Founded in Muncie, Indiana, AWAKEN is a highly visible part of Bibi’s lifetime of service to others. Bibi was born in the village of Qala-e-Malakh located in the Behsood district of eastern Afghanistan and was strongly influenced by her parents’ continued assistance to disadvantaged people in their village when she was a child. At a young age, she learned and practiced values of service and community by working alongside them, always volunteering to help in any way she could.
Life as she knew it completely changed when Bibi was just thirteen years old – it was 1979 and the Soviet Union had invaded Afghanistan. The resulting war devastated the country and led to the deaths of millions of Afghans; Bibi herself lost many family members including one of her brothers, three cousins and her grandfather.
She and her family were forced to flee from their home. They walked for two days through the mountains to get to Peshawar, Pakistan and where she lived in a refugee camp for six years. There was no safe way for girls to get an education there so Bibi spent her time helping others: cooking, cleaning, giving vaccinations and IVs for anyone in need of care at the make-shift clinics in the camp.
As fate would have it, her future husband was a refugee in the same camp and came from the same village of Qala-e-Malakh! Saber was a bright medical student whose education was disrupted by the war. He was also serving in a camp clinic at the time helping those in need. His parents loved the idea of Bibi as future wife for Saber and her parents likewise loved the idea of Saber as Bibi’s husband. She and Saber were engaged before his leaving for the U.S. to further his medical career.
Watch a video about a day in the life of Bibi Bahrami, AWAKEN's founder and president.
In 1986, at the age of 19, Bibi came to Muncie, Indiana as and married Saber, who was finishing his residency. After learning English and earning her GED, she continued her education at Ball State University—all while raising six children. She beat the odds not only as a refugee but also as a mother and caretaker. She credits the educational system of the United States and the luxury of safe day care while she was in school for making it possible for her to achieve this dream. Still, there was not a day that went by since she moved to the US that she did not think about the women and children that she left behind, the ones that were not as fortunate as her.
Over the years she and Saber made several trips back to the refugee camps in Pakistan and to the rural villages of Afghanistan. Since the war, over 7 million Afghans had been displaced from their homes and the need was greater than ever. Each time they visited, Bibi and Saber took medical and humanitarian supplies and treated as many people as possible. After the September 11 terrorist attack, there was a window of hope and opportunity for change in Afghanistan due to increased US support. Realizing that this was her chance to finally give back to the communities they left behind, she founded the non-profit AWAKEN in 2002 with the goal of providing educational opportunities, vocational training and healthcare to women and children of Afghanistan.