Two decades of war and oppressive rule under the Taliban regime destroyed much of the infrastructure of Afghanistan and deprived women of access to education. The plight of young Afghan women who were forbidden an education moved Clotilde Dedecker, a student at an all girls' school in Buffalo, New York, to establish a coalition of local all-girls' schools to work together to build and adopt a school for girls in Afghanistan. Clotilde threw herself into the task of creating educational and fund-raising initiatives to help construct a school in Kandahar, one of the poorest and most dangerous parts of the the country. In Mother Teresa's words, she became a "tiny bit of pencil" with which to write hope and opportunity in the hearts and minds of young Afghan girls.
|Clotilde Dedecker at the 2004 Global Action Awards|
MY HERO asked Clotilde to talk a little bit more about her project and the defining moment that prompted her to take action and mobilize others to effect change in the lives of these young women:
Three years ago, I founded a coalition among five all girls' schools in the Western New York area to work to raise funds and awareness to build an all girls' school in Afghanistan. Since our founding, we have raised over $21,000, and we have actually seen the completion of the Zarghona School in Kandahar as a result of our efforts.
It all started the spring of my freshman year when I attended a panel luncheon at the YWCA concerning the plight of women and girls in Afghanistan. One of the speakers addressed the dire need for education for girls, and her speech definitely inspired me to take action. She mentioned the plausibility of raising funds to rebuild schools, so I realized tremendous potential in my area and we moved from there.
Although Clotilde has never been to Afghanistan, she shared her hope to someday visit the school her coalition helped to build. In response to MY HERO's question about feedback from the girls, she explained:
|Students at Zarghona High School in Kandahar.|
Photo from www.afghansforcivilsociety.org
[While] I hope to go [to Afghanistan] someday, our in-country partner is Afghans for a Civil Society and they oversaw the construction of the school. The only feedback I’ve really gotten from the actual girls is photographs of them which are beautiful and spectacular. I am honored to have those. Hopefully, someday there will actually be some sort of communication.
In terms of what she has learned from the young women in Afghanistan, Clotilde shared:
I’ve learned how much people value education. I’ve learned how often we little appreciate what we have here, and I’ve learned what true dedication is…I mean these girls were deprived of an education for over five years and they still want to pursue it and I think that is very inspiring.
Knowing these young women have overcome big obstacles in their lives, MY HERO wanted to find out not only where they get their strength, but also where Clotilde herself has gotten strength to tackle this big project. Clotilde testified to the inspiring strength of the human spirit:
|A classroom in Afghanistan|
Photo from www.afghansforcivilsociety.org
They have tremendous strength, but I think here in the U.S., because we have so many blessings, I think we underestimate the power of the human will just because we are given so much. I think their dedication is really a testament to the fact what human beings are willing to pursue and [that they] are very dedicated. I think that, again, is incredibly encouraging, for myself anyway.
Asked what she would tell kids in America about getting involved and trying to make a difference, Clotilde challenged young people to use their voice and power:
It is not impossible. You have a tremendous voice and you have tremendous power. You should take advantage of that, and I have faith that everyone will.
Clotilde spoke sincerely about her heroes and role models:
Photo from www.globalactionawards.org
I have numerous [heroes], but first I want to say again, as we discussed, the girls in Afghanistan – what tremendous dedication, and what tremendous bravery and courage they have for pursuing their education in a very dangerous society. And I also have a tremendous admiration for all of the activists, particularly the youth activists across the world who have dedicated a substantial amount of time in their lives toward improving the lives of their fellow citizens of our global community. And of course, my family for their support and nourishment and understanding.
When MY HERO asked Clotilde if there are any specific activists that she would say are her heroes or her role models, she was thoughtful and philosophical in her response:
No, and I think that is because every activist has equal value. I mean certainly we have those who the media tends to focus on, but I think every little bit helps and every little bit should be acknowledged and every little bit should be admired.
Busy laying the groundwork for the coalition's future by recruiting younger students to continue the work after she graduates, Clotilde is looking to the future. MY HERO was curious about her long-term plans. She told MY HERO:
I’m not quite sure. Currently now, I am only focusing on the next four years. As far as what will happen after that, it will be determined by these next four years so we’ll have to see.
Clotilde Dedecker is the kind of leader the Global Action Awards celebrate -- one who "understands the complexities of an interconnected world and the responsibilities that come with living in a global community." She has left her imprint on the lives of young women in Afghanistan...her compassion and activism will not end there.