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Our Story

One of Afghanistan’s first co-ed schools, founded in 1998, was located in a poor neighbourhood of Kabul.  Over the course of the next twenty years it became a beacon of hope for many,  teaching democracy and human rights, and encouraging girls to speak out against extremist groups like the Taliban. This made them targets.

In August 2021, as the Taliban violently took Afghanistan,  hundreds of schoolgirls went into hiding. The Taliban prohibits girls’ education past age 11, and many feared being forced into “marriage” with Taliban fighters, having seen similar atrocities happening in other provinces. 

 

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Our Story
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The 30 Birds Foundation

To help them, a team of  8 citizens, journalists, lawyers, human rights activists and Afghan ex-pats incorporated as the 30 Birds. After evacuating the school's founder and his family, they turned their attention to the girls who, as young athletes, artists, medics and musicians, were also receiving death threats from the Taliban.

Determined to continue their education, these girls played an active role in coordinating their own escape. Under duress, moving in small numbers from city to city and past Taliban checkpoints, they would eventually help the 30 Birds guide more than 400 Afghans, including family members and various activists for female education safely across the border. 

Our Impact

To date we have: 

 

  • Successfully, and against all odds, evacuated over 450 Afghans from Kabul.

  • Negotiated with the Pakistan Government to let our group of girls cross the border and remain in safe housing until more permanent resettlement can be found.

  • Negotiated with the Canadian government to accept and resettle 250 girls and their families from the school community.

  • Provided on-going support for the girls in Saskatoon to help with their education and resettlement

  • Raised money to fund safe housing, food, clothing, shelter for those who remain in limbo in Pakistan waiting for visas to Canada

  • Arranged for classes and work training opportunities for the girls in Pakistan

  • Leveraged the voices of such allies as Nobel Peace laureates Malala Yousafzai, Ambassadors, Generals, and HM King Charles through his charitable arm, the Prince’s Trust. 

  • Kept the hope of our group alive in the face of these desperate times, and in doing so, kept our sanity (mostly!) 

Our Impact

Our Name

1000 birds set off on an epic quest in search of enlightenment, wisdom and the Phoenix--or Simorgh--who these birds hope can revive their community.

 

After the long and arduous journey, only 30 birds advance to the final step. They reach the spot where they'd been told they could find the Phoenix, only to find a lake. Disappointed, the 30 birds peer into the lake, and see their own reflections.

 

They realize that there is no Phoenix. There is no Simorgh waiting for them. There are thirty (Si) birds (Morgh). They are the Simorgh--the Phoenix. No one else is going to revive their community for them, the 30 birds are responsible for bringing their community back to life.

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Our Name

Our Programs

Building on our success evacuating more than 450 people from Afghanistan, we are now focused on three core program areas: 

 

  • Alternative Education Programs in Afghanistan: We support Afghan educators who are offering alternative education programs for girls in Afghanistan. By providing access to education, we help young women build the skills they need to achieve their goals and contribute to their communities.

  • Pathways to Safety: We identify the top 60-90 female students in alternative education programs across Afghanistan and help them apply to universities and scholarship opportunities abroad. By providing support and resources for these students, we help them access higher education and pursue their dreams in a safe and nurturing environment.

  • Long-Term Support in Canada: For the girls we have evacuated, and for girls we will continue to help pursue their education abroad, we provide long-term and comprehensive wrap-around support. This includes mental health services, an elite mentorship program, and university counseling and scholarships. We believe that by providing these resources, we can help these women thrive and achieve their full potential.

Our Programs
Our Team

Our Team

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Abuzar Royesh

Abuzar Royesh is the co-founder and CEO of DataServeAI, a California-based startup that builds digital financial solutions for small businesses in developing countries. Abuzar holds master’s degrees in Management Science & Engineering and International Policy from Stanford University as a Knight-Hennessy scholar and a bachelor’s degree from Tufts University in International Relations. 

 

Prior to Stanford, Abuzar worked as a research lead at Afghanistan Holding Group, where he led various research and assessment projects for the office of the Afghan president, various ministries, USAID, UNHCR, and GIZ. He has also worked with marginalized youth, including international displaced persons, in Afghanistan in various capacities since 2010.

Justin Hefter
Executive Director

Justin Hefter is an entrepreneur and peacebuilder who uses technology to bridge social, cultural and political divides. He was part of the founding team to create The AMEL Project, which trains, connects and protects the next generation of human rights activists across Africa and the Middle East.

 

Justin was also the co-founding CEO of Bandura Games, a company he started with Israeli and Palestinian partners which developed video games as a tool for connecting youth across conflict zones. In 2015, Justin and a team of Millennials helped the interfaith activist Mohammed Al Samawi escape from the civil war in Yemen. The details of the operation are chronicled in Mohammed’s memoir The Fox Hunt, which is being turned into a full-feature film with producer Marc Platt and Academy Award Winning screenwriter Josh Singer. Justin has a BA from Stanford University (‘11) and and a Master's in Public Policy from the Harvard Kennedy School of Government.

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Christa D'Souza

Christa D’Souza is a British journalist with three decades of experience in the magazine and newspaper industry. She has written for many publications including the London Times, The Guardian, The Spectator, The New York Times, Vanity Fair, and Vogue UK Magazine (where she was a contributing editor for more than 20 years).

 

She first visited Afghanistan with her mother Baroness D’Souza, co-founder of the school, in 2009 and since then has become both an active fundraiser for the school and a passionate advocate of education for all Afghan girls.

 

An alumna of Brown University with a degree in Semiotics, she has written one book entitled The Hot Topic* and is currently at work on another non-fiction title. She lives in London and Wiltshire with her partner and their two sons.

Tahera Hedayati

Tahera Hedayati is the Program Officer for the 30 Birds Foundation, where she leads the foundation's work with the evacuees. 

Previously, Tahera worked as a Journalist in Afghanistan. In Kabul, she worked at Subhe Kabul daily newspaper and ran a column named “what Taliban did to the people”. For that column, she interviewed people who lived under the Taliban’s rule and wrote and published their stories. Tahera relocated to the US after the Taliban released a statement threatening journalists who wrote against them. 

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Bella Pollen

Raised in New York and London, Bella Pollen is a writer and journalist who has contributed to various publications including  The Financial Times,  Vogue and the Economist. She first visited Afghanistan in 2013 with fellow team member Christa and has been actively involved with the school ever since.

 

Founder of international fashion label , Arabella Pollen at the age of 19, Pollen was nominated for numerous awards during her thirteen years in the industry.

 

Author of five novels she has tackled a broad spectrum of topics from the decline of the Aristocracy in the best-selling Hunting Unicorns to the Mexican border in Midnight Cactus to the Cold war in the critically acclaimed  The Summer of the Bear. 

 

Pollen works one to one with both young writers and established authors. She is a fellow of VCCA in the US, Moulin à Nèf, France, and The Tyrone Guthrie Centre, Ireland.

Her recently published memoir, Meet Me In the In-Between, a part-graphic memoir about the author’s search for home has been described as “ disturbing,  very funny , visually stunning and full of moving profundities.”

Jeffrey E. Stern

Jeffrey E. Stern is an award winning journalist and author. Stern has written four books, including The 15:17 to Paris, which was turned into a major motion picture by Clint Eastwood and Warner Brothers, The Mercenary: A Story of Brotherhood and Terror in the Afghanistan War, and The Last Thousand, which received honorable mention for best book of the Year by Library Journal.

 

He has reported from Yemen, Iraq, Afghanistan, Guantanamo Bay, Kashmir, the epicenter of the west African Ebola outbreak, and Oklahoma’s death row. His work has appeared in The New York Times Magazine, Vanity Fair, The Atlantic, and other outlets.

 

In 2019, he received the Overseas Press Club award for the best human rights reporting in any medium, and the Amnesty International award for foreign reporting.

 

Stern sits on the board of the Bamyan Foundation, which supports education for at-risk groups in Afghanistan. He received his bachelor's degree from Duke University and master's in international relations from Stanford University.

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Mohammad Behroozian

Mohammad Behroozian is an independent media producer and researcher. A communications professional with nearly a decade of experience in designing and leading outreach initiatives in Afghanistan, Mohammad is currently pursuing his doctoral studies at Northwestern University School of Communication. Mohammad is passionate about media, youth and development.

Jennifer Selendy

Jennifer Selendy is a founding and managing partner of Selendy Gay, a premier litigation firm headquartered in New York. Under Jennifer’s leadership, women are positioned at every level of firm management, including its C-suite. The firm is also renowned for taking on industry-shaping cases and high-impact public interest work.

 

Jennifer is an experienced trial attorney recognized as a leader in her field by Benchmark Litigation, Lawdragon, and Legal 500.  In both 2020 and 2021, she was named one of the most influential women in law by Crain’s. Her public interest practice focuses on poverty, women’s rights, climate change, and education.

 

Jennifer graduated from Harvard Law School after completing an M.Phil. in International Relations at Oxford (St. Antony’s) as a Marshall Scholar.  She served as Board Chair for the National Center for Law & Economic Justice, a national legal services organization focused on justice for the poor. She is also the co-founder and Board Chair of The Speyer Legacy School, an independent school for gifted children, with a special interest in low-income, high-achieving students.  Jennifer is the Vice-Chair of the Advisory Board of the Institute for Global Leadership at Tufts University.

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Manizha Baraki

Manizha Baraki

Manizha Baraki is a development practitioner with a decade-long focus on empowering women and girls and working for gender equality. Manizha has worked with the Afghanistan chapter of the UN Women’s International Unite Campaign to End Violence Against Women. 

As Partnership and Evaluation Consultant for Bikes Not Bombs, Manizha has worked with Women’s Bike programs that benefited hundreds of women in the marginalized Mathare slums of Nairobi, young mothers in outskirts of Kigali, and indigenous people especially women of Iztapa in Guatemala, and a youth led environmental organization in El Salvador.

Manizha has actively represented Afghan women and youth on international platforms. She has received training on transnational feminism at EWHA University in Seoul, participated in Debate and Media Camp in Bishkek and Esykol, and is as an active member of Asia Society’s Afghan Young Leaders Initiative. Currently, Manizha is an active member of the UN Women’s Chicago Chapter where she helps with fundraising to Support UN Women’s international programs. 

Manizha received her bachelor’s degree in Journalism from Kabul University and her master’s degree in Sustainable International Development from Brandeis University. 

Manizha is the mommy of a delightful 11 month old girl, Raya.

Michael Duke

Michael Duke is an associate at Selendy Gay Elsberg where he is a trial and appellate litigator with experience in state and federal courts and arbitration hearings. Michael has represented clients in a variety of complex commercial disputes across practice areas including complex financial instruments, restructuring, insurance, land use, and governance disputes.

 

Michael earned his J.D., summa cum laude, from Cornell Law School, where he was an Articles Editor for the Cornell Law Review. He served as a judicial law clerk to the Honorable Priscilla Richman of the United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit and to the Honorable P. Kevin Castel of the United States District Court for the Southern District of New York.

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Amy Madsen
Chief of Staff

Amy Madsen is a passionate advocate for the power of human connection and the ability of individuals to make a positive impact on the world. As a former U.S. diplomat who served in Tunisia, Libya, Bahrain, Iraq, and the United Arab Emirates, Amy has seen firsthand the challenges faced by women in conflict zones.

 

Inspired by the resilience of local women in the face of adversity, she co-founded Undivided: Women, War & The Battle for Peace, a nonprofit organization that works to amplify their voices and promote peacebuilding. Amy holds a Master's degree in International Relations from the Maxwell School at Syracuse University, with a focus on intercultural communication and negotiation.

 

She is also the author of Green Zone Diary: A Diplomat's War Story, a memoir that explores her experiences living and working in Iraq. Additionally, Amy serves on the Board of the Foreign Service Association of Northern California and volunteers with organizations that promote international women's rights and empowerment.

Susan Antolin
Director of Community and Mentorship

Dr. Susan Antolin is an accomplished educational leader, with extensive experience in research, program development, and nonprofit management. As the daughter of Afghan refugees and a passionate advocate for human rights and social justice, Susan has dedicated her career to maximizing opportunities for underrepresented communities.

 

With a doctorate in education from NYU, her research focuses on designing and implementing leadership and empowerment programs for marginalized girls and women. Susan is the Co-CEO and Director of Diversity, Equity, Inclusion, and Belonging at Advancing Girls, a global nonprofit organization that provides research-based tools and resources for educators and mentors working with underrepresented girls and women. Additionally, she has served as an administrator, program director, and humanities instructor at an all-girls high school, where she prioritized a student-centered approach through culturally responsive pedagogy.

 

Susan is also a Board Member for STEER for Student Athletes, a nonprofit organization that provides individualized mentorship, services, and financial support to ensure students thrive academically, develop socially and emotionally, and excel athletically. Susan holds a B.A. in English from UCLA and an M.Ed. in Curriculum and Instruction from the University of San Diego's School of Leadership and Education Sciences. She is fluent in Dari.

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Jessica Lewinski
Director of Grant Writing and Communications

Jessica Lewinski is a passionate development professional and multi-disciplinary artist whose curiosity to expand her understanding of the human experience has brought her to live and work on three continents, crossing the fields of arts and culture, sustainable development, and human rights advocacy. 

Jessica's creative pursuits have seen her touring Canada as an indie rocker, appearing on prime-time Korean television, co-organizing an accessibility arts festival in Finland, directing for the Seoul Shakespeare Company, and working as co-head writer on two internationally distributed animated television series. 
 
While she deeply believes in the transformative power of the arts to foster connections, Jessica has also been drawn to the immediacy and impact of direct engagement in the charitable sector. Her extensive experience managing development projects in Southeast Asia spans educational access, clean water, medical support, and sustainable agriculture, in communities across Myanmar, Nepal, Laos, and Mongolia.

Returning to Canada after a decade abroad, Jessica has found her calling in fund development and communications. She is continually grateful for each opportunity to connect with like-minded individuals who share her vision of a more just, equitable, and connected world.

Rowen Dinsmore
Social Media Manager

Rowen Dinsmore is an artist whose passions surround the female experience and what it means to be a woman in the modern era.

 

As a Bachelor of Fine Arts Honours graduate from the University of Saskatchewan, she continues to work as a Studio Artist in Saskatoon.

 

Since 2021, Rowen has served as a board member and the Curatorial and Creative Director for The 525, a non-profit art organization in Saskatoon. In 2023, her love for curating artistic spaces led her to the position of Curatorial and Creative Director at the 88 Gallery, an emerging gallery space in Saskatoon. Rowen is passionate about creating opportunities for emerging artists and women in her community.

In addition to her artistic practice, she specializes in creative direction and social media content creation. These passions have shaped her career as a Content Creator, starting with her work at a small business, ENSEMBL, and now at LMNO, a marketing agency in Saskatoon.

Inspired by the innate strength of women, Rowen is passionate about ensuring all women and girls have equal opportunities, free of disrespect and harassment. Outside of her balanced career as a creator, Rowen finds joy in second-hand fashion, photography, and mid-century modern furniture.

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Kehan Fu
Community and Mentorship Manager

Since moving to Saskatoon in 2008, Kehan Fu has deeply immersed himself in community development, with roots tracing back to his immigration from China in 2001. Kehan has a rich history in student mobilization, marking notable achievements during his two-year tenure with the University of Saskatchewan (U of S) Student's Union — including a record voter turnout during his second presidential campaign. He pursued his passion for political studies at the U of S.

Kehan's prowess as a debater and public speaker commenced in grade 8, eventually leading him to national and international stages in high school. This aptitude carried into 2022 when he assumed the role of Interim Executive Director for Sask Debate. His campaign mobilization expertise is underscored by youth engagement projects with renowned entities such as Future Majority and UCRU.

Kehan’s dedication to community development traverses from grassroots volunteering — including pivotal roles with the local food cooperative in urban gardens and food security — to strategic leadership roles with institutions like the United Way Saskatoon's GenNext Committee. Presently, he serves on the board of the Saskatchewan Intercultural Association and the Saskatoon Housing Coalition. 


A staunch advocate for arts and culture, Kehan, a jazz enthusiast (baritone saxophone), played pivotal roles in Saskatoon's Nuit Blanche Art Festival (fund-development, volunteer coordination, and general logistics) and co-founded the nonprofit "the 525", propelling emerging artists into entrepreneurship. Outside his professional endeavors, Kehan revels in DJing, chess, and indulges in the tranquility of nordic spas during Saskatoon's frosty winters.
 

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Vida Alizada
Community Advisory Board Member

Vida Alizada, raised in Kabul, Afghanistan, is a resilient individual shaped by diverse experiences.

 

In high school, she participated in Model United Nations (MUN) and an entrepreneurship program in Uzbekistan. Serving as both president and vice president of her student council, she honed her abilities and fueled her passion for making a positive impact within her community.

The events of 2021, with the Taliban assuming control in Afghanistan, led Vida to seek refuge outside her country. With support from the 30 Birds Foundation, she successfully evacuated to Pakistan. In 2022, she found a new home in Canada, settling first in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, and then in London, Ontario, where she is currently pursuing her college education.

Beyond academia, Vida aspires to become a powerful advocate for the voices of girls and women. Her mission is to ensure that their stories are not only heard but also acknowledged, fostering a world where every individual is empowered to thrive.
 

Masooma Nasiri
Community Advisory Board Member

Masooma Nasiri, a former 12th grader at Marefat High School in Kabul, Afghanistan, was forced to flee her country when the Taliban took over. 

Currently studying grade 12 in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, she works part-time and actively participates in the mental health support group, Group Peer Support, with the goal of becoming a leader to help fellow Afghan women and girls overcome mental health obstacles.

 

Masooma aspires to be a clinical psychologist, focusing on supporting people with ADHD and providing free mental health support.

Passionate about reading, writing, nature walks, journaling, learning guitar, dancing, and cooking, Masooma appreciates the diverse doors of opportunity in Canada, allowing her to follow her dreams and create her own path. Masooma has a particular interest in visiting popular libraries across different provinces.
 

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Kubra Rasooli
Community Advisory Board Member

Growing up in Afghanistan, Kubra aspired to become an astronaut. But, given the seemingly impossibility of such a career path for an Afghan girl, she explored other options such as teaching, medicine, and design.

 

In 2021, with the support of the 30 Birds Foundation, Kubra relocated to Canada, where she is currently in the 8th grade, pursuing hobbies like badminton, volleyball, dance, singing, and fashion. Her move to Canada has reignited her dream of becoming an astronaut, driven by the desire to defy the absence of Afghan astronauts and inspire young girls in Afghanistan to persevere in the face of adversity.

In Canada, Kubra is dedicated to supporting girls in Afghanistan, drawing from her own experiences of navigating a society where girls are often marginalized. Her mission is to empower them to overcome challenges and pursue their dreams, ensuring that no girl in Afghanistan feels excluded in her own home and country. Kubra's commitment lies in making a meaningful impact on the lives of these girls, fostering resilience and determination in the face of societal constraints.

 

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Laiqa Dosti
Community Advisory Board Member

Laiqa Dosti left Afghanistan in 2021, spending about a year in Pakistan before eventually making it to Canada.

 

She lived in Saskatoon for a year before moving to British Columbia.

Back in Afghanistan, she was a high school student, attending English classes and preparing for the Kankor (university entrance exam). In BC, Laiqa explores new cultures, makes connections, and enjoys delving into mystery and non-fiction books, alongside her love for playing volleyball.

Actively participating in the Digital Hospitality program at Western Community College while continuing her high school studies, Laiqa appreciates Canada's cultural diversity. She finds joy in the inclusive, welcoming, and open atmosphere that brings together different traditions and perspectives.
 

Hasiba Hasin Royesh
Community Advisory Board Member

Hasiba Hasin Royesh, a Computer Science and Engineering student at Bucknell University and St. Timothy High School graduate, actively contributes to her university's Women in STEM club and the TEAM mentorship program.

As a member of the Global Student Council, Hasiba engages in activities promoting diversity and inclusion, gaining insights into different cultures worldwide. In Kabul, she served on the executive board of Marefat High School's student council, playing a pivotal role in establishing the first soccer club for girls and creating opportunities for various activities.

During her internship with the Car Free Diet organization in Arlington, Virginia, Hasiba organized events to encourage alternative commuting options, aligning with the organization's mission of reducing pollution and preserving the environment.

Additionally, she worked as a counselor for the Leadership Advancement Program (LEAP), a two-week summer camp empowering Afghan students in the US in English, leadership, web designing, and team building.

Motivated by a vision of empowering girls worldwide, especially in Afghanistan, Hasiba aspires to see them pursue their dreams without limitations. Dedicated to fostering an environment where individuals can thrive and contribute to positive change, she actively engages in a range of activities from STEM to sports and community service.
 

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Najia Hassani
Community Advisory Board Member

Najia Hassani was a 3rd-year finance student at the American University of Afghanistan and a first-year medical science student at Khatam University, when she was forced to flee Afghanistan. 

Currently a finance student at Toronto Metropolitan University (TMU), Najia is passionate about being a women and children activist. Her focus is on helping women achieve financial independence and promoting entrepreneurship to create more job opportunities for women. The freedom to be a free woman in Canada makes Najia feel satisfied and optimistic.

Outside of her academic pursuits, Najia enjoys playing soccer, spending time with friends and family, and exploring information about astronauts. She has a deep appreciation for diversity and travel, often researching different cultures across the globe.
 

Farishta Samim
Community Advisory Board Member

Farishta Samim is a dedicated advocate for women's rights and education, with a passion for fostering positive change. Having grown up in Kabul, Afghanistan, she attended Marefat High School, where she honed her English skills and actively participated in sports such as soccer. Currently residing in Saskatoon, Canada, Farishta is a senior student at Centennial Collegiate, where she continues to excel academically.

Her commitment to social causes is evident through her volunteer work at esteemed organizations like the Center of Business Administration and Girls in the Path of Change. Her writing endeavors focus on documenting her journey, particularly addressing the fall of
Afghanistan and her subsequent relocation to Canada, providing a firsthand account of the country's challenges.

Farishta believes in the transformative power of laws to shape individuals, communities, and the world at large, fueling her aspiration to pursue a career in law.
Grateful for the warm welcome and sense of belonging extended by the Canadian community, Farishta embraces the opportunities for peaceful living, academic pursuits, and community engagement in her adopted home.

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Farhanaz Haidari
Community Advisory Board Member

Farhanaz Haidari, an accomplished Hazara from Afghanistan, excelled academically and in extracurriculars at Marefat's private school.

 

A passionate advocate for gender equality, she defies societal challenges in Afghanistan, championing equal rights for women and girls.

Undeterred by obstacles, Farhanaz tirelessly empowers Afghan girls and women, reflecting a steadfast commitment to breaking barriers and fostering positive change. Currently enrolled at Nutana High School, she plans to pursue medicine in university next year.

Her diverse interests include reading, music, series, movies, cooking, and drawing mandalas. Grateful for Canada's cultural diversity and respect for all, Farhanaz is dedicated to nurturing her talents and advocating for silenced voices in her community.

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