate.
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Waheeda Shahab, age 35, Master Trainer, Kabul, Afghanistan
Soft-spoken and gently lavender-like, Waheeda Shahab was a Master Trainer for the Learning for Life literacy project in Afghanistan. She was top notch among the trainers-- The others called her “daaktar-moalemin’, ‘the doctor of the teachers’. In a country where a grown woman needs a male escort, even if he were only her 5 year old son, Waheeda, single and never married, would travel to every side of the country to train women to be literacy teachers. She would never hesitate to travel to the high mountains of Badakhshan where it was extremely cold and there were no facilities, over a 12 hour ride on a road so full of holes that her teeth would be jittery for days after. She would then come back to Kabul, put down her travel bag and pick it up the next day to travel to the next province, be it Ghazni, Paktia or Jowzjan.
One day when Waheeda returned from Badakhshan, her eyes were overflowing tears and stories of newly literate learners. In one class, a newly literate woman came to her and poured out her life’s story. 10 years ago, this woman’s brother had been called to fight. When he was called to the army, he left a note with his sister, in case any thing happened to him. He was killed shortly thereafter and his sister could never read the note. During the years of war, transition and being a refugee, she had kept her brother’s note in the bottom of a plastic bag that she had managed to keep with her. Now after 10 years, she finally could read! She took his note out of a special bag where she kept it and finally was able to read her brother’s last words. It brought Waheeda and the whole class to tears.
Waheeda gave selflessly gave her life to help make women literate. She never thought of her own needs, never took even one day off during the entire life of the project, and never spoke an ill word of anyone. Though gentle, demure, and lilac-like, her power and influence was profound, inspiring and impacting hundreds of women all across Afghanistan.
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Abdul Shaqer, Cleaner, age 23, Cleaner, KabulAfghanistan
Abdul Shaqer is a cleaner for a women’s literacy project. Shaqer is from Hazara background, an ethnic minority, and lives in one room with 12 other people. All of the people in the office where Shaqer works have received multiple trainings and are sent to different sides of the country to train and manage projects. Shaqer goes nowhere, but he faithfully performed his duties, jumping up to serve his colleagues, doing much more than just cleaning, going out on the street to purchase whatever is needed, bringing flowers to the offices, bringing tea, never asking what was needed, but bringing them before they were needed. Shaqer’s one wish was to marry a girl he loved, but with his $150 per month salary, he did not have the economic means to do so.
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Zelalem Amare, age 34, Founder of One Planet International School, Addis AbabaEthiopia
Zelalem Amare emigrated to America at the age of 24 . He married Gail Amare, an American, and gradually became educated, got a good job in information technology, bought a car, then a house, then another house. But after 10 years, he returned to Ethiopia to serve his country, and used his personal income to start the OnePlanetInternationalSchool. He supervised every detail of the school, from the painting of the walls, to the selection of an academic curriculum. Now he spends his days working for young children’s education. www.oneplanetschool.com
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Brukty and Shane Etzenhauser, ages 25 and 35, Founders of Whiz Kids Workshop, Addis Ababa, Ethiopia
Brukty and Shane live in Ethiopia. They left their well paying jobs in software development and teaching to start the Whiz Kids Workshop. They put their own energy and time in preparing multimedia dramas, which teach children moral values, academic messages, hygiene, environmental messages and savings. The skits are made in a culturally sensitive way with all Amharic and Oromo speaking characters, to reach Ethiopia children in a way that is catered just to them. Shane and Brukty put their whole effort into Whiz Kids Workshop for many years, spending days and nights developing the dramas, and foregoing personal salary, so that the organization could prosper. www.whizkids.workshop.com
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Sarojini Rao, age 102, Community Pillar, Chennai, India
Sarojini Ray is a tower of joy, who has been animating the city of Chennai for years. Sarojini was pillar of the Baha’i community of Chennai and was one of the first believers there to establish a Baha’i center in the city. She also served as an Air Raid Warden and Recruitment Office in the India Indepencement Movement. She met Maria Montessori and started a Montessori school of which she was the headmaster. She was also a contemporary of Rabindranath Tagore and the Gandhi family.
However, by the age of 102, her broken hip left her immobile, and her difficulty in leaving the bed to use the restroom made life difficult. Despite that state, she had no consciousness of her conditions. When visitors came, she greeted them with bright shiny smile and would point out the beauty in each of them. She would say ‘Sing me a song’. If the visitor did not have a song for her, she would sing her own song for them. When one girl told Sarojini about her research on HIV/AIDS in Chennai, she replied ‘Tell me the objective of your project and how I can help you.’ Though she could not move from the waste down, she looked as if she was about to jump up and move mountains to clear the way for this girl to work on AIDS research. Another woman of 70 came to visit her and after the woman left, she commented, “I must take care of her; she is old you know.”
Sarojini’s one wish was to have a hearing aid so she could hear and communicate with the visitors who came to see her. Yet this was above her economic means. She was granted a Chashmaye Nur award for the purchase of a hearing aid.
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Almina Broadbent, age 73, Salem-Kaiser Senior Center, Salem, Oregon, USA
Almina Broadbent is 73 years old. She says, “See these wrinkles, I earned everyone of them. I’ve even got them named.” When Almina had a near fatal-car accident, she almost lost use of her right arm. The doctor prescribed physiotherapy to learn to move her arm back and forth. But Almina had other plans- she ordered nine yards of barkdust and made a garden project out of it.
Almina is a vibrant pillar of the Senior Center in Salem, Oregon. This group of 200 fired-up seniors got together 10 years ago and raised money to build a center, where they could put in a hot dance floor. Over the years were able to raise enough money to pay of the mortgage of the senior center in 10 years. Everything in the senior center runs on volunteer labor- from leaf mulching to lunch preparation to secretarial services. Every day of the week the Center is bursting with activity – line dancing, tango, bolero, bingo internet, computer repair classes- whatever skills the volunteers have, they teach.
As each person walks into the Salem Senior Center, Elmian greets each one as if they hadn’t seen one another in ages. Two years ago my grandfather, Ray, met a girl at the Salem Senior Center Friday morning dance. She was a younger woman, a mere 78. Ray and Betty started going together and started to think “Maybe we should get married”. When the thought was vocalized into words, Almina chimed in and said, “My husband’s a preacher. Let’s make it happen”. From then the work was done. Almina and the Salem Seniors organized the event, decorating the dance hall with flowers and each bringing food and baking a wedding cake. Then, during the intermission of the Friday morning 9 am Valentine’s Day Dance, and a wedding took place on the dance floor of the Salem Senior Center.
Almina is full of encouragement, support and relish for life, and zestily teases all within her radius. Almina speaks of a girl who she helped escaped from danger. The girl has now become a woman, and for 15 years now, the woman still sends her a thank you note each year for the help.
Almina is a living example of how to give, and how to live --with joy and vivacity, spreading her joy to others.
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Babajan Sediqi, Age 27, Kabul International University , Kabul, Afghanistan
Babajan Sediqi is a young man who has survived through war, displacement and health problems, and has continued to serve his country. Following the war, he worked as a translator for journalists. In each job he took, he demonstrated his capacity and got things done, so that he quickly move up and became the Operations Manager of a project serving 8000 people within a short time. Babajan took his ability to accomplish and applied this to serve his fellow countrypeople. In 2007, he set up a tertiary level training institution. The university is beginning with information technology and management courses but will move in a variety of subjects and content areas. In order to recognize and encourage his efforts, Babajan received an in-kind donation of books and resource materials for the nascent library of his university. Babajan continues to use his good-hearted nature and ability to accomplish to serve his country.