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The National Geographic Society, based in Washington, D.C. in the United States, is one of the world's largest non-profit educational and scientific organizations. Its research interests include geography and natural science, the promotion of environmental and historical conservation, and the study of world culture and history.

Its historical mission is "to increase and diffuse geographic knowledge while promoting the conservation of the world's cultural, historical, and natural resources." Its current President and CEO, John M. Fahey, Jr., says National Geographic's purpose is to inspire people to care about their planet. The Society is governed by a twenty-three member Board of Trustees composed of a group of distinguished educators, businesspeople, scientists, former governmental officials, and conservationists. The organization sponsors and funds scientific research and exploration. The Society publishes an official journal, National Geographic Magazine, and other magazines, books, and other publications in numerous languages and countries around the world. It also has an educational foundation that gives grants to education organizations and individuals to enhance geography education. Its Committee for Research and Exploration has given grants for scientific research for most of its history and has recently awarded its 9,000th grant for scientific research, conducted worldwide and often reported on by its media properties. Its various media properties reach about 280 million people around the world monthly.

National Geographic Magazine
The National Geographic Magazine, later shortened to National Geographic, is the official journal of the National Geographic Society. It published its first issue nine months after the Society was founded. It has become one of the world's best-known magazines and is immediately identifiable by the characteristic yellow border running around the edge of its cover.

There are 12 monthly issues of National Geographic per year, plus additional map supplements. On rare occasions, special editions are also issued. It contains articles about geography, popular science, world history, current events and photography. The current Editor-in-Chief of National Geographic Magazine is the reknowned photographer, Chris Johns, who has photographed extensively in Africa. The foreword to Johns' own book on Africa was written by Nelson Mandela.

Sharbat Gula
Sharbat Gula as seen in the photo used for the 1985 issue of National Geographic

Sharbat Gula (Pashto for "sweetwater flower girl", born c. 1973) is an Afghan woman of Pashtun ethnicity. Her face became famous as a cover photograph on a 1985 issue of National Geographic magazine.

The editors of National Geographic say Sharbat's image became one of the most famous in its 114-year history, yet she had never seen the photograph which brought her miserable plight to Western eyes.

Gula was orphaned during the Soviet Union's bombing of Afghanistan. While at the Nasir Bagh refugee camp in Pakistan in 1984, her picture was taken by National Geographic photographer Steve McCurry. Gula was one of the students in an informal school within the refugee camp; McCurry, rarely given the opportunity to photograph Afghan women, seized the opportunity and captured her image. She was approximately 12 years old at the time.

Although her name was not known, her picture, titled "Afghan Girl", appeared on the June 1985 cover of National Geographic magazine. The image of her face, with a red scarf draped loosely over her head and with her piercing blue-green eyes staring directly into the camera, became a symbol both of the 1980s Afghan conflict and of the refugee situation worldwide. The image itself was named as "the most recognized photograph" in the history of the magazine.

The identity of the "Afghan Girl" remained unknown for over 15 years; Afghanistan remained largely closed to Western media until after the overthrow of the Taliban government in 2001. Although McCurry made several attempts during the 1990s to locate her, he was unsuccessful. In January 2002, a National Geographic team travelled to Afghanistan to locate the subject of the now-famous photograph. McCurry, upon learning that the Nasir Bagh refugee camp was soon to close, inquired of its remaining residents, one of whom knew Gula's brother and was able to send word to her hometown. However, there were a number of women who came forward and identified themselves erroneously as the famous Afghan Girl.
Sharbat Gula in 1985 and in 2002.The team finally located Gula, then roughly age 30, in a remote region of Afghanistan; she had returned to her native country from the refugee camp in 1992. Her identity was confirmed using biometric technology which matched her iris patterns to those of the photograph with virtual certainty. She vividly recalled being photographed – she had never had her picture taken before or since. In the late 1980s, Gula married; she has three daughters. A fourth daughter died in infancy. Sharbat stated she hopes that her girls will get the education she was never able to complete. Modern pictures of her were featured as part of a cover story on her life in the April 2002 issue of National Geographic and was the subject of a television documentary which aired in March 2002. In recognition of her, National Geographic set up a charitable fund with the goal of benefiting Afghan women.