Khris Nedam, founder and director of Kids 4 Afghan Kids, Interview

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Interview with:
Khris Nedam, founder and director of Kids 4 Afghan Kids
By: Don of Don411.com Media April 6, 2014

Per summary provided:

Khris Nedam is an educator who has lived, worked, and traveled throughout Afghanistan for the past 25 years. She is the founder and director of Kids4AfghanKids, a program in which Michigan school children reached out to children in an Afghan school. The American school community raised enough money to build a co-educational school in Afghanistan that now includes elementary, junior high and high schools, as well as a medical clinic and an orphanage.

What specifically inspired you to create Kids 4 Afghan Kids?
In 1998 a speaker from Afghanistan shared with my students in a presentation about what life was like for children their age – they were so awed at how fortunate they were in Northville, Michigan and wanted to reach out to help. After class discussions we decided the best way to  help was to provide education for them.

What were some of the challenges experienced for the project Kids 4 Afghan Kids and how was it solved?
Challenges?… Too many to write all of them! From cultural awareness and understanding to drought, ambushes, lack of materials, an earthquake, constant fighting in the country, and 911……we have continued to believe it is all worth it to raise up a village of children who are literate and have access to health care and clean water. The project has grown and blossomed to be an integral part of the village and their hope for a better future. The belief in helping the children there and the commitment to our friendship/partnership with the village elders has kept us all going. We have had many difficult issues and have spent many hours discussing the best way to work through them. Respect for each other’s culture and differences has been paramount in keeping the project going – the village elders make the decisions and we follow their
lead. They discuss with us all issues and we accept their oversight. We have tried very hard to stay a-political.

Why should people from 1st world countries care about other countries education issues? Would there be a conflict of cultural relativism?
As Kennedy once explained – if we build bridges through care and friendship then we are less likely to resort to violence for conflict resolution. If we can reach out and help others we will build trust and relationships for a better future. In our small way we are helping fight prejudice and terrorism by helping children learn to read and write and learn about the world instead of potentially just hearing ideas from radical leaders and falling prey to their ideas.

What is the point for some governments to prevent a certain demographic of the population to not be educated?
Illiteracy is key if you want to lead people in a direction they may not have taken if they knew otherwise. People basically want to be ‘good’ people and if a leader can convince them a direction makes them ‘good’ because they can’t read about what the leader is ‘instructing’ them, then they will do things they might not have otherwise done.

How can men in these countries change this?
Building schools and supporting education for all children (and adults who are illiterate).

How can women in these counties change this?
Continuing to fight for women’s education and rights.

What are the systemic problems experienced in dealing with governments and regions for educating people? What is their point of having a population of ignorant people?
We have found that belief in education is very strong, although it may not look like what we see in education. An example is – in our village it is important for the girls to become literate because then they will be better mothers and raise healthier children. Their goal may not be college education or employment, and that is ok for now.

What can others do to make Kids 4 Afghan Kids program more successful in their mission?
We have so many areas where people could help! Financially is our biggest struggle. We have 1200 children in school – it costs $5 a child a month to run the project. Not much per child, however, still $6000 a month which is a significant amount to raise. The $5 provides the children with education, health care, and clean water for their families. We also need help in developing a source of income in the village for the families. We have looked for saffron, wind turbines, handicrafts, etc… We are also looking for continued education – trade school training, midwifery, teacher training, etc… And, we still need a library and girls’ orphanage. Currently we have a boys orphanage, however, the girls live in the high school. We also need help with presentations and networking – from newsletters to our website to sharing at different groups and events.

What do you hope that others take away from this?
A better understanding of Afghanistan and how they arrived at today. To know that all is not ‘bad’ there as the media presents to us. See the beautiful faces of the children who want peace and a ‘normal’ life.

How does one get involved?
Just ask! Please go to the website www.kids4afghankids.org to find out more information.

Kids 4 Afghan Kids  www.kids4afghankids.org

Sarasota World Affairs Council (SWAC)   www.sarasotawac.org

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Per kids4afghankids.org website:

We are an organization that is driven by American students to make a better world for their fellow students in Afghanistan. Our organization goal is to re-establish educational facilities for boys and girls in Afghanistan.

History
In 1998, a group of 6th graders in Northville, MI decided to act. They Founded Kids 4 Afghan Kids, a Michigan-based non-profit organization whose goal is to re-establish educational facilities for boys and girls in Afghanistan and to address the desperate health conditions in which the children and their families live. In three years, these students raised enough money under the guidance of their teacher and witnessed — via videotapes, internet and cell phones — the construction of a six-room
school, a medical clinic, a bakery / kitchen, a guest house and community well for the residents of a rural, a mountainous area 3 hours southwest of Kabul. The school opened in March 2001 with six teachers and 465 students in first through sixth grade. It now has 1200 students (600 boys and 600 girls)with sixteen teachers. The desire for education is so strong that many of the children walk over 4 hours each way to get to and from the school. Currently, 50 boy orphans and 30 girl orphans live at the project.

While the idea for the school originated in the U.S., it was developed within a context of honor and respect for the complex cultural, religious, economic and social constructs of the valley. The idea of the school was first presented to the village elders for consideration. In addition to their unanimous support, they donated ten acres of land towards its construction. Construction workers — all residents of the valley — lived in tents on the land for years to build the school. Many construction materials, such as mortar, were made on-site. A deep well (132 meters) was dug to provide water for mixing the mortar. However, because all of the villagers’s wells are dry due to the severe drought, this well was constructed as a well for the entire village. Because of severe malnutrition, a bakery was built adjacent to the school to provide bread and suggi for the children. Food was provided during the first schhol year, however,due to increased student population we can no longer support the food distribution. We are hoping to start this back up in the future. During a site visit to Afghanistan in June 2002, we were able to determine through our survey that approximately 98% of the children in the valley are malnourished. Finally, because of the severely compromised health status of the children and their families, a health clinic was also constructed as part of the school complex.
Kids 4 Afghan Kids utilizes a unique blend of contemporary technology and local control to oversee the project. The U.S. project director ‘meets’ weekly via cell phone with the Afghani project director and the school’s leadership. All decisions regarding the school, such as curriculum and
daily schedules, are made by the teachers in collaboration with the U.S. and Afghani project directors and the village elders.

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About kids4afghankids
In 1998, a group of 6th graders in Northville, MI decided to act. They Founded Kids 4 Afghan Kids, a Michigan- based non-profit organization. Whose goal is to re-establish educational facilities for boys and girls in Afghanistan and to address the desperate health conditions in which the children and their families live. In three years, these students raised enough money under the guidance of their teacher and witnessed — via videotapes, internet and cell phones — the construction of a six-room school, a medical clinic, an orphanage, a bakery kitchen, a guest house and community well for the residents of a mountainous area 3 hours southwest of Kabul.

Mission
We are an organization that is driven by American students to make a better world for their fellow students in Afghanistan. Our mission is to provide humanitarian assistance to the Afghan people, including returning refugees, to create an opportunity for cooperative efforts between the United States and Afghanistan, and to develop and enhance educational and cultural understanding and exchange opportunities. Our goals are
To re-establish equal educational facilities for boys and girls.

Humanitarian Assistance
Development of opportunities for economic self-reliance which will facilitate refugee repatriation
Medical Clinic Reopens July 1st, 2011. A medical clinic in Wardak, Afghanistan, supported by donations by Northville’s Kids for Afghan Kids (K4AK), reopened July 1, after K4AK’s successful May fundraising program.
The medical and dental clinic was established by K4AK in 2001. It closed last fall after the murder of Tom Grams, the program’s volunteer dentist from Colorado, and the cancer related death of  the only village physician which left the clinic without adequate medical personnel. Middle school students Haley Clafton, Erica Meister and Allie Pierce have lead K4AK’s effort to raise $ 7,500 over the last several months by giving presentations on the project and organizing fundraising events. The girls have been involved in K4AK for four years. “We wanted to do something to help the 1,200 students and their families,” said Allie, “without our clinic, they had no professional medical care.” “The village needed $15,000 to hire a doctor and dentist for one year,” said Khris Nedam, Amerman third grade teacher and K4AK’s US Director, “Because of K4AK and the support of the Northville community, the clinic will now be open through December with a dentist, mid-wife, and medical doctor.” Winchester, Amerman and Silver Springs Elementary Schools helped K4AK raise money in May by hosting fund raising projects that netted more than $2200. “(At Winchester, we) were excited to help K4AK. We wrote announcements, gave presentations to each class and sold 1,499 Smencils (scented pencils. Every little bit helps,” said Allie’s brother, Winchester fourth grader Matt Pierce. “The principals involved, as well as (now retired) Northville Public Schools Superintendent Leonard Rezmierski, have given us terrific advice and encouragement and many kids volunteered to help,” said Haley. The Northville Rotary Club presented K4AK with $1,600 in donations. “We got money from the Club, and from individual members. Their generosity was fantastic. These donations alone will support the clinic for one month,” said Erica, who accepted the checks on behalf of K4AK in June. “Our goal now is to raise the money necessary to keep the clinic open next year,” said Haley. Kids 4 Afghan Kids will hold fundraisers throughout the summer, and both a hoedown and silent auction in October. If you have items, services or timeshare use you would like to donate, call Lori Shaffer at 734-453-0977. For more information or to make a donation, see www.kids4afghankids.com
(Article Courtesy of The Northville Record)

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Per Marygrove College
http://www.marygrove.edu/alumni-donors/alumni-relations/distinguished-alumni/2004-award-winners/678-khris-nedam- 98.html

Since her graduation from Marygrove College six years ago, Khris Nedam, third grade teacher, has done much more than just teach school- she has helped build one. Armed with a teaching degree and a mastery of French, she taught  school in France, Turkey, Afghanistan, and the U. S. But that was just  the beginning. In 1998 while she was teaching at Meads Mill Middle School, a contact from Afghanistan shared with her class the condition  of the economy, education and family life in Afghanistan. Moved by the account, Nedam and her sixth grade students founded Kids4AfghanKids, a non-profit organization whose goal is to re- establish educational facilities for boys and girls in Afghanistan. In three years, they had raised enough money to build a six-room schoolhouse in Afghanistan. Approximately 450 students filled the school when it was built. By 2004 over 1,200 students regularly crowd into the tiny building in shifts. “That rural village now has so much hope for the future of their children,” says Nedam. What started as a Northville Public School project became an enterprise with partner schools all across America, as well as schools in Belgium and France. In addition to the school, a medical clinic, bakery/kitchen, guest house, orphanage, and the only deep-water well in the valley have been built. More than 250 babies have been born at the clinic. “Her compassion for the need, purpose and value of this effort is clear, honest and forthright,” says Northville Superintendent Leonard Rezmierski. “Her commitment to help people, albeit thousands of miles away, is admirable and worthy of recognition.” Several organizations have assisted the building process such as UNICEF and church organizations. The Northville Rotary and Northville Schools worked together to raise $20,000 in four months. Under the guidance of Nedam, Kids4AfghanKids has received national acclaim and media coverage, including Newsweek and ABC’s “20/20 Downtown.” More importantly, in 2002 the Center for International Disaster Information (CIDI, Arlington, Virginia) put Kids4AfghanKids on the top of their list as one of the most reliable humanitarian organizations. In 2002 Nedam was honored with the Governor’s Service Award, and in 2003 she received the Michigan Association of School Board’s “Best of the Best” award.
Watching her students here make friends with children half a world away is important to Nedam. And watching them make a dreams come true is even better. “My students have learned an important lesson through a real-life connection,” she says. “They’ve learned that with persistence and hard work, they can make their dreams come true and make a difference in the world.” According to Steven Anderson, principal at Amerman Elementary School, Nedam finds time for everyone and listens with her heart. “Kids4AfghanKids, teaching and being a single parent fill Nedam’s days with ‘to-do’ lists. Despite this, she still manages to find time to draw students and adults out of their daily struggles and focus them on larger issues,” he said. Nedam strives to help her students find their own special gifts and to think outside the box. “People are more important than things,” says Nedam. “Bills, cleaning, and ‘stuff’ won’t go away. Enjoy the people in your life, laugh, and be a good friend. “Kids today need to understand that differences are okay,” she said. “We should support each other in our differences and be willing to reach out and help each other.”

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