INDIANAPOLIS – Qudratullah Wardak never learned to walk. And yet, the legacy that follows the Afghan baby who captured Hoosier hearts in 2005 has long, and strong, legs.
Because of him, and his father’s determination, there is a school in his remote northern Afghanistan village. Girls are educated, and women attend literacy classes. A well provides safe drinking water. And the connection between Central Indiana and Qudrat’s home continues to grow.
Qudrat, as he was known, was about 14 months old when he arrived in Indianapolis with his father, Hakim Gul Wardak, on Feb. 25, 2005. They were here for a life-saving surgery at Riley Hospital for Children to repair a hole in Qudrat’s heart and correct a more serious congenital heart defect called transposition of the great vessels in which the vessels are reversed, causing not enough oxygen to flow from the heart to the rest of the body.
The surgery was successful. Qudrat appeared to be thriving. However, on April 15, 2005 – just two days after arriving home to his refugee camp outside Kabul – Qudrat died. No cause could be determined.
Qudrat’s legacy, though, had already been enabled. Hoosiers who were moved by the story donated $13,000 – money that his father used upon his return home to receive training in Pakistan to become a medical provider akin to a nurse and also to secure the return of Qudrat’s older siblings that Hakim had placed with friends or family members because he could not afford to provide for them.
But the story of life after Qudrat and the effort to build on his legacy has two other main characters: Jim and Roberta Graham.
The Grahams are the ardent Rotarians who hosted Qudrat, Hakim and an interpreter at their Brownsburg home after the baby was released from the hospital. The Grahams reconnected with Hakim two years after Qudrat’s death when Jim Graham visited Kabul as part of a polio eradication effort.
The couple became committed to helping the man they call their Afghan son achieve his goals of improving health care and education – especially for girls – in his region. In the roughly six years since, the Grahams have managed to raise about $210,000 to fund a long list of accomplishments:
Equip a medical clinic, which Hakim staffs himself with the training and education he paid for with those early Hoosier donations.
Purchase 1.5 acres of land in his village in northern Afghanistan.
Build first one school building and then a second as attendance soared from about 135 children when the school opened to about 500 at last report.
Dig a well so the children and villagers had access to clean and safe drinking water, avoiding the cholera that had routinely made them ill.
Construct separate latrines for the children to use at the school, and to add a trough for more convenient and efficient access to flowing water.
Initiate and maintain literacy and vocational education programs for women in five villages.
Hakim’s plans, however, are not complete. And nor are the Grahams’ efforts. The couple has launched another fundraising project: to collect $32,000 to fund construction of a wall around the Qudratullah School.
Brick and mud walls are common features of Afghan homes and compounds. The Grahams, who occasionally are able to speak with Hakim via telephone or Skype, said the wall around the Qudratullah School will help keep out livestock that sometimes wander in and also provide some protection against Taliban threats.
Generally, the Grahams communicate with Hakim via email, generally with the assistance of another Afghan involved in regional efforts to improve the country and whose written English is a little better than Hakim’s. (Hakim, as is common among Afghans, uses his first name. He and the baby adopted the last name Wardak, derived from their tribe, to satisfy passport requirements when they traveled to the United States but had never used it before that.)
The Grahams said they have been impressed with Hakim’s dedication to improving his community and particularly to remaining committed to educating girls, despite drawing the wrath of countrymen who oppose girls attending school. Three times, the Grahams said, Hakim has told them of threats against him by the Taliban. Once, he fled to Pakistan for three weeks until things cooled down.
The Grahams remain committed to supporting him, and both hope to travel to Kabul in 2014 and to coordinate a visit with Hakim if he can travel from the northern part of the country.
It all started with Qudrat, though it has not ended with him or his death.
Roberta Graham said the memories of the baby who captured the hearts of so many Hoosiers are indelible.
That darn little smile, she told The Indianapolis Star. The way he pulled up the corner of his mouth.