Building Schools in Afghanistan, One Concert at a Time: Part 1

From the Top alum Leeza Ali has been embarking on quite the Arts Leadership project for the past few years. She’s been holding concerts to raise money for P.E.C.A. – Partnership for the Education of Children in Afghanistan. We will cover her work in a blog series – below you can read about Leeza’s inspiration for this project and about the first concert.

Leeza performs "Two Pianos, Eight Hands" on From the Top in June 2010

When I was in 8th grade, an exchange student from Afghanistan came to our school. She spoke to us about the living conditions back in her home country. With the Taliban and the distressing political situation, it was very hard for girls to obtain an education. Often children would have to walk for many miles to get to school, many not even able to afford shoes or a book bag. Students often had to sit on the floor even when it was damp and wet from rain. Students would be lucky to have a bathroom, and it was rare to have a book or writing utensil to keep. She talked about the fear and difficulty she went through each day and how lucky she felt to be in MN for her studies.My sister (then a senior) and I were inspired to do something for girls in Afghanistan. At the time, my sister Nora was part of the “Diversity Leadership” committee, a volunteer organization of high school student leaders who run a variety of charity and fundraising events.  Nora and I had the idea of starting a concert series that would raise money for the organization P.E.C.A. – Partnership for the Education of Children in Afghanistan. This charity builds schools in Afghanistan for children, some specifically for girls, with the mission of providing a healthy and safe environment to educate the youth of the more dangerous provinces of Afghanistan. We pitched the idea to this committee, run by Nora’s history teacher, Mr. Schultz, and they thought it was a great idea.

Leeza & Nora, rehearsing for the very first show

That first year, Nora took an enormous role in organizing the concert, and helped set up committees for sound/tech, a food reception, stage set-up, and marketing. I worked very hard to campaign for the concert, made posters, and helped create the program and decide on the pieces to be played. We had fun trying to come up with a program that would be entertaining to an audience spanning all ages and backgrounds, many of whom had never listened to classical music before. Our solution was to play shorter movements of classical pieces rather than very long excerpts, and added variety by having us both soloing (me on piano, Nora violin), playing together (Beethoven Sonatas and Hoedown by Copland!), and  with chamber musicians. It was surreal to see all the posters go up, tickets sold by every committee member, and everyone working together to make our vision happen.

Stay tuned next week for a recap of Leeza’s second and third concerts in this series.  Leeza’s From the Top performance will air as part of the Young Artist World Piano Festival in St. Paul next week, October 4. To check your local listings, click here.

Inspired to get involved with Arts Leadership? Check out the From the Top Center for Arts Leadership in Boston!