Post September 9/11, lives in the US were forever changed. Elsewhere in the world, lives were changed as well.
Paula Nirschel was an American woman so disturbed by the then new-found knowledge of how Afghan women were forced to be hidden under their burqas during the Taliban’s 7-year reign, and that they weren’t allowed an education that it made her vow to do something about it. And she did.
Her frustrations and disturbed spirit led to the creation of the Initiative to Educate Afghan Women (IEAW), where she aims to bring education to Afghan women, forever changing their lives for the better.
“I wanted a group of women to come to America to experience the freedom of education and to strengthen their self-worth, then return home and teach others what they learned in the United States,” Paula says.
The Roger Williams University was the first in the US to come forward and support with a full scholarship toward a woman from Afghanistan. Because of Paula’s relentless pursuits for her cause, other universities have since followed suit.
Paula Nirschel, founder of the Initiative to educate Afghan Women with a group of Afghan women on scholarships in the US. Photo: IEAW
IEAW is currently the only program that offers US college scholarships for women from Afghanistan, a country that offers limited higher education because of the lack in resources. In a 2010 newsletter from IEAW, it was reported that young Afghan women were being poisoned for attending school. This not only shows that Afghan women were willing to put their lives at stake in order to gain an education, it also tells us that there are strongholds in Afghan mindsets about women in education that have yet to be broken.
The numbers of students enrolled in the program can speak volumes in terms of IEAW’s success in its mission. Where in the first year there were only four students in the program, the number now stands at 33 students in 15 colleges or universities for the 2010-2011 academic year. Here are some words from one of the young Afghan student:
“A successful man/woman is not the one who tries not to fall, but the one who falls and has the courage to stand up and keep walking. Afghans have fallen many times but they are not willing to give up just yet. Every society goes through failures before it produces the leaders who know how to redeem the society. The failure stage is agonizing, sorrowful, dark and pessimistic. It is true that Afghanistan lost everything it ever had during the long days of civil war and foreign invasions. However, people have learned that war is easy to start but hard to end. Our parents are one of those who saw the destruction and abasement that comes with the war. They are the ones who see us as the new hope, the seeds of peace and prosperity in Afghanistan. We, the new generation of Afghanistan, intend to empower the vulnerable in the society. Thanks to IEAW, respectful donors, family and friends for their continuous support, love, help and trust.”
Fazila will be a senior at Sweet Briar College.
Perhaps we will only see the fruit of education a generation later but by providing an education for these young Afghan women, we have given them, their family and their nation new hope.