Tastes of Home in a Faraway Land
“Mrs. Nirschel’s goal in having this winter break program is to create solidarity and friendship among the members of the IEAW so that when we go back to Afghanistan we will know that we are not alone.”
I am a sophomore at Mary Washington University in Virginia, so, this was the second year that I participated in a very special Intersession [winter break] Program. Mrs. Paula Nirschel, founder of the Initiative to Educate Afghan Women (IEAW), rented three houses near the beach in Emerald Isle, North Carolina, for Afghan female students and one house for IEAW staff, who are also women. The other Afghan students and I cooked different types of traditional Afghan food and played all those games which are appropriate for Afghan women in our culture. Ginger, one of the staff, taught us how to do yoga again this year. She loves Rumi, the greatest poet of Afghanistan, and always ends our classes with reciting a poem from Rumi. Ginger is a real supporter of the IEAW students; therefore, all the IEAW students, especially Alaha, love her and Paula very much.
Mrs. Nirschel’s goal in having this winter break program is to create solidarity and friendship among the members of the IEAW so that when we go back to Afghanistan we will know that we are not alone. As an Afghan student of the program I cherish the work of Mrs. Nirschel.
Over the past three decades of Afghanistan’s civil war, thousands of women died, many of them lost limbs to land mines, and almost every family lost their dear ones. The lack of security made women’s rights movements decline. Problems have emerged in every aspect of women’s lives. All these problems demoted women to the lowest position in the society. The lack of security made Afghan men sensitive and critical of their female family members’ movements; in order to protect their female family member’s reputation, some Afghan men avoided sending their daughters and sisters to school. This decision of families led to a very severe decline of educated women and that created serious problems.
For example, based on Afghanistan’s rich culture, Afghans need female doctors, teachers, journalists, lawyers, and policewomen because most Afghan families do not allow men to cure, teach, or talk to their female family members. Afghan women were seeking help from other women.
In such a sensitive situation, the Initiative to Educate Afghan Women (http://www.ieaw.org/), founded by Mrs. Paula Nirschel in 2002, emerged to answer our need. The IEAW, with the consideration and understanding of Afghan cultural values and beliefs, decided to educate Afghan women. Every year Mrs. Nirschel takes a group of Afghan women from Kabul and sends them to different universities in the United States. To assure that Afghan women do not forget their own norms, values, and the rich Afghan culture, she gathers together all Afghan female students from all over the USA every winter break. This program is just for Afghan women, so all of us feel good and safe to talk and exchange ideas and experiences with each other. After a semester filled with studies, tests, and deadlines, it is wonderful to relax together and speak our own language.