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Group builds 'Sisterhood'

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By Melissa Capone
Monday, Feb. 5, 2007

More than 1,200 Afghani girls will have their own school next month, thanks to the efforts of four Pittsburgh students.

Danielle Tomson, Alana Rudkin, Shanti Singh and Kirsten Spittel, who attend the Ellis School in Shadyside, helped raise more than $14,000 in the past two years to build Khwahari (meaning "sisterhood") middle school in Afghanistan's Herat province.

They were inspired by a visit to Ellis two years ago by Fahima Vorgetts, an Afghan refugee fighting for the educational rights of women in her home country.

"She had an amazing, heartbreaking personal story," Tomson recalled. "My friends and I thought, 'Well, what if we build a school for girls in Afghanistan• We can do that, right?' "

The girls and other members of the Asian Culture Club raised money by selling handmade rugs, crafts, shawls and jewelry from Afghanistan. They received donations from alumni, businesses and others.

The middle school, nearly finished except for a computer lab and library, is the only one for five villages. It will teach more than 1,200 girls the fundamentals of reading, writing, arithmetic and language. Tomson said the school will serve as a community center and offer literacy classes to women.

Tomson said she wants to see local schools get involved in supporting education in other parts of the world.

"One of my hopes and aspirations is to have schools in the (area) adopt a school in the Middle East," said Tomson, a junior at Ellis, an all-girl school. "It's such a unifier for a school to have something beyond the students to collaborate on and come together with."

Tomson said American youths take their education for granted and don't understand that education in other parts of the globe, especially for women, is sometimes forbidden or frowned upon.

"A lot of kids in this country have everything at their fingertips," Tomson said. "What students in America need to do is extend their hand and help others in other parts of the world get a good education."

Tomson said a rewarding aspect of her involvement in the project is the gratitude of the girls who will attend school there.

"It's absolutely amazing to see the deep appreciation from them for something that we just take for granted," she said.

For their efforts, Pittsburgh City Council declared Dec. 5 a day in their honor.

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