Drawing inspiration from her parents’ stories, sophomore Nicole Ahad forms Students for Afghanistan


Sophomore Nicole Ahad founded her club, Students for Afghanistan, after hearing stories from when her parents lived in the country. The club, which raises money through bake sales, is currently collecting clean sanitary pad products for children in Afghanistan. Photo courtesy Nicole Ahad.

By Jaclyn Morgan

Ever since she was little, sophomore Nicole Ahad’s parents have told her stories about the horrors they faced growing up in conflict-ridden Afghanistan. Ahad’s mother originally moved to the US because the Taliban bombed her neighborhood, shattering their windows and splitting trees in their backyard. Nicole’s grandfather was jailed and beaten by the government when he tried to leave the country, and he was questioned for his political involvement, Ahad’s mom told her.

Ahad’s parents’ stories inspired her to start the Students for Afghanistan club, which raises money and donates supplies for children living in Afghanistan, who don’t have regular access to items like sanitary pads, art supplies and shoes.

Ahad’s club has been active for two months and has around 25 official members, though outside volunteers often help out with events as well. The club doesn’t have a teacher sponsor, so members usually don’t have regular meetings. If they want to discuss their projects or fundraisers, members go to Ahad’s house or talk over the phone.

However, Ahad’s mother, Mina Nakbeen, had positive experiences is Afghanistan as well. When she was young, her neighbors were kind and hospitable, Nakbeen said. But after Russia invaded Afghanistan in 1979, everything changed in her country.

“After the invasion, everybody lived in terror,” Nakbeen said. “We could not discuss anything associated with the government, especially anything against them. I haven’t been to Afghanistan in 29 years, but based off the media I see, nothing has changed and even seems to be getting worse.”

Nakbeen believes her daughter’s club is not only worthwhile, but important; she wants to see Afghan children benefit from donations.

While the club’s main purpose is to raise money and donate supplies, Ahad hopes it will also raise awareness for the conflict that continues to rage in Afghanistan, she said.

Club Vice President Khalil Zalmai is also from Afghanistan and has lost family members because of the country’s violence.

Zalmai joined the club to learn more about his heritage and help Afghan students, he said. He believes that publicizing the struggles that Afghan children face is especially important because the issue isn’t well known or talked about in the Whitman community.

“I’m inspired to see if we can make a change, since not a lot of people are really trying yet,” Zalmai said.

Ahad reached out to Zalmai when she was first trying to start the club because his parents experienced the hardships in Afghanistan firsthand, she said. Together, Zalmai and Ahad work to expand the club’s membership and raise awareness of the struggles that students in Afghanistan face.

Currently, the club’s main focus is their “sanitary pad project,” where members collect clean sanitary pad products for Afghan girls—many of whom don’t have easy access to sanitary products.

“We are currently prioritizing the sanitary pad project, but have plans for a shoe drive some time in the near future,” Ahad said.

The club sends donations through an organization called the Ayenda foundation, which gives the items and money to their educational center in the Bamyan Province of Afghanistan. The Ayenda Foundation’s mission is to provide a nurturing hand for Afghanistan children through better welfare, education, shelter, safety and artistic and athletic opportunities.

Over the past two months, the club has raised more than $430 dollars through bake sales—their most common method of fundraising—to donate to the Ayenda Foundation, which will build an elementary school called the Bamyan Province, Ahad said.

Ultimately, Ahad hopes to incite change, especially during a time when many people are apathetic toward the conflict, she said.

“The situation has not changed in the past 40 years,” Ahad said. “Try to put yourself in the shoes of the millions of people in Afghanistan who know nothing but violence and poverty.”