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Coe College graduate started school in Afghanistan in his home village
Doctor insisted school in his home village admit girl students, too
CEDAR RAPIDS — A Coe College graduate who was the first in his Afghan village to learn how to read and write has spent the past 20 years supporting a school in his native country — one that educates girls as well as boys.
Dr. Mohammad Khan Kharoti, of Portland, Ore., started the school in Shin Kalay, Afghanistan, his home village, in 2001 with 16 students. It now has 2,600 children.
Kharoti came to the United States as a premed student, graduating from Coe in 1975. While in Cedar Rapids, he also worked as an operating room technician at Mercy Medical Center.
After Coe, he returned to Afghanistan to go to medical school and become a surgeon. He and his family fled to Pakistan in 1987, before coming to the United States in 1989 as refugees and settling in Portland.
“I came to America, and I started back from zero,” he said.
Because he’d gone to medical school outside the United States, his qualifications and certifications didn’t transfer.
“In this country, when you have an education from another part of the world, you have to have a certificate to be certified to work someplace. That’s the law in this country,” Kharoti said.
“So, I started with nuclear medicine first. It took me a year of day and night working, running. I became a board certified nuclear medicine technologist.”
He retired in 2011 from Kaiser Permanente and Southwest Washington Medical Center.
Starting a school
Kharoti said he knew that few people in Afghanistan had the opportunity to get the same kind of education he’d gotten. Which is why, after he got his family settled, he went back to see if he could help.
He visited his hometown, Shin Kalay, and found children working in the poppy fields. There was no school.
Villagers told him he had to get permission from the Taliban, which controlled the region at the time, if he wanted to start a school. So he went to Kabul and secured that OK after a lengthy meeting with the minister of education.
“I think that most important to me was the education of the girls. It’s very important to be able to educate them, so they can become educated mothers, educated teachers, educated nurses, midwifes, doctors,” Kharoti said. “To meet the needs of the ladies in Afghanistan is very necessary because we don’t have too many educated women, unfortunately.”
He won permission to have girls attend the school. He also was given rules for teaching the girls, including what they could wear to school and who their teachers could be.
Kharoti opened a school in Shin Kalay in March 2001, paying for it with his own money.
In 2003, he started Green Village Schools, a 501(c)(3) nonprofit that, helped with donations from his Kaiser colleagues and patients, continues to fund the school and other educational projects in Afghanistan.
VIDEO | Dr. Mohammad Khan Kharoti speaks about the challenge of educating girls in rural Afghanistan:
Growth of school
When the school started in 2001, it had 16 students — six girls and 10 boys. Now the school has around 2,600 students, many of whom travel from other parts of Afghanistan to attend.
Four of the girls who attended Kharoti’s school have now become medical doctors in Afghanistan, and more than a hundred of the students have graduated from college in various professions.
The school has had a ripple effect, too, Kharoti said.
“Those girls who went to school … their child will never be illiterate. They will always send a child back to school … The community is moving away from ignorance, and illiteracy and misunderstanding,” he said.
“I think the country where their males and females cannot read and write, cannot be educated and are illiterate, I think that is the poorest country in the world.”
The school was mostly unaffected by the continuing war in Afghanistan until 2008, when it was destroyed in an attack, perhaps by a group of armed men from Pakistan. Kharoti said the reason for the attack is unknown.
“Our school did not stop when it was torn down,” he said. “We put the classes for the girls in the houses. And the boys, we built mud rooms for them so the school did continue on. We did not have any kind of break in that, and also we started a program in Lashkar Gah for the boys and girls.”
The school was rebuilt in 2012 with help from The Afghan Appeal Fund in London. It has more than with over 50 classrooms, an auditorium and a library with books in English and Pashto.
Many to thank
Kharoti said he never would have been able to build the school had it not been for the Iowans who helped him get an education.
A family housed him in Clinton, where he had his first classes on U.S. soil at Clinton Community College. The medical association in Clinton helped pay for school. Mercy hired him in Cedar Rapids to help pay for his Coe classes.
“I have connections all over (Iowa),” he said. “I’m very grateful to these people who had a role in my life. I cannot give back directly to them, but I have to give whatever I can to the rest of society. Every human being.”
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