JALALABAD, Afghanistan — Two years ago, there were just a couple of tents here in the Jalalabad desert. Now the La Jolla Golden Triangle Rotary Club School is a red brick building with 2,000 students, thanks to Fary Moini, a tiny Iranian-American with a big heart whom the kids call "Mama Fairy."
"She's like our mother because she cares so much for us," says one student.
Moini became a U.S. citizen 20 years ago, settling in San Diego.
But it was the war in Afghanistan that changed her life. As a Rotary Club volunteer, she saw illiteracy and neglect, first-hand, inside Afghan refugee camps in Pakistan.
"The whole idea came to my mind that I have to help these people," says Moini.
That idea: Giving Afghan boys and girls, who were banned from school by the Taliban, a new life — through learning.
Back in San Diego, fellow Rotarians reacted like architect Rick Clark.
"When she said, 'Is there any way we can build a school in Afghanistan?' we just sort of rolled our eyes," says Clark.
But, inspired — some say bruised — by Moini's sheer will, Clark drew up the plans and others helped raise $250,000.
On opening day in 2004, Moini was overcome with emotion.
"The lines and lines of boys and girls," recalls Moini. "It's a view I'll cherish the rest of my life."
Opening this mixed school was hard enough, but keeping it open — and safe — is even more daunting. After all, this is a war zone, and the area was once a Taliban stronghold.
U.S. forces needn't warn Moini about insurgents. She's already had two close calls on visits here, but remains defiant.
"If we will stop, we give them the power," says Moini. "And I will not allow that."
Instead, "Mama Fairy" is making a difference in a hostile land, tending to a new generation of Afghans she calls her own.
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