Shirin Sahani (Afghanistan)

Shirin Sahani (Omid Learning Center, Afghanistan): Shirin described herself as a “cultural nomad,” having been born in India and brought up in Iran, as well as a consummate traveler. Before pursuing a graduate degree, Shirin developed and implemented marketing communications strategies for companies in the technology, industrial and medical markets. After this exposure to the corporate sector, Shirin took her skills to the international arena, more specifically civil society organizations working on women’s social and political development in the Middle East and Asia. At the time of her fellowship, Shirin was pursuing a graduate degree at Georgetown University’s School of Foreign Service.

Afghanistan’s Home (OMID)

27 Jun

I’ve just finished my first week in Afghanistan and things have gone strangely smoothly and calmly. My housemates are wonderful, friendly and sociable and I feel like they’re old friends. Sadiqa and I have settled into a comfortable rhythm and I’ve have gotten to know pretty much everyone in the office building. Khala jan who brings us tea every morning and lunch at noon, Jamila jan (jan means dear and you add it to the end of female names as a mark of friendship and respect) who runs Noor Educational Center, another NGO housed in the same building, and her colleagues, Fariba jan, Ostad Faim. Most of my time has been spent working with Sadiqa on devising a work plan, coming up with a preliminary budget and planning our field trips to Wardak and Nangrahar to visit the schools. However, my best times are spent eating lunch with everyone in the library or waiting for internet access in Jamila jan’s office or Sadiqa’s brother’s cafe. These are times I get to hear the stories. Afghan stories of courage, fate, friendship, struggle, beliefs, and even local humor.

Jamila’s story of how her disability proved to be her passport to an education, despite the extreme conservatism of her family, and her ambition her ticket to starting a business and ultimately an NGO serving Afghan women. Sadiqa’s story of leaving her village, moving to Pakistan and working with women like Jamila on advocacy for Afghan women’s issues and ultimately fulfilling her dream to open a girl’s school in her village. Sadiqa’s sister-in-law who was born in and grew up in Iran and has now returned with her family to Afghanistan so that she can lead a proud life in her homeland rather than as a refugee in places where she always felt like an outsider. These are the stories and memories that carry me through my days and give me hope for Afghanistan.

Sadiqa’s deep-seated conviction in the rights of women and human rights in general is what grounds her work and makes OMID a sustainable enterprise. One day we were discussing women drivers and I remarked how few of them I saw. I also wasn’t surprised given the horrible traffic and lack of driving rules and regulations. I mentioned that I wouldn’t want to drive in Afghanistan. Sadiqa on the other hand said that she wanted to learn. Her husband asked what she would do if she got into an accident. His implication was that she couldn’t very well get into a fighting match with the other driver as the norm seems to be. Sadiqa very calmly but confidently remarked that she would summon the police and file a complaint. This may sound naпve in a country where corruption is rampant and the rule of law seems to be upheld through foreign assistance. But coming from Sadiqa I could see it happening. Her confidence in what is right is not only absolute but also absolutely grounded in the possibility of its existence in Afghanistan and in the Afghan people. Having spoken to some expats at a few events, I realize how lucky I am to interact with Afghans who are involved in the rebuilding and reconstruction of their land. Most expats seem removed from local efforts and are anxious to meet women like Sadiqa and Jamila. I think they recognize, as I do, that ultimately the future of Afghanistan lies in the convictions and efforts of people like Jamila and Sadiqa who have a strong belief in their culture, homeland and religion but also in the larger issues of women’s development and basic human rights.

Posted By Shirin Sahani (Afghanistan)

Posted Jun 27th, 2005

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