Davidson Day embraces girl from Afghanistan

Noor Jahana was concentrating with a pencil and paper the morning I visited her at Davidson Day School.

Fellow student Cole Jessey, 8, of Mooresville, was writing out numbers for her to add - 1 plus 1, 2 plus 1, 10 plus 1.

In her Davidson Day navy cardigan sweater, navy polo shirt, khaki skirt and pink-and-gray sneakers, Noor Jahana blended in with the other students in teacher Kirsten Raybourn's class of third-graders.

Noor Jahana, however, is two years older than her classmates, knows little English and has spent at least a month in a Charlotte hospital this school year.

She arrived in the Lake Norman area June 21 with 20 other children from Afghanistan through Solace for the Children. The local nonprofit organization has provided medical, dental and optical services to children in need since 1997, thanks to local doctors who perform the procedures for free.

The children stay with host families. Noor Jahana's consists of Scott and Stephanie Pierce of Cornelius and their twins, Davidson Day students Emma and Thomas Brennan, 14.

Most of the Afghan children returned home in August. Six remained for extra medical help, and all of those except Noor Jahana are scheduled to fly home today. She will continue to live with the Pierces until she's well enough to return to her parents and five younger brothers.

Her pelvis was crushed, her bladder damaged and her right leg broken when a military vehicle ran over her two years ago, Scott and Stephanie Pierce said. Her kidney isn't working properly, and as a result, she needs more surgery.

Through it all, Davidson Day students, teachers and staff have embraced Noor Jahana, which are her first and middle names. Solace for the Children doesn't disclose last names, to protect the children's identities and those of their families back home. Noor Jahana is from the particularly violent Helmand province.

Despite her medical problems, Noor Jahana cheers Thomas on at his varsity soccer matches and joins other Davidson Day students when they take her to the school playground each day. She's excited to pack her lunch each morning and get to school.

"We get there and she's off with the other kids," Stephanie Pierce said.

Noor Jahana moved from one activity to the next in Raybourn's class. Before I knew it, she was smiling and laughing as she tossed dice as part of a math game with Lauren Skolaris, 9, of Davidson and Izzy Gosling, 8, of Mooresville. "She's good at jacks," Lauren observed.

Noor Jahana soon darted from the room when Emma and Thomas walked down the hall. She hugged Emma tightly, as if she hadn't seen her in years. She reached up to Thomas and pleaded for a hug, but Thomas played it as cool as any other teenage boy. He smiled down at the 54-pound girl, but his body language suggested she forget about a big, emotional embrace.

While her classmates have made Noor Jahana just another member of the pack, they also know her circumstances and go out of their way to help her, her teachers said.

"I just never thought they'd be as caring and trusting as they've been with her, and how accepting they are," Raybourn said.

Each time Noor Jahana undergoes a procedure at Presbyterian Hemby Children's Hospital, students express concern when they realize she's absent, Raybourn said.

"We're all about family here," Head of School Bonnie Cotter said. "It's family first. And how we define 'family' is very broad. This family has been with us a long time, and Noor Jahana has become a part of their family. Why not our family, too?"