Ms. Fey-Daly Wins the Singer Family Prize and the S. S. Dept. Raises Money for SOLA

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By Amanda Ojeda

The Williamsville East High School teachers and staff are without a doubt passionate and committed to the work they do for their students. This has been well demonstrated through their ability to adapt to an entirely unfamiliar structure of teaching, all while making sure both remote and in-person learners receive a quality education. To highlight the resilience of East teachers, let us bring special attention to the remarkable Ms. Fey-Daly.

Ms. Fey-Daly first joined the East Social Studies Department in 1999. Since then, she has taught a variety of the courses offered within the department, including the Women’s History course. This year, she also advises The Seneca and Girl Up clubs. As recognition for her excellency in secondary education, she was one of the four recipients this year of the Singer Family Prize through the University of Rochester. After speaking with Ms. Fey-Daly, she then elaborated that the other three winners were another social studies teacher, a chemistry teacher, and a drama teacher. Every year, graduating seniors (at the University of Rochester) have the opportunity to nominate a teacher, and the winners are then chosen from those nominations. The person who nominated Ms. Fey-Daly was Zina Miqdadi, a 2017 East graduate. 

As a part of the award, East High will receive a $2,500 monetary donation, which was provided by Paul Singer, a 1966 graduate of the university. When Ms. Fey-Daly heard about the school prize, her initial reaction was to ask Mr. Swatland, “Where can we donate it to?” At first, the Malala Foundation came to mind, the reasoning being that it focuses on girl’s education, which has always been a clear priority for her. In the subsequent days after being notified she won the award, the Biden Administration announced the complete withdrawal of U.S. troops in Afghanistan by the 20th anniversary of 9/11. This sparked a conversation between Ms. Fey-Daly, Mr. Miranda, and Dr. Redmond. That conversation is where the School of Leadership in Afghanistan, also known as SOLA, was chosen as the organization that she wanted to donate the money to. Shabana Basij- Rasikh is the co-founder of SOLA and has worked closely with the Academy for Human Rights. Therefore, the social studies department decided to hold a faculty fundraiser and included the school prize money in the final donation to SOLA.

Source: sola-afghanistan.org

Ms. Fey-Daly added on, “we did the faculty fundraiser, and we worked with a lot of great people who were really excited and were able to organize a lot of money. I’m really grateful that the money will have a very direct impact on the lives of these girls at SOLA.” The fundraiser was surely a success, and by the end of it, they had raised a total of $4,550. Just to give more information about the impact of this donation, the following list is from sola-afghanistan.org:

How the Donations Support SOLA Students

  • $12,000: one year of support for one girl
  • $8,500: one month of campus security
  • $2,250: one year of rent and utilities per student
  • $750: one month of Internet access
  • $500: one year of meals for one girl
  • $250: one year of books/supplies for one girl
  • $100: one year of health and hygiene care for one girl
  • $65: one semester of residential life mentoring for one girl
  • $25: one school uniform for one girl

Although SOLA stands for the School of Leadership Afghanistan, it also translates from the Pashto language into “peace”. In Afghanistan and various places throughout the world, young women and girls are taught from a very young age that raising a family is their main role in society. SOLA teaches young girls in Afghanistan that they can think critically and make significant changes in the world as leaders. SOLA is a boarding school, which helps decrease the dangers that young girls often face while traveling to school. At SOLA, they have a pre grade 6 level, grades 6-8, and grades 9-11. Shabana Basij-Rasikh, the co-founder, is very proud to mention that next year, SOLA will have its first graduating class. The young girls who attend SOLA make the school environment very diverse, as students from 28 of the 34 provinces in Afghanistan participate in their program. It is the supportive and nourishing environment where all students offer a helping hand that makes SOLA a special place. A few of the older students are even selected as “big sisters” that guide and mentor the younger students.

Ms. Fey-Daly added on, “we did the faculty fundraiser, and we worked with a lot of great people who were really excited and were able to organize a lot of money. I’m really grateful that the money will have a very direct impact on the lives of these girls at SOLA.” The fundraiser was surely a success, and by the end of it, they had raised a total of $4,550. Just to give more information about the impact of this donation, the following list is from sola-afghanistan.org:

How the Donations Support SOLA Students

  • $12,000: one year of support for one girl
  • $8,500: one month of campus security
  • $2,250: one year of rent and utilities per student
  • $750: one month of Internet access
  • $500: one year of meals for one girl
  • $250: one year of books/supplies for one girl
  • $100: one year of health and hygiene care for one girl
  • $65: one semester of residential life mentoring for one girl
  • $25: one school uniform for one girl
Source: sola-afghanistan.org

Shabana Basij-Rasikh founded SOLA in 2008 when she was still a teenager. Growing up, specifically during 1996-2001 when the Taliban ruled, girls were denied the right to receive an education. However, Shabana’s parents knew the value of receiving an education and found a way for their two daughters to do just that.

“My father would say, ‘You can lose everything you own in your life. Your money can be stolen. But the one thing that will always remain with you is what is in here.’ And he would point to his head. ‘Your education is the biggest investment in your life,’ he would say. ‘Don’t ever regret it,’” said Shabana.

So, Shabana dressed as a boy (pretending to be a male chaperone for her sister) and traveled to school, disguising their school books in shopping bags. At the age of 15, she went to the U.S. through the State Department’s Youth Exchange Studies Program and later attended Middlebury College in Vermont when she founded SOLA. The school started off with 4 students and has expanded to the more than 100 students currently enrolled.

Source:  Joanna Chattman. January 20, 2014

Since SOLA is one of the first boarding schools for girls in Afghanistan, it works toward a truly important goal; better access to a quality education for the young girls of Afghanistan. 66% of girls in Afghanistan, ages 12-15, are not in school. This is mostly due to extreme poverty, a very small number of female teachers, and poor socioeconomic status. A young girl’s neighborhood may put them at risk of danger just for wanting to receive an education. Alongside that, female teachers make up a fraction of the teaching force and are often underqualified, mostly due to the disparities in the education system. SOLA and people such as Shabana are pushing towards and making great strides in the fight for girl’s education, and East was very pleased to be able to show their support for SOLA.

Ms. Fey-Daly continued by saying, “I started teaching a couple of years before 9/11 and I taught sociology, global one, and global two. So, in global two and sociology, I talked about the Taliban and the importance of women’s education, so that seed was already there, and meeting Shabana put that together… I am so in awe of somebody that is that brave and that selfless. If there is something I can do to support that, I’m really glad that I have an opportunity to do that.”

When asked about what we as students can do to help make a difference, she said, “One of the things that I noticed when the news came with the Biden administration pulling out of Afghanistan was that the conversation was just about the troops, and that is very important because I don’t know what it’s like to be in a war and I don’t know what it’s like to fight, so I don’t have that perspective. But I do know what it’s like to be told you’re less than [someone else] because you’re female, and I felt that there were these girls and women that were just getting forgotten about in that conversation… lots of students are struggling for the right to be in a fraction of the comfort that we have as learners and as teachers, so that is the main thing, to not forget and to spread the word.”

To end our conversation, Ms. Fey-Daly wanted to show her gratitude to her friends, her colleagues, and to her students who inspire her to do what she does. “I am very fortunate that Zina nominated me, and it meant so much that somebody felt that I made a difference in their life.”

With the school year coming to a close, let us show our gratitude to all of our amazing teachers at East, such as Ms. Fey-Daly and the Social Studies Department. If you wish to learn more or to donate to SOLA, please click the link here or visit https://www.sola-afghanistan.org/.

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