Food distribution to 18 families outside Latifa's Primary School in Kandahar in 2022. Many of the families receiving food packages have daughters who receive education at the school. Credit: Nanna Muus

Latifa Woodhouse of Great Neck may have left Afghanistan 46 years ago, but she has never forgotten its people. She and her husband, Colin, co-founded an organization called Shared Humanity USA in 2016 that first worked with refugees in Greece, but in recent years has pivoted to Afghanistan.

“I haven’t been back, but I feel like I’m there every day,” she said. “I have relatives there and our work is there. I never disconnected. On the other hand, physically I haven’t been back there since 1977.”

Among the nonprofit’s recent successes was the March 8 graduation of 90 women from the Shared Humanity USA Bibi Alexandra Women’s Center, which opened in 2021 to teach English, computers and sewing.

“For every occasion, I send a message to the women, the children, mothers and fathers,” Woodhouse, 70, said of a message she recorded and beamed nearly 7,000 miles to Afghanistan.

In her speech, Woodhouse noted that the women have rights, encouraged them to work hard and, seeking to balance inspiration with a recognition of the laws of the country, urged perseverance.

Since the Taliban took control of Afghanistan in 2021, it has limited and modified education for females, prohibiting women from attending college. Woodhouse, however, has been working to provide education and opportunity for girls and women — as well as boys. And she’s careful to work within the Taliban’s laws, following the lead of Afghan partners there.

Shared Humanity USA was originally founded to serve refugees, in particular, those from Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan in Camp Moria in Lesbos, Greece. In 2020, the nonprofit shifted to working in Afghanistan, where it has opened schools, drilled water wells and provided humanitarian aid in the form of food and tents to refugees moving from one province to another.

It has eight paid staff in Afghanistan, with seven board members and another 14 volunteers or advisers in the United States. Its mission today is to provide rescue and relief in the form of food, clothes, blankets, solar power and air conditioning; to bring safe and clean water; and to provide education in Kandahar, Afghanistan.

As president of Shared Humanity USA, Latifa Woodhouse writes curriculum and oversees daily programming for the schools and the women’s center in Afghanistan. As Shared Humanity USA’s treasurer, Colin Woodhouse oversees finances.

Over the past two years, it has raised about $300,000, through the Woodhouses’ family, the board, grants and fundraisers. The nonprofit spends about $50,000 a year on programming and hopes to open more schools and women’s centers, which would increase its budget to $85,000.

“She gives us the opportunity to break through and help people,” said her husband, Colin, 75, who works as a financial adviser. “She knows the language, the situation, where they came from.”

The Woodhouse family, from left, Colin, Latifa, Evan, Jessica, Sophia, Sarah and Alexandra Woodhouse, in Manhattan in 2022. Credit: Woodhouse Family

Refugee aid

The Woodhouse family initially found common cause in helping refugees in Greece, which had become a transit point for many refugees.

“Every one of my children traveled with us to Greece and worked with us in the refugee camps,” Latifa Woodhouse said of the nonprofit’s origins. “They’re on the board or board advisers.”

Colin Woodhouse calls Shared Humanity USA a “family cause” that spread far beyond family.

“I feel what we’ve done is inherent in the community of Long Island,” Colin added. “All you need to do is take a chance and follow your heart.”

Jessica, 43, the oldest child and a corporate attorney in Manhattan, helps with legal matters; while Evan, 37, a New York City public high school teacher, Sophia, 36, an advertising professional, Sarah, 35, a marketing professional, and Alexandra, 33, who works in marketing, all help promote the nonprofit.

Sophia and Alexandra serve on the board, Sophia as vice president and Alexandra as director of marketing and promotion.

The Woodhouses have also found support at the Unitarian Universalist Congregation at Shelter Rock, in Manhasset, where they are members. Individual members donate money and serve on the board.

“Latifa and the Woodhouse family are very dedicated, thoughtful, conscientious and compassionate in their work with refugees, displaced persons and communities experiencing trauma and the aftereffects of war,” said the Rev. Natalie Fenimore, the congregation’s lead minister. “It’s part of their longtime commitment to justice and service work.”

Barry Nobel, a congregation member and Shared Humanity USA board secretary, echoed that. “We find out where the needs are and we help people directly, not through third parties,” he said. “Our overhead is minuscule compared to large organizations. I’m proud that this organization has a real, positive impact.”

“I haven’t been back, but I feel like I’m there...

“I haven’t been back, but I feel like I’m there every day,” Latifa Woodhouse says of her relationship with Afghanistan. Credit: Dawn McCormick

A kid in Kandahar

Latifa Woodhouse says simply that education “is the story of my life,” but Afghanistan remains her homeland and has a special place in her heart. She was brought up in a large, prominent family (her paternal grandfather had 28 grandchildren) in Kandahar that included a long line of imams, or Muslim religious leaders.

Her father, who died in 2005 in Manhattan, was the mayor of Kalat, a city in the province of Zabul, the third largest in Afghanistan, and her mother, 84, now lives in Albany. They had 12 children.

“I was like a second mother,” Latifa Woodhouse said of her early training in caring for others.

Because she came from a “religious family,” Woodhouse said, she wore a burqa (a whole body covering), in class at the secular school she attended, though most girls there did not.

Woodhouse, who already knew English, enrolled in the University of Kabul to study education. She also began teaching Pashto and Farsi to Peace Corps volunteers — nurses, engineers, professors and others. It was at the university that she met her future husband.

“I met Latifa when I was a Peace Corps volunteer in Afghanistan,” Colin Woodhouse said. He was also teaching at the university.

Colin was looking for actors for a play — Latifa “applied and got accepted,” she said. She became his tutor after the play — and the two struck up a relationship.

“I came from a well-known family. You don’t date in Afghanistan,” Latifa said, explaining they were chaperoned by her brother.

A U.S. cultural attache asked if she would consider applying for a Fulbright scholarship, and Colin encouraged her. “I was the first woman from Kandahar to be awarded a Fulbright scholarship,” Latifa said.

In July 1977, she traveled on a Fulbright to study teaching English as a second language at the University at Albany; Colin met her at the airport and asked her to marry him. She then met his family in Stamford, Connecticut, and they married on Aug. 20 that year.

Two years later, the then-Soviet Union invaded Afghanistan. “Everything was censored,” Latifa said, noting her uncle and a cousin were executed by a pro-Soviet government.

The Woodhouses later sponsored 13 family members, including her father, mother, grandmother, brothers and sisters, to come to the United States. She has a brother who remains in Afghanistan.

Two village elders inspect the Mohammad Nabi Akhundzada well, build by Shared Humanity USA, in Mahal Nejat village in Kandahar province in April 2022. Credit: Nanna Muus

A photo started it all

Latifa Woodhouse taught English as a second language for 25 years in public school in New York City and then for five years on Long Island — in Great Neck, Baldwin and Uniondale — retiring in 2012. The family lived in Queens and then moved to Great Neck.

A single event and image would shock the Woodhouse family into action. The death of Alan Kurdi, a 2-year-old Syrian child who washed up on a beach in Turkey in 2015, sparked “a conversation around our dinner table that later turned into a call for action and commitment to do something,” Sophia Woodhouse said.

“That picture went around the world,” Colin Woodhouse said. “I said ‘I can’t understand why bodies of babies are floating ashore.’ ”

Latifa Woodhouse recalls asking, “What are we going to do?” The answer was Shared Humanity USA, which, with Hofstra University’s graduate law program’s pro bono help, became a nonprofit in 2017.

They initially set up emergency relief and vocational centers for refugees in Greece, working with Syrian, Afghan, Iraqi and other refugees. Latifa Woodhouse worked in a health clinic, at a refugee camp and as a cultural adviser and translator. Shared Humanity USA provided money to help refugees travel to Europe, for medicine, food and clothing, and created schools and a women’s center.

In August 2021, after the Taliban took control of Afghanistan, they focused on that country, “where we as an organization could have the most impact,” Sophia Woodhouse said.

Shared Humanity USA has provided food relief, built five fresh-water wells in rural areas hit by drought, and established three elementary schools, primarily for orphans: Bibi Sophia, Bibi Sarah and Bibi Latifa, the last one a girls-only elementary schools. It also opened Bibi Alexandra Women’s Vocational Center at Bibi Sophia in 2021.

“We have an English class, a computer class and tailoring classes,” Najeebullah Amiri, the principal, said in a video message about the center.

The Woodhouses and Shared Humanity USA set up, oversee, provide curriculum, funds and support, while staff in Afghanistan teach and administer services.

“We have teachers who are motivated with skills comparable to what we have in the West in terms of their knowledge and treatment of children,” Colin Woodhouse said of the schools that offer the public-school curriculum along with English, computer, science, art and physical education. “It’s a happy, friendly place where kids and teachers are excited.”

Shanaz, 22, left, teaches sewing at Bibi Sarah's Primary School in Kandahar in April 2022. Credit: Nanna Muus

Finding support

As president of the Fred and Gilda Nobel Foundation, an Oyster Bay environmental and social justice nonprofit, Shared Humanity USA board member Barry Nobel initially gave the nonprofit $10,000 a year, increasing that to $40,000 annually as of 2021.

“We’ve extended our reach and donor base,” Nobel said of Shared Humanity USA, noting a December fundraiser at Chelsea Market in Manhattan that raised $4,000. “Our money goes a long way.”

He said Latifa Woodhouse’s connections in Kandahar make it possible to “do work in that country” with paid staff, such as teachers and administrators.

Amiri, the principal of Bibi Sofia and its vocational center, said in the video that he has “participated in many workshops, seminars and trainings” in education. Students communicate with Latifa Woodhouse through WhatsApp and have recorded videos expressing gratitude to Shared Humanity USA for its support.

“Thank you to Latifa for opening this vocational center for us,” one woman said in a video translated by Amiri. “In the future, I’d like you to make a center or a place for us to work and find a market for our products.”

Latifa Woodhouse hopes to expand the women’s vocational center. “I want to create jobs for them, so they can work for a salary for Shared Humanity, so we can sell their goods in the international market,” she said. “My hope is to connect with a designer to create a market in the United States and Europe for their hand-embroidery work and different designs.”

While Shared Humanity USA’s work involves educating others, Woodhouse family members say they also have learned from being part of the organization.

“What I learned over the past eight years that I have been involved in Shared Humanity is that what you do — no matter how big or small — can have a profound impact on others’ lives,” Sophia Woodhouse said. “The pain and suffering of others can be overwhelming, and people often feel as if there is nothing they can do to help, but the truth is you can always find a way to help.”


If you’re interested in donating money or volunteering for Shared Humanity USA to improve the lives of people in Afghanistan, go to


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