WCU students plan dinner to raise money to build school in Pakistan

Western Carolina University students working to raise $50,000 to build a school in Pakistan are hosting a fundraising dinner and silent auction at Chef’s Table in Waynesville on Tuesday, April 5.

Tickets to the event are $50 for a three-course meal, which includes soup or salad, a choice of entrée and dessert. Silent auction items include art, a kayak trip, wine tasting and Arabic items. Diners can purchase tickets to a 6 p.m. or 8 p.m. seating.

The school fundraising effort was revived last fall after Andy Miller, a junior majoring in international studies and philosophy with a concentration in religion, befriended students from Saudi Arabia studying English at WCU. Miller, who is from Candler, said he felt compelled to be part of something that would build good will between Americans and Arabs. As he thought about the possibilities, he remembered a proposal made by his Freshman Convocation speaker, Winford Gordon, for WCU to raise $50,000 for the Central Asia Institute to build a school in Pakistan, which, like Saudi Arabia, is predominantly a Muslim country.

“I went onto WCU’s website and typed in ‘build a school in Pakistan,’ expecting to see somebody had been doing something but I found nothing,” said Miller. “I e-mailed Windy Gordon and set up a time to meet. He said a group had gotten together but fell apart. I said, ‘I am interested. I would like to take the lead on this project.'”

Gordon, assistant professor of psychology, had suggested the fundraiser as he discussed the freshman reading selection, “Three Cups of Tea.” The book details the story of Greg Mortenson, a mountaineer who was saved by the people of a village in Pakistan after his failed attempt to climb K2. Despite violence and unrest resulting from a radical Islamist group, Mortenson promised to return to build a school for the village. He not only did but also returned again and again to build more schools in Pakistan and Afghanistan, which he now does through his nonprofit organization, CAI.

“He was unwilling to bear silent witness to another decade of deprivation and hardship for the children of Pakistan,” said Gordon at convocation. He went on to urge students to choose a path, set a goal and be fully involved in realizing their ambitions, and he invited those who did not have a cause to consider embarking on a WCU effort to build a CAI school in Pakistan.

To see if people would be interested, Miller and fellow WCU students began last fall by selling some leftover rubber bracelets that said “one hope,” a slogan that seemed to fit with CAI’s slogan, “Peace and hope begin with education: one child at a time.”

“We wanted to see how excited or involved people would be, and we sold $250 worth of bracelets in a residence hall of 350 students,” said Miller.

This semester, Miller has 2,000 more bracelets in black, white, red, blue, light blue, green, and purple that say “One child at a time” to sell on campus and at his alma mater, Enka High School.

In addition, on Wednesday, April 6, the Saudi students will direct proceeds to the effort from selling prayer rugs, traditional Saudi clothing, Arabic prayer beads, rings, flags and other items at an Arabic market, or “souk,” to be hosted on campus during WCU’s annual International Festival.

One of the Saudi students, Mohammed Shutayfi, said he was particularly inspired to take part after purchasing a version of “Three Cups of Tea” that was easy enough for him to read as he learns English. “This book made me so excited to work with Andy together to help the kids get a good education,” said Shutayfi. “All of us have the same goal – to help humanity. This is one of the reasons why we came here – not to get this degree or to learn a second language or come back making money, but to build the bridge between American society and Saudi Arabian society, and to learn from each other and help each other. I hope someday to make a difference and change the bad ideas for the next generation to live in peace.”

Gordon said Miller’s initiative to lead the effort to build a school in Pakistan is a great example of a student becoming active in his educational journey, which is a key element of WCU’s Quality Enhancement Plan, “Synthesis: A Pathway to Intentional Learning.”

“Beyond the project itself, which will change lives in Pakistan, everyone who works with Andy will connect their Western Carolina experience with a world and a culture far beyond our campus,” said Gordon. “Everyone learns. Everyone benefits. Isn’t that the best of all worlds?”

 For more information or tickets to the dinner, contact Miller by phone at 828-545-1778 or 828-452-6000, or by e-mail at anderson.miller.ram@gmail.com.