READFIELD — Nizamuddin Ahmady’s favorite class at Kents Hill School is U.S. History.

He’s fascinated that a society that started as scattered colonial outposts became a country with the world’s largest economy and tremendous influence in politics and culture.

“That was one of the parts that I really wanted to know about America,” Ahmady said. “It really helped me to learn more about America and American history, how people work hard and improve their country.”

Some day, Ahmady will take those lessons home with him to Afghanistan, where he hopes to play a role in building up the country after years of strife and war.

For now, though, Ahmady is trying to absorb all the educational, cultural and social experiences he can while in the United States.

Ahmady, 18, is known as Nizam to his classmates at Kents Hill School, where he enrolled as a junior this year. He is a participant in the Afghan Scholars Initiative, a nonprofit organization founded by two recent graduates of Colby College in Waterville.

Qiam Amiry and John Campbell, who graduated from Colby in 2009, were inspired by Amiry’s experience of winning a scholarship to a Hong Kong high school and then attending Colby. As a child, Amiry wove carpets and aspired to earn $400 a month.

Amiry wants to extend opportunity to other young Afghans.

“The mission is that we prepare these young Afghans to take leadership roles in the future of Afghanistan, if it is in the field of civil society development, entrepreneurship, or any other area that they’re interested in,” said Amiry, the initiative’s president. “With the education we get them, and the network they develop over time in the United States, they can pay it forward.”

The Afghan Scholars Initiative recruits top students in Afghanistan, provides them with tutoring and connects them with private high schools in the U.S. that provide scholarships.

The students enroll as sophomores or juniors, depending on their age, then attend college and graduate school in the U.S. There are 12 Afghan Scholars in the U.S. and 12 more in the tutorial program in Afghanistan. One student enrolled at Colby this year.

“Right now our two oldest students are still sophomores in college, so we’re still a few years away from the first few going home,” said Campbell, the initiative’s executive director.

Amiry, who graduated from Tufts’ Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy last year, is focusing on making the Afghan Scholars Initiative sustainable. He recently started Jawan Fashion, which sells scarves to support the initiative’s work.

Amiry and Campbell connected with Kents Hill School through Colby alumni affiliated with the school.

Kents Hill spokesman Jason Hersom said Ahmady appears to be the school’s first student from Afghanistan. The school has a significant international enrollment, representing 18 countries outside the U.S.

Pursuing his education

Ahmady is from the Hazara ethnic group, whom the Taliban oppressed in Afghanistan. His family fled the country in 1995, when he was a toddler, for Karachi, Pakistan.

They returned to Kabul, Afghanistan’s capital city, in 2003.

Ahmady said his parents are not educated, but some of their cousins pursued higher education in Russia and other countries.

“My family was one of the reasons that persuaded me in order to work hard and always told me these stories that their cousins went to those schools, and actually they regretted that they’d never been to school,” Ahmady said. “So it was one of the reasons that I really wanted to go far from Afghanistan, to seek higher education in any other foreign country, because the education system is not good in Afghanistan.”

Afghan schools have few resources, Ahmady said, and the universities have limited capacity. Even a student who gets a spot at a university may not be able to get into his or her chosen field of study.

Ahmady was at the top of his class at a rigorous Kabul high school, Amiry said. And though Ahmady did not speak English as well as some other applicants, Amiry was impressed by his maturity, humility and presence.

Ahmady said he felt welcomed at Kents Hill as soon as he arrived on campus in September and has enjoyed being part of a cultural exchange with students and faculty.

He has given a presentation about Afghanistan at a school meeting and answered many questions in individual conversations.

“I was really excited to answer to those questions because Afghanistan had been infamous because of war. And people had many negative thoughts about my country and about my people,” Ahmady said. “I answered those questions of how government works there and how nowadays, people have democracy, and how women have their rights.”

A friendly environment

Although some Afghans view the United States negatively, Ahmady said most people he knows appreciate what the U.S. and other Western countries have done for Afghanistan since 2001.

During breaks, Kents Hill faculty members have hosted Ahmady at homes in Maine and New Jersey. This week, on spring break, he will go on a school trip to the Gulf Coast to help with the ongoing recovery from Hurricane Katrina.

He will spend the summer in Afghanistan.

Ahmady said he thought Americans couldn’t match Afghan hospitality, but he was pleasantly surprised by everyone’s warmth at Thanksgiving and Christmas.

“When I went there, they acted really friendly with me,” he said. “They pretended that I’m a part of their family and even more than that, so I never felt that I’m not part of this family, or I never felt nervous.”

Among all the new foods Ahmady has tried in the United States, he said apple pie is the most delicious.

Ahmady wants to get as much out of his time at Kents Hill as possible. He loves working collaboratively with classmates, and he has started running cross-country and skiing.

He is still deciding what career would best enable him to help his home country.

Afghanistan needs to build up the small industries it has and become self-sufficient, Ahmady said.

“We need many things,” Ahmady said. “We need many educated people in different fields. I think being a physician or majoring in economic fields might help my family and my community when I go back there.”

Susan McMillan — 621-5645

[email protected]

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