Getting an education and having the right to be anything we want to be are some of the values we as Americans hold dear to ourselves. Unfortunately, such opportunities are not available to people, especially women, in impoverished countries around the world.
I want to share a story of a girl who grew up in Afghanistan with dreams of the world outside her small village. This girl wanted what most children want – to be healthy, to go to school and to be somebody when she grows up. She aspired to receive an education and would study her brother’s books in the evenings after long days of hard work at home. This girl had a clear sense of desire and care for others that had been instilled at a young age from her family’s strong moral values. Thus, her vision for a better life was not just for herself, but also for those in greater need. Twenty-seven years ago, I was this girl that I now speak of. Today, I am living my dream as the founder of the non-for-profit organization, AWAKEN, Afghan Women’s And Kids’ Education & Necessities.
Back in 1979, when I was 13 years old, the Soviet Union invaded Afghanistan. The peaceful life I had was taken from me. A year later, my family and I were forced to flee from Afghanistan, walking on a two day journey through the mountains before arriving at a refugee camp in Pakistan. There was no safety ensured for the girls attending school in the camp, which is why I spend the next 6 years of my life cooking, cleaning, and providing medical assistance to other refugees alongside my father. One of my brothers, three cousins, and my grandfather were killed during this time of war. Despite the difficulties of the refugee life, I was able to meet my future husband, Saber Bahrami, a medical student. Two years later, we were engaged, and then Saber went off to the United States to finish his residency.
In 1986, I boarded a plane to meet my fiancé. I was leaving the only place I had known my entire life. It was hard to leave my family behind, but I was excited to meet Saber and have the opportunity to fulfill my dream. Soon after arriving, Saber and I got married and I started my married life in my new country. I became homesick, experienced culture shocks, and could not speak the English language. But, with the encouragement and support of Saber, I learned English, earned my GED, and continued my education at Ball State University. I managed to do all of this while raising 6 children and caring for an elderly mother-in-law. None of this would have been possible without the amazing educational system provided to me in America. Being able to drop my kids in day care while I could go to school was just one of the many benefits I had. I was exceedingly thankful for my situation as I could not have achieved any of these accomplishments if I were still in Afghanistan.
The images of the Afghan women and children who suffered during the war and under the Taliban never left my mind, and I was determined to continue helping in any way that I could. On several occasions between 1986 and 2002, Saber and I returned to the refugee camps in Pakistan and the rural villages of Afghanistan. We took medical and humanitarian supplies and treated as many people as possible.
After the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks on the United States, President Bush encouraged all of us to help those living in war-torn countries, particularly Afghanistan. My husband and I decided to take a part in the rebuilding process, and we wanted to extend our efforts to our local communities. In 2002 with the help of family and friends, I was able to organize AWAKEN (Afghan Women’s And Kids’ Education & Necessities, Inc.), a not for profit organization. AWAKEN was established to provide educational opportunities, vocational training, and healthcare services to the women and children of Afghanistan.
Education: in 2004, we built and staffed a school for over 900 boys and girls in 2004. We also provided scholarships to those students who were unable to attend school during the war.
Vocational for the last 8 years: We have provided academic, sewing, and hygiene classes for over 250 women. After the women completed their six month course, we gave each of them a sewing machine, so they can continue to provide for their families or earn money by sewing for others.
Healthcare Services in 2008: We have built and staffed a medical clinic which provides service to over 500 families, and the doctors see over 2500 patients a month.