Hope: from SAIT to Afghanistan

Judi McMillan

Judi McMillan-Evans is one of the instructors who teach Afghani students as part of a distance education and outreach program. ANDREW CROSSETT PHOTO

Despite Canadian aid cutbacks, SAIT distance education students who attend the Afghanistan School Project will continue to thrive.

The Canadian military forces’ departure from Kandahar, entrusting operations to the United States, has resulted in many Afghanistan students and educators fearing for their school’s ability to manage without Canadian aid.

Afghan students, most of them women, who are currently enrolled in distance education programs at SAIT are confident their programs will not be impacted by government cutbacks due to the generosity of funding donors. There is a trust set up through an anonymous donor to specifically fund this project. There are many online donors, both one-time and continuing.

“We know the value of education and understand it is the only way the economics of a country is going to change,” said instructor Judy McMillan-Evans, who has worked closely with the Afghan students.

For many of these students, attending class or completing an assignment can often be life threatening.

“They risk their lives to go to school, some of them sneak to school and if they get caught by their family they’ll be killed,” said McMillan-Evans.

Some young women have had acid thrown in their faces, had fingers or ears cut off, or faced death as punishment for attending.

With tears and strong emotions, McMillan-Evans described what students endure to attend the SAIT programs in Kandahar.

“We have impacted a lot of ladies and made a difference, but sadly we’ve also lost a few,” said McMillan-Evans.

During the daytime, the center’s 1,900 students, half of which are women, attend classrooms filled with old lawn chairs, share 90 outdated computers and a library that has just one small bookshelf.

“We do our best to provide them with skills and strong role models so they can have the best chance at success,” said SAIT coordinator of distance education Janet Sainsbury.

Sainsbury taught ASP courses and currently teaches an online leadership course to Afghani students.

SAIT’s program allows students in Kandahar to acquire successful employment, generally after accomplishing only one of the program’s six online courses.

To date, 16 students have graduated with their certificates in business management and 84 have completed one or more courses.

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