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Tastes of Home in a Faraway Land

6 March 2010 26 Comments

Alaha Ahrar

“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 (, 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.

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26 Comments to “Tastes of Home in a Faraway Land”
  1. Rosejan says:

    That is a very wonderful article. Thank you Mary for sharing this article about Alaha. She is a very talented Afghan female students and a pride for our country Afghanistan. We Afghan student from Kabul Afghanistan appreciate Alaha Ahrar’s kind efforts in helping, supporting and encouraging Afghan women. She is innocent and lovely.

    with much thanks .
    Rose Jan .

  2. zoya says:

    Alaha is very talented she is very hard working student she is helpig supporting and encouraging Afghan woman no doubt…………….:)

  3. ashwa says:

    this a an amazing article thank you for sharing this Mary Alaha is relay good .

  4. Ramsey says:

    This is a great article. I have to thank Alaha for sharing it with me.

  5. Samera Gary says:

    I also enjoyed reading this article. Everyone is right.
    Yes, thank you Mary, you always have something good for your readers.

  6. Forozan says:

    This is an extraordinary wonderful article. Thank you Alaha, you are making us to be proud. We need you and girls like you for our country, which is more than love.

  7. Sef Casim says:

    A very thoughtful and strong approach toward the future of women and Afghanistan. Best regards to everyone who is a supporter of IEAW.

  8. Malali says:

    Do you have only one article of this young lady?

  9. Tyler V says:

    This is wonderful Alaha! I am proud of your work and what you are doing with Afghan women. You truly carry the American spirit! There is no doubt you will help make Afghanistan a better place, but most of all The University of Mary Washington is a better place with you!

  10. aradhika says:

    alaha….thanks for sharing this with me. you are an inspiration for all of us. we love you!

  11. husna says:

    I like this wonderful article thank form Alaha Jan too much we really appreciate of her .she is exactly intelligent girl,

  12. alicia says:

    Thank you so much to Alaha for her beautiful piece. And to all the commenters for their responses.

    You can read more of Alaha’s wonderful writing at these links:

    Alaha is also part of the Peace X Peace Community. I encourage you to join and talk with her and others there! Click here to join:

  13. Raph Pas says:

    Im so glad you have an organization like this to go to. Glad you had fun.

  14. Rachael W. says:

    Thanks to Alaha for sharing this article with me! I met her in a study hall at UMW and she is one of the nicest people I’ve ever spoken with. I hope this program continues to grow so that more women can see what strength and potential they have.

  15. Sonia Safi says:

    Thanks for this article. Love you Alaha.

  16. husna says:

    Alaha Ahrar: That is great to find you out Alaha Jan, you were very intelligent because you had the most intelligent and talented siblings. Alaha does your sisters also study in the USA? Where is your family now?

  17. ashwa says:

    Alaha Jan very great and intelligent please write me where you study before come to USA I would to know a bout your life if you don’t mined thanks again to you and your working , and the most active girl.

  18. Vilma says:

    Wonderful article! Alaha is a very talented and strong. I support her efforts for Afghan women at UMW.

  19. Laila says:

    Alaha this is so well written! It’s such a great program.

  20. Fawad Sediqi says:

    Mashallah dear Alaha Jan,
    I am just speechless, What I want to write or tell is not expressible by words. You are more than wonderful, you are just amazing. I was thinking that you are an excellent poet & writer in Persian. I did not know that beside perusing such a difficult education of the USA, you are writing Persian and English articles & poems. How can you handle all these things all together? You are studying for your classes & working for your people, and also assisting women back home.
    You are brilliant.

  21. ashwa says:

    when i think of education girl,the first thing which comes to my mind its you, thanks ,you just understand how to write a bout
    an excellent poet & writer in Persian You are more than wonderful, you are just amazing.for all women special we are really respect you, good save you in every where,Alaha Jan.

  22. Peter says:

    I really enjoyed reading this article. Ms. Ahrar, I read all your online interviews. You will really become the first female president of Afghanistan. Wish you good luck.

  23. Homayon Ahzimi says:

    You are the right person to study in the USA and also you are the right selection of the IEAW. You are the one who will really bring a hope and peace in our country. I read your Poems I love your feelings to humanity, your country and peace.
    Proud of you our dear Afghan sister. Wish you further success i all aspects of your life.

  24. Farhad Rasekh says:

    Dear Ms. Alaha Ahrar,

    The acknowledgements and appreciations cannot express my feelings, you are unique among 1000000 Afghan women, your inspiration, determination and hard work are admirable. Reading that you are involved with these two organizations that we did not know about them already have added more to the accuracy and reputation of these organizations.


    This writer seems intelligent, smart and polite. One can understand after reading the article.

  26. Attention ! says:

    They are doing a great job by educating our females, but we need to think about every dimension of it, if this program is helping Afghan females in education, they are also helping them in forgetting their culture, religion and etc, although it is not the program telling them all that, but the environment and the people they are surrounded with while in US makes them forget what they actually are and for what they are there. The ladies are there to get education and come back to Afghanistan and help their people, but that is not true, many of the students studying under this program are actually there for fun and spending a few years of their life in US the way they want. I request the program to directly monitor every student individually, monitor their activities, courses, subjects and classes they take, I know there are girls who take unnecessary subjects just to fulfill the requirements of credit hours. There are girls who are cheating the program, there are girls who are planning to remain in US or escape to Canada any possible way they can. They are spending most of their time enjoying the free environment instead of focusing on their studies. And I have a request to the Afghan girls under this program to effectively and efficiently avail this opportunity and try to focus on their objectives (education and helping Afghans in need), and please do not forget your culture, norms, values and religion. You are there to represent Afghanistan not to adopt the western culture. I see most of them wearing dresses which actually doesn’t suits a Muslim and an Afghan…You are Muslim and Afghan representing your culture there, please represent it the real way it is and try to bring positive changes to Afghanistan not….

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