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Embassy of Canada Hosts Third Anniversary Celebration for Ayenda Foundation

Hundreds of distinguished guests attended a dinner reception to celebrate the third anniversary of the Ayenda Foundation, the Afghan Children Initiative, at the Embassy of Canada on May 29, 2008.

The reception coincided with the opening of "Afghanistan: Hidden Treasures from the National Museum, Kabul" at the National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C. The evening began as Hidden Treasures curator Fred Hiebert led guests on a private tour of the exhibit’s 228 artifacts, including 4,000 year old gold bowls, 2,000 year old glass and sculpture, and the jewelry and ornaments of the legendary Bactrian Hoard. Upon returning to the Canadian Embassy, guests dined on Afghan delicacies prepared by Bamiyan Restaurant of Falls Church, VA.

The Ayenda Foundation supports projects that enhance the welfare, education, health, shelter, safety, artistic and athletic abilities of Afghan children – especially girls. Since it was founded in 2006 with the assistance of the U.S.-Afghan Women's Council, the Ayenda Foundation has built soccer fields at Mir-Bacha-kot School and partnered with the National Geographic Society to publish and distribute to 10,000 Afghan schools a book of traditional children’s songs, "Qu Qu Qu Barg-e-Chinaar: Children’s Songs from Afghanistan."

The Ayenda Foundation has recently broken ground on their most ambitious project yet, an orphanage and school in Baimyan, one of Afghanistan’s most isolated and least developed provinces. The Ayenda Children’s Learning Center will be a safe and nurturing place for Afghanistan’s orphans, providing room and board and an education to students from the ages of 5 to 16.

In a video address, First Lady Laura Bush welcomed guests and expressed her continued support for the work of the Ayenda Foundation. "In Afghanistan the word 'Ayenda' means future. For boys and girls in Afghanistan, 'Ayenda Foundation' has meant hope," said the First Lady. "The Foundation is working to reach the children who still suffer: from the streets of Kabul to poor rural provinces, like Bamiyan." Mrs. Bush has visited Afghanistan twice to highlight the U.S. commitment to helping Afghan women and children, and was the guest of honor at the Ayenda Foundation’s launch in March 2006.

"Many wonderful education opportunities are just out of reach for our children, especially young girls," said Mrs. Shamim Jawad, co-founder of the Ayenda Foundation. "The Ayenda Center will be a safe and nurturing home for Bamiyan's orphans, providing them with a safe place to live, hot meals and learning facilities. It is a small step, but in Afghanistan, every step toward peace, opportunity and prosperity is worthy of celebration."

Afghanistan's Ambassador to the U.S. Said T. Jawad illustrated the parallels between Afghanistan’s broken but beautiful artifacts and the nation's victimized children. "Without our constant vigilance and protection, we may lose an entire generation of Afghanistan’s children – and Afghanistan's future," he said. Today, more than 6 million children are enrolled in schools throughout Afghanistan, compared to 900,000 in 2001. Nearly 35% of these students are girls. Currently, over 8,330 registered formal schools are operating in the country.

Each speaker highlighted Canada's contribution to the mission in Afghanistan. "The Embassy of Canada is very pleased to be the host of this year's annual benefit in support of Ayenda Foundation," said Michael Wilson, Canada's Ambassador to the United States. "Like many of our international partners, Canada is committed in helping rebuild Afghanistan as a stable, democratic and self-sufficient society."

Afghanistan is the largest recipient of Canada's development assistance. Currently, Canada directly supports the establishment of 4,000 community-based schools and the training of 9,000 teachers; the vaccination of more than 7 million children against polio; and the training of hundreds of police and legal professionals. Canadian Forces have also been integral to create a secure environment in Afghanistan. More than 2,500 Canadian soldiers are currently performing stability and security operations in Southern Afghanistan.

"Canada has stood with Afghanistan since early 2002. They are among our most dedicated partners," remarked Ambassador Jawad.

Other distinguished guests, who attended the reception included Assistant to the President For National Security Affairs Stephen J. Hadley, Director of the Central Intelligence Agency Michael V. Hayden, White House Chief of Protocol Ambassador Nancy Brinker, Under Secretary, Democracy and Global Affairs Paula J. Dobriansky, Chief of Staff to the First Lady of the U.S. Anita McBride, and Senator and Mrs. John E. Sununu, as well as Ambassador and Mrs. Nigel Sheinwald of the United Kingdom, Ambassador and Mrs. Roy Ferguson of New Zealand, Ambassador Claudia Fritsche of Lichtenstein and Ambassador and Mrs. Gilles of Monaco.

Ambassador Jawad's Remarks - Ambassador Wilson's Remarks

More pictures of the event are available here.

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