BENEFITING: COMMUNITY FOUNDATION OF NEW JERSEY
EVENT DATE: Nov 18, 2013
On my 11th birthday I did not get one gift, and it was the best birthday I ever had. My mom threw me a party and asked that everyone bring a present for someone else, at the end of the party each kid left with a new toy. I may have gone home empty handed that particular November 18th, but I quickly realized that in actuality, I received the best gift of all: The opportunity to bring happiness to the people I cared about.
Shamila Kohestani and I met when we both entered our senior year of high school at Blair Academy. Thanks to Google I knew a few key facts about Shamila before her much awaited arrival on campus; she was from Afghanistan and spent most of her childhood under Taliban rule, she was the captain of the first Women’s Afghan National Soccer Team, and she was given ESPN’s Arthur Ashe Courage Award at the 2006 ESPYs. However Google was unable to inform me that she was going to have such a profound impact on my life.
Shamila and I lived in the same dorm, and it wasn’t long before we became close friends. One day I was complaining about having to fill out another complicated college application and I said that if my parents wouldn’t kill me I’d much rather skip college all together. Shamila looked at me with a longing I will never forget and said “I would give my life to go college. It’s not a chore Taylor, it’s a gift.”
At that moment I knew I had to get Shamila into a college that fall. I had no clue where to start, and after my appeals to Oprah and Ellen went unanswered I decided I had to re-strategize. I linked up with my friend and classmate at Blair, Alex Motiuk, who then asked his amazing father Leo to help us. With the support and hard work of many wonderful people, Shamila was granted a scholarship to Drew University.
However, the story did not end there. After seeing how much this opportunity meant to Shamila the Afghan Girls Financial Assistance Fund was created to assist girls from Afghanistan who seek a college education. The program's goals are achieved through a four-way partnership with a secondary school, an institution of higher education, an American host family and the Fund. The academic institutions provide tuition and room and board expenses. The host family usually covers typical day-to-day expenses and the Fund then covers expenses that the academic institution or the host family is unable to provide. AGFAF now has 24 girls who are attending colleges all over the US… 25 if you include their first graduate, Shamila who holds a degree in International Affairs and is currently working in DC on global issues. My family has grown too, in addition to Shamila and my biological sister Quinn, it now also includes a second AGFAF sponsored sister named Nahid, who is a junior at Skidmore majoring in International Relations and Politics.
Being a young woman is difficult no matter where you are from, but for these girls having to adapt to American culture makes it that much harder. There are practical things which need to be taken care of, winter coats, unexpected dental bills, cell phones etc. but there are also little things. A new nail polish, the latest Taylor Swift CD, a cool pair of Nike’s, these are things that may not be critical but they give these girls the ability to feel good about themselves which is priceless.
If you had told me six years ago that all of this would happen, I would have said “Impossible!” but with the help of many amazing people, it did. In the spirit of my 11th birthday, this year my birthday wish is to raise $10,000 for the girls that AGFAF supports. I know ten thousand dollars is a ridiculous amount of money and I realize that reaching my goal probably won’t happen, even I say “Impossible!” but I’m hoping that with the help of many amazing people, it will.
I can’t thank you enough for reading this, and I am so grateful for every donation, even fifty cents is appreciated more than you will ever know. If you are unable to donate please help by spreading the word. Check out AGFAF and learn more about their inspiring girls here: http://www.agfaf.org
With much love and gratitude,