Board of Directors

Nirschel has received the following awards/honors:
  • Interviewed by Katie Couric on the Today Show
  • Participated in the G8 Summit, Georgia.  Spoke at a roundtable discussion with the presidential spouses
  • Mrs. Bush graduated her first students and gave the commencement speech
  • Attended White House luncheons and dinners
  • Speaker at Hawaii International Women Leadership Conference, hosted by governor
  • One of 14 program leaders, in Afghanistan and Iraq, honored by the President
  • Featured speaker at NYC Colony Club
  • Featured speaker at World Affairs Forum conference in Stamford, CT
  • Program received the 2007 New England Higher Education Excellence Award
  • Keynote speaker at annual NAFSA Region V111 Conference - DC
  • Outstanding Alumni Award - Southern CT State University

Her work has been featured in media outlets including the ​New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Washington Post, USA Today, CNN, CBS, Christian Science, Boston Globe, International Herald Tribune, National Public Radio, Advancing Philanthropy, Providence Journal, and Rhode Island Monthly.
Paula is the proud mother of three children, a son in law, and a daughter in law, and two grandchildren. She cherishes her family and friends. Time off is spent out in nature, active, reading, volunteering, traveling, and enjoying the gift of life. 


In August 2013, the AFAW was created to help the dire situation in Southern Afghanistan. Paula knows that, with a village of caring Americans, many lives can be changed for the better in Southern Afghanistan.  Our focus of lessening the abuse of women in that area is key. Her last program was mainly in Kabul. It is time now to  move on to Kandahar and Helmand, since good seeds need to be planted there.

Barbara Platts

Barbara Platts is an award-winning columnist, the editor-in-chief of Sweet Jane Magazine, and the editor-in-chief of Lunch Ticket. She’s worked in many forms of journalism and is pursuing her MFA for nonfiction writing at Antioch University. Platts has experience in nonprofit work centered around women's rights in countries in the Middle East. She's been on the board of AFAW since the start. She was previously on the board of the Marshall Direct Fund, an organization dedicated to alleviating poverty in Pakistani communities by providing free, quality education for girls, as well as economic empowerment opportunities for women. She lives in Boulder, Colorado with her husband and two adorable pups. Follow her on Twitter and Instagram @BarbaraPlatts.

Dr. Alana Shah

Dr. Alana Shah has worked as a hospitalist at Aspen Valley Hospital since 2019 and is a board certified physician in Internal Medicine and Pediatrics. She attended University of Pittsburgh for medical school and Vanderbilt University Medical Center for her residency. Prior to medical school, she worked full-time in Ecuador in the nonprofit sector as the Medical Brigade Coordinator for Timmy Global Health, an international organization empowering communities to improve local health outcomes. It was there that she gained a first-hand appreciation for the challenging path faced by so many people in developing countries. Shah also serves on the Executive Committee of the Section on Med-Peds for the American Academy of Pediatrics. She was honored to join AFAW and is invested in the mission to increase access to education for women​ in Afghanistan.

Pete Louras

Pete Louras worked as a senior executive of Clorox for more than a decade, building and operating a significant international business and working with people from different cultures and ethnic backgrounds around the world. He continued to use his strong operations and financial expertise as the independent chairman of Simpson Manufacturing Company, Inc. He’s also served and led several boards of nonprofits and public and private companies in the last 35 years. Currently, he’s a member of the Colorado Rocky Mountain School board, the Aspen Hopsital Foundation board and Audit Committee, and he serves as a board member on the Pitkin County Financial Advisory Board. He and his wife, Sam, moved to Aspen full time in 2005 and enjoy skiing, golf, tennis, hiking, biking, and pickleball. 

Dr. Mary E. Schmidt

Dr. Mary E. Schmidt is a physician, is board certified in Infectious Diseases, and has a master’s degree in public health focusing on the barriers to receiving and implementing care. She’s volunteered in several countries, each with different economic and health concerns. Dr. Schmidt is President of Schmidt & Libby Health Advisory Group, where she advises individuals and organizations on the best health and infectious disease practices. She’s participated on several boards and committees throughout her career, often taking leadership roles. In addition to Action for Afghan Women, she is on the board of Hememics Biotechnology Company and the Medical Society of Virginia Foundation. She’s been on the board of Inova Health System Quality and Safety, the Medical Society of Virginia, and was President of the Medical Staff of Inova Fairfax Medical Campus. Dr. Schmidt is involved in education as an adjunct professor in the School of International Health at John Hopkins School of Public Health, a fellow of the Infectious Disease Society of America, and a special advisor to the President of Elizabethtown College. She and her husband, Dr. Russell Libby, support scholarships for students at Elizabethtown College, George Washington University School of Medicine, and George Mason University. In her spare time, she likes to hike, bike, ski, listen to and play music.

Dr. Khan-Farooqi

Dr. Waqqar Khan-Farooqi is an orthopedic surgeon with the Steadman Clinic in Aspen, Colorado. The son of Pakistani immigrants from the tribal region bordering Afghanistan, he has seen firsthand the positive effect formal schooling can have on a woman’s agency. He was born and raised in Stockton, California before heading to Stanford University for his undergraduate and medical school training. Khan-Farooqi and his wife, Dr. Thea Wojtkowski, are raising four children, including three daughters, in a home dedicated to maximizing education personally and societally. They are honored to be a part of AFAW.

Dr. Kimberly Levin

Kimberly Levin is an emergency physician who moved to Aspen in 2006 and works in the ER at both Aspen Valley Hospital and Valley View Hospital. She also has a Masters in Public Heath and has filled the role of Pitkin County medical officer since 2013, advising the county on medical and public health issues, including throughout the COVID-19 pandemic. She has participated in several medical trips to work in developing nations including in Haiti, Ethiopia, and Nicaragua. Originally from the Berkshires in Western Massachusetts, Levin found home in Aspen where she can be passionate about her career while immersing in the heart of the Rocky Mountains. 

Empowering Afghan Women for a Better Future

Ariel Kessler 

Ariel Kessler is a lifelong learner and people person. With a background in nonprofit fundraising and endowment stewardship in higher education, she currently practices in the health and wellness field. Kessler believes strongly in the empowerment of women through education and in its foundational power to drive forward societal progress for all.

Founder

Paula Nirschel

Paula Nirschel has been a frequent visitor to Afghanistan. Over the years she has combined her work visits with many good times spent with Afghan hosts and friends. Afghan hospitality and pride is the best. Nirschel commits her life's work to promoting a better life for Afghan women, their families, and communities. 
In 2001, Paula created a successful nonprofit education program for Afghan women. The mission was to educate future female leaders for Afghanistan, in the areas of business and politics. Fifty five women graduated with four-year US college degrees. Their experience was life changing and contributed to the great pride of their homeland. Doris Buffet was the largest donor, and Laura Bush was a mentor, having Paula speak at many of her functions.