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GIRLS HELPING GIRLS

At the thought of the word school, many things run through a teenager's head: tests, homework, and the whole waking-up-at-the-crack-of-dawn thing. But do teens ever stop to think that in some places people can't even go to school because they are girls?

That thought was appalling to Clotilde Dedecker, a Nardin Academy sophomore who was astounded to learn that in Afghanistan there are few schools at all -- and no schools for girls.

Motivated by this fact, Clotilde created the Western New York Girls Coalition, a union of local girls schools in an effort to build schools for girls in Afghanistan.

Upon looking at Clotilde, one would never realize that she is such an accomplished person. With a full schedule including various art classes, nine years of piano lessons, flamenco dancing, three languages (including Chinese), a Presidential position over Nardin's Model United Nations and board membering Sister-to-Sister, Clotilde still manages to devote hours to her project. The number of phone calls she makes "is incessantly increasing," and she says she spends more than three hours a week on the coalition.

Clotilde first learned of the desperate conditions in Afghanistan at a luncheon on Afghan women's affairs about a year ago. The speaker was Susan Safi-Rafiq, an activist who escaped Afghanistan as a 16-year-old medical student. She talked about the desperate need for girls' schools in Afghanistan, and Clotilde felt that she needed to take matters into her own hand.

Currently, Afghan schools are in ruin. Under the Taliban regime, girls were not allowed to attend school under penalty of fierce punishment. All girls born within the time of the Taliban were deprived of basic education, unless they dared to attend illegal, underground schools. Few girls even have first-grade literacy.

With great intentions, yet no real support, Clotilde put her plan into action. She proposed her idea to create an alliance of local girls schools and set out to contact the principals of those schools. "It was rather difficult to get in touch with the school heads," Clotilde admits, but after numerous phone calls, Mount Mercy, Mount St. Mary Academy, Nardin, Buffalo Seminary and Sacred Heart Academy all agreed to participate.

By holding fund-raising events within the schools and contacting various foundations, the coalition surpassed its goal of raising $10,000, enough to build one school. So far, Clotilde says, the coalition has raised $12,000 but will "continue to raise money."

Once the school is built, it will employ teachers fired by the Taliban and will accommodate any high school-age girls who live nearby.

Clotilde has no intention of stopping her efforts. She has two more years of high school, which will give her more time to better the welfare of Afghani girls. "This is a phenomenal way for all-girls schools to participate in the rebuilding of an Afghan school through what we do best -- women's education," said Clotilde.

She can be reached by e-mail at Cad0075@aol.com. Anyone wishing to make a donation, can send a check payable to the Nardin Academy-Afghanistan project to Nardin Academy and make the envelope out to the attention of Clotilde Dedecker.

Kate Szymaszek is a sophomore at Nardin.

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