Glendon alumna transforms a battlefield into a school

Sometimes the education in life that students receive at York carries them to distant lands where they can make far-reaching improvements to people’s lives. The following article is reprinted from the Canadian International Development Agency Web site, with permission. The interview is with Glendon alumna Mariangeles Najlis (BA ’96), who is on a Canadian Forces mission in Afghanistan. Najlis is leading a team that is converting a former Soviet military building into a school for local children. 

On the site of the Taliban’s last battle in Kabul, Canadian Forces Sergeant Mariangeles Najlis is leading a team of local contractors in transforming a two-hectare piece of land with shattered buildings, surrounded by graves and littered with shell casings into a place where Afghan children will get an education.

najilisRight: Glendon alumna Mariangeles Najlis is surrounded by Afghan children. (Photo courtesy of Mariangeles Najlis.)

More than 1,100 children will learn history, geography and arithmetic in a space where the future of their country had been decided. “It’s quite symbolic,” said Najlis. “A military building surrounded by graveyards will be a centre for learning.”

Right now, a network of trenches and bunkers surrounds the former Soviet army headquarters. The floors of 14 future classrooms are littered with rubble, and a mural of a MiG jet fighter stretches across the wall of what will soon be an auditorium.

Najlis immigrated to Canada from Nicaragua when she was 15 and has served with the Canadian Infantry for the past 13 years. She is now with the Canadian Forces Civilian-Military Cooperation (CIMIC) platoon that is building wells, roads, medical facilities and schools in Afghanistan. “Education is paramount in all phases of peacemaking,” said Najlis. ”If we were more aware of our differences as people in this world and tried to work them out with an educated mind, things would be a lot easier for us.

“I hope better lives will make for more peaceful times,” Najlis added. “Having a school, having water, having the stuff that we take for granted makes you feel a whole lot better as a person. It makes you see a different perspective on things.”