Ask Fary Moini about the school for refugee children that she encouraged her Rotary Club of La Jolla Golden Triangle (California, D 5340) to build in Afghanistan, or about the weeks she spent in Turkey training a group of Afghan doctors to use fetal monitors, or the months she spent in an Israeli hospital nursing an Afghani toddler back to health, and she will share every detail of every journey, giving credit to all of the people who helped along the way.
Ask her why she volunteers to make dangerous trips to help women and children in perilous situations, however, and she skips the specifics and lands right in the heart of what matters.
“What keeps me going is love and compassion and making a difference somehow,” the 66-year-old Moini said during an interview in her La Jolla apartment. “I know people who will say, ‘Let’s go to Italy for vacation. Let’s go to France.’ I would rather go to Afghanistan. It gives me so much joy.”
Born and raised in Iran, Moini came to San Diego in 1984 with a lifetime of experiences behind her and a big blank page where her future was going to be. There was the father who told all six of his children to learn one word of English a day, even though he spoke no English himself. There was the mother who loved reading and encouraged Moini to study nursing.
Then there was her career as a cardiology nurse and her stints in hospitals in Tehran and Dubai. There were also clashes with the director of the Dubai hospital, where she defied orders to veil her nurses and refused to hang a portrait of the Ayatollah Khomeini in her office.
“He wanted to send me back to Iran,” Moini said of the director. “And knew that if I went back, I would go to prison or be killed.”
So she came to the United States. Her early years in San Diego were a challenge, as Moini struggled with health issues and a failing marriage. But by the early 2000s, things were looking up. Moini was running two tuxedo-rental shops — which she sold in 2004 — and she was beginning to develop a network of friends.
Most importantly, she had joined the La Jolla Golden Triangle Rotary Club, where she found the people who would change her life.
Like the 35,000-plus Rotary clubs worldwide, the La Jolla Golden Triangle club’s guiding principles are service, fellowship, diversity, integrity and leadership. In 2001, Moini came up with a project that would put all five principles into play, and then some.
On the day after the terrorist attacks on Sept. 11, 2001, Moini saw an Afghani woman and her young daughter on television. The woman’s husband had been killed by the Taliban, and she and her daughter were desperately trying to get to Pakistan. The moment she saw the frightened woman and her daughter, Moini knew she had to do something.
Four months later, she was on her way to a refugee camp on the border of Pakistan and Afghanistan to work as a Rotary volunteer.
“I can’t explain it in a reasonable way. I saw them on television, and when I woke up the next day, they were in my brain,” said Moini, who now runs a consulting business for organisations wanting to do projects in Afghanistan. “My desire was so strong, I thought, ‘If I don’t go, my whole life is worthless.’”
Conditions at the refugee camp clinic near Peshawar, Pakistan, were horrific, but within a week her Rotary club members sent Moini $7,000 of their own money, enough to get a new generator and repair the sewer system. And when she returned to San Diego, she made it clear that there needed to be more help where that came from. The refugee children need a school, she said. And we need to build it.
“Fary is very tenacious. She sets her mind on something that she wants to have happen, and she just looks for ways to make it happen,”said fellow club member Stephen R Brown, who has joined Moini on 12 of her 25 trips to Afghanistan.
“In Afghanistan, she is all business. Her attitude is, ‘Let’s get things done. Let’s get things moving.’ She sees opportunities for where we can do things we weren’t planning to be involved in. I do that, too, so our mission always expands. When we come back, we have a whole plateful of things we want to do.”
With the support of the governor of Nangarhar Province, a grant from the William H. Donner Foundation and fundraising by Moini and the club, the Rotary Jalalabad School in Afghanistan opened in 2004. It now serves 5,700 boys and girls in three shifts.
The La Jolla Golden Triangle Rotary built a dorm to house female teachers so that girls could continue their education after eighth grade. The club also paid for the female teachers’ salaries and got computers into 21 other schools in Afghanistan. (Its “Quintessential Festival” on Saturday — a beer, wine and spirits tasting being held at the Nobel Athletic Fields and Recreation Center — will benefit the club’s programs at home and abroad.)
“It’s this seed that we planted, and it grew into this beautiful strong tree,” Moini said with a huge smile. “We changed the entire city. People hire our students for jobs, and the students are initiating things. They are volunteering. They plant things in the city. They raise money to feed poorer families in the community. They go out and teach. Every month, we receive reports from them saying, ‘Here is what we did,’ and that is something no one can take away from them.”
As her Rotary club’s Afghanistan mission expanded, the projects on Moini’s volunteering plate piled up. In 2015, she flew to Turkey, where she trained four female Afghan doctors to use maternal/fetal monitoring machines and portable colposcopes, which are used for cancer screenings.
And last year, Moini volunteered to fly to Israel to care for Yehia, a young Afghani refugee who had traveled from Pakistan for surgery to correct multiple severe heart defects. Yehia’s mother was expecting and couldn’t travel, so Moini stepped in to help the toddler’s father with childcare.
Moini stayed with Yehia for two demanding and rewarding months. She is now thrilled to say when she turns 67 next week, the little boy who shares her birthday will be turning 3 in fine, healthy style. When he gets older, Moini might remind him that every day is a gift. She will not need to remind herself.
“I’m very blessed. Just look at my life,” Moini said. “I’m seeing all of these schoolchildren growing up and getting married and communicating with me. I have my wonderful club. I don’t have enough words to say how much I admire them and adore them. People say that when you find your passion, you will never work a day in your life, and that’s me.”