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Dina Fesler opens a unique school in Afghanistan

Dina Fesler went to Afghanistan to learn how to teach U.S. students about the country. Now she's opened a school there.

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Dina Fesler sits with her children in their Minnesota home: (l. to r. ) Daisy, age 8, from China; Coco, 7, from India; and Sunny, 6, from Ethiopia. Ms. Fesler was a women’s clothing designer for 15 years, but after she and her husband adopted Daisy, Fesler was moved to try to help children. A new career as a school curriculum designer brought her to Afghanistan.

Brian Peterson/Special to The Christian Science Monitor

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While growing up in the suburbs of Minneapolis, Dina Fesler never aspired to be a teacher, never mind the founder of a school. But when, after 15 years as a fashion designer, she and her husband, Brad Leonard, adopted a baby girl from China, her worldview expanded, and her career took a new turn.

Today, instead of women's clothing, Ms. Fesler designs innovative social studies courses for middle school students. As a result of that work, in 2011 she started a school in Afghanistan called Bridges Academy, a nascent project that brings together students from rival ethnic groups.

That she would take on such a huge task didn't surprise her admirers.

QUIZ: How well do you know Afghanistan? Take our quiz.

"Dina is one of those people who really believes she can make a difference in the world," says Kristi Holden, a homemaker and part-time art history professor in Northfield, Minn. She met Fesler in 2009 in connection with a fundraiser for Iraqi and Afghan children. "Not from a standpoint of grandiosity, but because she thinks it's the right thing to do. She's a really enthusiastic person, and her enthusiasm is infectious, so it's easy to get swept up in her vision and to want to try to help."

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