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Students revive initiative to raise $50,000 to build a school in Pakistan

The more time Andy Miller spent with the 11 Saudi Arabian students enrolled in Western Carolina University’s Intensive English Program last fall, the more compelled he felt to be part of something to build good will between Americans and Arabs. A junior majoring in international studies and philosophy with a concentration in religion from Candler, Miller remembered how Winford Gordon, assistant professor of psychology, had proposed a WCU effort to raise $50,000 to build a school in Pakistan, which, like Saudi Arabia, is predominantly a Muslim country.

Andy Miller (center) walks with Saudi students Wael Almohammadi (left) and

Andy Miller (center) talks with students from Saudi Arabia (from left) Wael Almohammadi and Mohammed Shutayfi.

“Two years later, getting to know the Saudis reminded me of that challenge. 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.’”

At Freshman Convocation in 2008, Gordon had encouraged students to be participants rather than spectators in their lives 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, Central Asia Institute.

“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 Matthew Del Corral, Ryane Boone, Elizabeth Scholtz and Leslie Soesbee 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.

On another night, he indicated tips at his job at the Classic Wineseller in Waynesville would go to CAI, and raised another $250 – more than double what he typically would make.

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.

He also has organized a fundraising dinner and silent auction to be held Tuesday, April 5, at Chef’s Table in Waynesville. Tickets 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.

Cover of Three Cups of Tea

Cover of "Three Cups of Tea"

Meanwhile, he shared his plans with some of the Saudi students, and they, along with other WCU students, have joined him on the mission. 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.

“For me, I love to help and just want to help people in Pakistan and their education,” said Ali Alnakhli, one of the Saudi students.

Another, Mohammed Shutayfi, said he was particularly inspired after purchasing a version of “Three Cups of Tea” written for younger readers 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.

In addition, Miller organized the formation of a student group called Ummah, which is Arabic for “community,” to serve as a community-building group for Arabic students and help educate the WCU community about Arabic culture and people.

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

By Teresa Killian Tate

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Students from Saudi Arabia adjust to life at WCU, find acceptance.

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Photos | WCU News Services

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