Traverse City Record-Eagle


April 17, 2013

Speaker: Halted Afghan student exchange program offers lessons


“It was very stressful for this family,” said Pam Woolcott, the exchange program’s local coordinator. “And afterward, I began to learn more about it and saw there was a networking system to Canada. He apologized later for not telling me he was going. And I wrote him back ... ‘I accept where you are, and I wish you all the best.’”

Vive La Casa, a nonprofit that shelters international refugees in Buffalo near the U.S.-Canadian border, helped the teen,Toomey said.

In the next school year, Fierberg’s host son — Sayed “Mahmood” Langari — planned to return to Kabul because he wanted his younger brother to follow in his footsteps. But he opted for Canada when the State Department ended the exchange program for Afghanis, Fierberg said.

Langari’s father adamantly agreed that Afghanistan held no future for his son and urged him to go to Canada. So the Fierbergs put Langari on the plane to Buffalo.

“It broke our contract, but I wanted to be true to my morals,” Fierberg said.

Toomey since created a new opportunity for Afghan students called the Youth Solidarity English Language Program with funding from from the U.S. Embassy in Kabul. Like the YES program, it is administered by the American Councils for International Education.

Afghan teens will spend a month in India, formerly used as a stepping stone to America to develop English and leadership skills. But now the exchange will end there, Toomey said.

Despite the program’s difficulties, the Afghan teens made a very positive impression of themselves, Woolcott said.

Toomey will talk about the 300 or so Afghan students who went through the YES program since 2003. Many, including women, attended U.S. colleges. Only one returned to Afghanistan after completing a degree, but he’s a “dynamo of ideas” and involved in many different construction projects, Toomey said.

Toomey said many Afghans want to go home when it’s safe, but Fierberg doesn’t know if Langari will be one of them.

“He was very cynical and he had every right to be,” she said. “They have a very corrupt government. At best, he’ll make a good life for himself and his family. But just making a better life for yourself is a challenge.”




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