KABUL, Afghanistan (HAST E SUBH) - Going to school is an unattainable dream for many child labourers, street children and other impoverished children who fight against hunger and poverty.
Kara Lozier has changed the lives of hundreds of Afghan street children with her ROYA Mentorship Program.
Thanks to it, Mahdi Amini traded in his working clothes for a school uniform and starts his lessons at United World College in India.
Freshta Ahmadi, a deprived girl from Bamiyan province, was one of 60 candidates chosen to attend the Global Changemakers Summit in Zurich, Switzerland and Hakima Amiri is studying at the Desert Academy in the US.
In 2007, Lozier, a 56-year-old American woman, established a charity called ROYA - Resources of Young Afghans. The word ROYA means dream in the local Dari language.
That led to the ROYA Mentorship Program, launched in 2016 with 10 needy students in Bamyan.
The initiative was widely welcomed and soon extended to Kabul, Ghorand Nangarhar provinces.
"The goal of the program is to provide financial support for children from impoverished families, to gain knowledge and skills that will help them to break the cycle of poverty in their families," said Lozier.
"With financial support from sponsors around the world, we began to provide students with access to English courses, computer training, and the Internet."
She says that child labourers could not commit enough time to studying, and some students were unable to read and write properly in their native language.
So the ROYA team made a decision to provide monthly stipends to dozens of child labourers and support hundreds of needy students while they studied at private schools and participated in supplementary learning classes.
Lozier said that the initiative also provides other capacity-building programs to help students develop their soft skills.
ROYA Mentorship Program only supports children living below the poverty line. Other criteria include age, motivation to study and learn new skills, and a commitment to stay in the program all the way to completion.
It currently operates in Bamiyan, Kabul and Ghor provinces, with 350 children attending in all. Recently, it completed a one-year English program in Jalalabad.
For the students to have access to books, ROYA established four mini libraries - two in Kabul, one in Bamyan, and one in Ghor.
According to ROYA's founder, the program first identifies eligible students, then looks for people to sponsor them.
"Interested sponsors can review the short biographies of eligible students on our website, choose the student(s) they want to support and begin to make monthly sponsorship payments," said Lozier.
"Sponsors pay an amount that is enough to cover the cost of books, uniforms, tuition, and sometimes transportation."
Once ROYA has identified sponsors, the children start attending private schools and language learning centres. In some cases, they attend school for free until a sponsor is found.
Lozier says that one unexpected achievement is that as students complete their English language diplomas, develop greater leadership skills, boost their confidence, and feel inspired to return the kindness they have received, they become very active leaders for ROYA.
Many are currently working as volunteers, helping other children at ROYA as teachers, assistants and more. They have organised art classes, reading clubs and other initiatives.
When Mahdi Amini was in eighth grade, he left school due to poverty and started to work.
Three years ago, he began taking English lessons with ROYA, and for four months he has been teaching English in the Kabul-based ROYA centre.
He said, "I feel that I have become a useful person in the community. Fortunately, my application has been accepted by United World College and I will go to India in August to continue my studies."
ROYA Mentorship Program does not depend on donors or governments. Rather, it counts on the kindness and generosity of individual sponsors.
In turn, the children whose lives it has transformed are becoming ambassadors of change in their families and communities.
This article is being published as part of 7.7 Billion, an international and collaborative initiative gathering 15 news media outlets from around the world to focus on solutions for social, economic and civic inclusion.