Ursula Nölle, the founder of VUSAF
In spring 1983 Ursula Nölle and one of her daughters visited Pakistan where another daughter was studying. In the Jubilee Paper of 2004 Karen Nölle remembers the beginning as follows:
Our committee would not exist if there had not been my sister Christine. Because of her enthusiasm for Asia, our mother visited Pakistan in 1983. Up to then, Ulla had always worried when Tine travelled every year: Long periods without any news from her, civil unrest in the areas she visited, health problems - as a mother she was not feeling at ease although Tine's travel reports were always fascinating. And then Tine got a scholarship for Lahore. She was planning to stay for a longer period and was living in proper accommodation so that the two of us had the idea to plan a trip together with our mother. We wanted to give her a positive impression of Asia. And also it was one of the rare opportunities that the three women of the family could spend lots of time together.
In March 1983 we started our journey. We flew to Delhi, stayed overnight in the tropically hot airport with lots of tea sellers and beggars, continued to Amritsar and crossed the border to Lahore where Tine was awaiting us. Already during this first taxi ride passing water buffalos and white herons, Ulla's early qualms which she had on arrival at the airport in Delhi changed to open curiosity. In Lahore Tine showed us around the old town and the areas with big modern houses of the newly-rich, we met musicians, visited tea houses and walked through the bazars. We travelled to Rawalpindi in an air conditioned bus for tourists and stayed in a hotel from colonial times where at breakfast the next morning Ulla looked at us and asked the question: "And how do you travel normally?".
From then on we went on public buses for which we had to pay only a few rupees for journeys lasting hours. However, sometimes the roofs were leaking and our luggage looked worse from day to day. We stayed overnight in a youth hostel sleeping on simple "chahar poys" lovingly looked after by the lady who was running the hostel. In Swat Valley Ulla needed a break from her daughters. She sent us back to the entry of the valley to exchange some money while she joined a group of tourists who were travelling up the mountain. While we were sitting in the hostel looking at the lonely third cup of tea and getting odd looks from the people working there, who probably assumed that we had pushed our mother off the mountain, our mother was obviously enjoying the mountain scenery: She returned to the hostel in a happy mood.
The further we moved west, the more we saw camps for some of the millions of Afghan refugees who had fled their home country after the invasion of the soviet troops three years before. In Peshawar my sister knew some people who worked for NGOs and who offered to let us stay with them for a few days. They also offered to take us to the camps. We rejected their offer at first because we felt as tourists we would be out of place in the camps but in the end we agreed to visit a school for refugees about which we had heard so much.
The young teacher herself had left Jalalabad and was, as we learned later, only 21 years old. She had started a school in the house her parents had rented. She wanted to bring some positive changes to the lives of the refugee girls - just for some hours she wanted to rescue them from the life in the camp. Within a very short time the number of students had risen to 130. The young lady did not have any funds to keep going. The project was near to closure.
Ulla could not forget about this problem. We visited the school several times to watch the lessons and talk to the teachers, and then we also visited the camp. We were deeply impressed by the pride and the generosity of the ladies in the camp who invited us to tea and bread when we stopped to talk to them for a few minutes. After some days of trying to understand the problems of living in the camp, Ulla said in the school: "I will try to help you".
This was the starting point for her future commitment.
Ulla lost no time. On her return flight to Europe going from Munich to Northern Germany she told the woman in the seat next to her about this school for Afghan girls in Peshawar and was given the first 100 Deutsche Mark. Back at home Ulla Nölle talked to her friends and everyone else who was prepared to listen to her. Many people were ready to help.
With a group of friends and family the committe in the name of Verein zur Unterstützung von Schulen für afghanische Flüchtlingskinder e.V. was started. After a while this long name was abbreviated to VUSAF. This is how the committee is now known in Afghanistan.
The German Government honoured Ulla Nölle's commitment to the education of Afghan boys and girls and awarded to her the Bundesverdienstkreuz (medal for special merits) in 1999 and in 2002. In 2007 she was made "Woman of the Year" and received the Prix Courage.
Ulla Nölle during her visit to Andkhoi in April 2011 (top) and at the age of 90 in Mazar-e-Sharif in spring 2015.