Society helps educate Afghan sisters

Tying together education and hope, the Wiltshire Education Society is working hard to raise money

Tying together education and hope, the Wiltshire Education Society is working hard to raise money to help two young Afghan women complete university studies at Vancouver Island University in Nanaimo.

The Wiltshire Education Society (WES) is a small group of Nanaimo, Ladysmith and Saltair residents who have banded together to bring two Afghan refugees who were living in Pakistan to Canada and have committed to providing for their education.

“Our mission is really giving hope through education, and we believe that by changing one life, you can change many,” explained WES member Lynda McCullough of Ladysmith.

WES members chose to help these two young Afghan women after meeting their older sister, who recently graduated from Vancouver Island University (VIU). From her, they learned about the worsening security situation facing her parents, and particularly her two sisters, who have been living in Pakistan as refugees. They have lost many rights and are under pressure to repatriate, according to a brochure from WES. WES says prospects for the family in Afghanistan are even worse.

“Since 1995, our family has made our home in Pakistan, but in 2012, the government began to pressure Afghan refugees to return to Afghanistan,” the sisters write in a WES brochure. “We lost many basic human rights … Also, in our family, we are particularly at risk. We speak Persian, and our parents are of different ethnicities. Our Dad is Tajik and a practicing Sunni, whilst our Mum is Hazara and a Shia Muslim, as are we. This makes our whole family a target for extremists and vulnerable to persecution.

With help from WES, the young women arrived in Nanaimo on Christmas Day 2013.

After arriving, the sisters entered a full semester of ESL (English as a Second Language). They both graduated with B-pluses from the program in April. They have now completed their first courses in the VIU business program with a B-plus in marketing and an A-plus in management.

WES has raised $40,0000 to fund the sisters’ expenses until the end of 2014, and now, the society is turning to the community for help.

“We think we need to raise another $100,000 to support these girls,” said McCullough. “They have three years to finish their degree, and international education is very expensive. We want to support them. They’re really lovely girls. They’re really fun to be with, and they’re so appreciative.”

WES held a very successful garage sale in May, and the society is gearing up for more fundraisers in the fall.

In co-operation with the Central Vancouver Island Multicultural Society, WES is holding a Picnic in the Park Celebration Saturday, Sept. 6 at 3:30 p.m. at Maffeo Sutton Park in Nanaimo. The event will feature music by Masima Marimba Band and from Mbira Spirit. People are encouraged to bring lawn chairs and a picnic. Admission is by donation.

As well, WES is holding a silent auction, dinner and live music Oct. 24 at the Grand Hotel in Nanaimo and a benefit concert featuring the Nanaimo Tidesmen Nov. 9 at Trinity Ecumenical Center. For more information about these fundraisers, visit www.WESociety.org.

McCullough says there are many ways to help WES and help the Afghan sisters. People can become a member of the society for $25 a year, volunteer, help spread the word, and make a donation.