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Education provides Afghanistan-native opportunities

Omolbanin Rezaie is a native of Afghanistan, but now lives in Newton and attends classes at Pella Christian High School. She is enjoying her experiences here in America and hopes to finish her education here.
Omolbanin Rezaie is a native of Afghanistan, but now lives in Newton and attends classes at Pella Christian High School. She is enjoying her experiences here in America and hopes to finish her education here.

Drew Schumann remembers vividly the day he met his future foster daughter — Omolbanin Rezaie, 18, who goes by Banin in the states ­— five years ago in her native county of Afghanistan.

Drew was there to do research on the country’s culture and economic development for multiple government agencies when he and his research team visited her school in Western Kabul. Banin’s school was a private school with about 3,000 students that taught what he called “a secular humanist curriculum,” which intrigued Drew.

“This was very unusual in Afghanistan, because all schools in Afghanistan are run by the government and are religiously based.” Drew explained.

During the visit, Drew and his team gave a presentation to a classroom at the school and when they finished, the school’s headmaster asked if anyone had any questions?

“The rest of the students got low behind the desk — not her. At the time, she was 13 and she jumped up out of her seat and she asked us a very hard question,” Drew said.

“What do you think will happen with women in Afghanistan after the U.S. Army leaves Afghanistan in 2014?” Banin asked them.

“We didn’t know how to answer that question,” Drew said while laughing. “We expected things like, ‘What’s it like to be you?’ … you don’t expect that, especially from the littlest person in the room. I think you were the youngest and smallest.”

After that initial meeting, Drew and one of his research partners kept tabs on her throughout the years. When she was finally eligible to participate in a student foreign exchange program, Drew and his wife, Ellen, worked to bring her to Iowa. Drew said it took them 10 months of going back and forth with the U.S. State Department to get her here.

“September 27, I came here and I started (school) after one week,” Banin said.

“She came five weeks late, but was able to quickly catch up,” Drew added.

Despite all of the hassles, Banin has acclimated to Newton and her foster family very well. She attends classes at Pella Christian High School, where she has become very involved. She’s a part of the International Club, the student council and in her spare time, she even takes piano lessons.

Banin is also a big fan of her foster grandmother’s homemade mashed potatoes and has loved some of the new experiences and opportunities America has given her.

“My favorite part … I was in the Iowa State Capitol (Building) and I did my internship in the capitol. It was amazing for me,” Banin said. “The traditions are also completely different from Afghanistan. I like the traditions here like Thanksgiving, Christmas — they are cool.”

Once she graduates form Pella Christian next year, Banin plans on going to a U.S. college to major in political science and minor in business. She talked about why she wants to finish her education in the states.

“I like my school and I like education in the U.S. because you have more opportunity to improve and you have different things to learn than in Afghanistan,” Banin said. “Compare my school with Pella Christian High School, it’s a big difference. (PC) has more things to learn and I want to learn more and more about everything, which is why I want to continue my education here.”

Another factor in Banin wanting to finish her secondary education in America is the persecution she says her school back home faces from the Afghanistan Minister of Education.

“They told our school, ‘After this (year) you should not teach this.’ We have a subject by the name of humanism and they said, ‘You have to stop the humanism. You don’t have the right to teach this subject,’” Banin said.

Banin plans to use her American education to bring about change in her country’s politics once she returns home after college.

“I think my country needs a (quality) politician,” Banin said. “Now, those who are the top politicians are not good people and they do many corrupt (things) in Afghanistan and they don’t respect pupils over there. There is no relationship between the government and public pupils.

“I’d like to go back to Afghanistan and work with those who want to bring change in Afghanistan and to do something different. We should not be the same as the people that are in power now in Afghanistan, we should be different and bring about change.”

Senior staff writer Ty Rushing may be contacted at (641) 792-3121, ext. 426, or at

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