"Three thousand five hundred more girls are in school in a wonderful building because of dedicated people in Seattle," says the executive director of Sahar.

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Ginna Brelsford

What do you do? I’m the executive director of Sahar, an international nonprofit [based in Seattle] that provides access to education for girls and women in Afghanistan.

How did you get to this point in your career?
I began working internationally when I was in college and never stopped! My jobs have always been fascinating and ranged from international trade to microfinance loans — all with the aim of eradicating poverty. I was struck by one thing: without access to education and the ability to read labels on medicine, or loan terms, or manuals on preventing HIV/AIDS, poverty would trap people. That led me to taking up the challenge of providing education for girls.

What’s a typical day like? There isn’t a typical day, and for me, that is the exciting part of my job. On Mondays, I often meet with a board member who is an architect to work with our Afghan team lead in Mazar-i-Sharif to discuss how to design and construct a girls boarding school that will house girls from rural villages who currently can’t go to school beyond middle school due to security concerns. Following that, I chair a conference call, also with our team in Afghanistan, to discuss our Early Marriage Prevention project and how its implementation is proceeding. We are conducting a leadership training seminar, bringing in guest speakers and working with fathers and community leaders to help girls matriculate from high school. Following that, I’ll meet with several board members to discuss our strategic planning process.

What’s the best part of the job? Being part of change that gives girls in Afghanistan more opportunities. We just finished the most innovative and sustainably designed school in the entire nation. The collaboration of the University of Washington, the Janet W. Ketcham Foundation, and Bob Hull and Dave Miller, of Miller Hull, implemented by our Afghan team was an extraordinary process. To see the girls light up with enthusiasm and ownership of their school was inspiring — 3,500 more girls are in school in a wonderful building because of dedicated people in Seattle.

What surprises people about your work? That we educate 18,000 girls annually in a conflict zone. And that the school we just built was so cutting edge in the ways in which it blended the fields of architecture and international development. Many people don’t realize the level of impact educating girls has on a society, particularly but not exclusively, one that is riddled with conflict.

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