ROYA - Resources of Young Afghans:
ROYA - Resources of Young Afghans was founded in 2007 by Kara Lozier, a former community coordinator with the US Embassy-funded Youth Exchange & Study (YES) program. The YES program was created in the aftermath of the tragic events of September 11th to promote mutual understanding between citizens in the U.S. and people in countries with a significant Muslim population. High school students from approximately 40 countries spent one year living with an American host family and attending public schools. This is when Lozier first began to work with young Afghans and recognized their untapped potential and need for additional support.
Through ROYA, Lozier has been instrumental in helping over 100 young Afghans to find scholarships for high school, undergraduate studies and post-graduate studies; attend conferences; secure grant funding; plan and implement projects; publish their writing; and many other achievements. The beneficiaries of her academic advising and mentorship services have found opportunities for education and training in the U.S., Germany, Kyrgyzstan, Mongolia, India, the U.K., Bangladesh, South Korea and more. They have provided training and projects related to ending violence against women, anti-street harassment, literacy, leadership and other topics.
In 2016, ROYA began the ROYA Online Writing Center to support Afghan writers with English writing projects and to develop their writing skills. ROYA provides these writing support services with the help of interns from the Iranian Studies Initiative at the University of California, Santa Barbara and other volunteers. In addition, there are university professors and professional writers from the U.S. and Australia who have been matched as long term writing mentors with some of the Afghan youth participants. In addition to editing general essays and news articles, the project has helped edit: English language website content for Afghan non-profits; policy briefs; Afghan government contracts; research reports; grant proposals; and more.
ROYA's most recent and most successful initiative is the ROYA Mentorship Program. Started in June, 2016, it currently serves about 100 underprivileged young Afghans in Kabul and Bamyan. Each student has a sponsor whose monthly sponsorship payment allows the student to take private English classes and have weekly internet access. ROYA has partnerships with the following English centers: Star Educational Society and Symbiosis Institute in Kabul and Pioneer Educational & Cultural Organization in Bamyan. The programs are managed by local coordinators Shoaib Mehryar and Asif Rasooly in Kabul and Asif Sultani in Bamyan.
The participants are all from impoverished families who would otherwise never be able to take private courses. Many of them are orphans, child laborers, children of widows, and children of a drug-addicted parent. Recognizing that English language skills and technology skills are two skills that can open up many more opportunities for young Afghans, ROYA wanted to help these needy students to gain access to those critical skills to improve their chances of breaking the cycle of poverty in their families.
Each student in the ROYA Mentorship Program in Kabul is matched with a local mentor who visits the student weekly. The mentors serve as a positive role model, a big brother/sister, counselor and friend. This component of the program has given ROYA a window into the lives of each of the students and their families and has enabled the program to be more holistic in its support. ROYA has helped students and families in a variety of other capacities through this intimate connection such as: health care advocacy, literacy programs for parents and siblings, employment, job coaching, and more.
In November, 2016, the ROYA Mentorship Program was honored as the co-winner of the World Bank Group Youth Summit Competition ‘Rethinking Education: Innovative Ideas to Transform Education’ beating nearly 900 proposals from 103 countries. The Kabul coordinators, Shoaib Mehryar and Asif Rasooly, attended the summit in Washington D.C. to pitch their proposal against the other five finalists. The panel of expert judges selected them as winners based on these four criteria: 1) Clarity, scope and relevance of the problem and of the proposed solution; 2) Innovation and originality; 3) Feasibility of implementation; and 4) Potential for impact. You can read about the competition here: https://blogs.worldbank.org/voices/world-bank-group-youth-summit-2016-competition-winners-announced
In early 2017, new computer labs were installed in Bamyan and Kabul for the private use of ROYA program participants. Volunteers are training the students on computer and internet use and the students are beginning to use their basic English skills to communicate via email with their sponsors. Other programs and activities that have been completed with some or all of the students include: leadership training; classes on non-violent communication; a handicraft collaborative; a drawing competition; girls football training with the Afghan Women's National Football team; and bicycling lessons.