Resident to teach in war-torn Afghanistan

Brandon Mendoza is exactly where he wants to be.

The 22-year-old Del Mar resident and 2004 graduate of La Jolla Country Day School is in Afghanistan helping the people and nation he has come to appreciate and respect.

Mendoza left for Jalalabad, capital of the Nangarhar province, on Oct. 21. He is part of a group of private citizens overseeing projects to improve the infrastructure of the war-torn country and the lives of its people. Sponsored by the San Diego-Jalalabad Sister Cities Program, he will teach English for six months to a year to young people at Nangarhar University and an orphanage. He will live in a former United Nations compound in the city, along with other members of an NGO, or non-governmental organization.

Mendoza was first introduced to the country when he visited Afghanistan for several weeks during the summer of 2006. He said he heard about the San Diego-Jalalabad Sister Cities Program, founded in 2004 to promote understanding between cities in both countries, and wanted to volunteer for the cause.

With funding from grants and donations, support from local Rotary clubs and other groups, and partnerships with San Diego State University and the University of San Diego, the program established a number of projects aimed at improving the lives of the Afghan people.

“I first thought I would help out here in San Diego,” Mendoza said, but he heard about the opportunity to help the organization overseas and accepted the challenge. At the time, he was a student at Amherst College in Massachusetts, pursuing a political science degree. He said some of his most vivid memories of his first trip were the lasting effects of warfare on the nation, the rugged beauty of the terrain, and the warmth and hospitality of the people.

Mendoza decided he would like to teach English in Afghanistan, “but I realized that I really didn’t have the teaching skills,” he said. Soon after graduating from Amherst and returning home, he enrolled in intensive, 140-hour, graduate-level program at SDSU that prepares novice instructors to successfully live and teach English overseas. The program does not teach languages spoken in Afghanistan, he said, but offers techniques to instructors who will teach English in a total emersion program.

“It’s surprising how much you can do without knowing the language,” said Mendoza, who looks forward to bridging the language gap between Afghans and Americans.

He also will help bridge another gap, literally, when he takes part in a sister city project to build a bridge to link an isolated mountain village to the rest of the world. “Right now,” he said, “the children have no way to get to school.”

Mendoza said the dangers of living in a country, which has seen its share of bloodshed, have crossed his mind, but he has been taught what precautions to take, such as not going out at night.

“It’s not like living in Del Mar,” he said. “I recognize that. It crosses my mind, but I feel this is a unique opportunity to do something at this moment. It would be silly to let that stop me.”

“I’m very proud of Brandon,” his mother Sharon said. “It’s a great opportunity for him. Brandon has made friends in Afghanistan. He said people his age are in the military, and (that) wasn’t something he was doing. It’s his way of giving back . . . this is some way he can help solve problems in the world. Upon his return to Afghanistan, a citizen there, a doctor, said he would be like an uncle to him, so he’s in good hands.”

“I know my family is a little worried,” Mendoza said, “but I wouldn’t be able to do this without them.”

He said he had always wanted a career helping with the development of regions in need and their people.

“I have a special place in my heart for Afghanistan,” he said. “I feel that (the country) has just sort of been forgotten, and that makes me sad.”

The best part of his whole experience, he said, “is seeing that you really can make a difference.”

Brandon Mendoza

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