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May 27, 2019

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Afghan woman braves risks to aid children

Suraya Sadeed

Suraya Sadeed does not take no for an answer and will not let anyone stand in her way while bringing aid and education to one of the most violent places in the world: her native Afghanistan.

Searching for solace after personal turmoil, Sadeed's major turning point was the 9/11 terrorist attacks. "All of a sudden, I felt so vulnerable" as an Afghan-American, she said in a Bluffton University Forum on March 13. But then, seeing another side of Americans-caring, genuine, passionate, generous-in a time of crisis, her organization to promote social justice in Afghanistan really took flight.

As executive director of Help the Afghan Children, which she founded in 1993, Sadeed has helped provide educational opportunities to girls in Afghanistan who were once banned from any formal schooling. Her efforts at humanitarian aid and medical care, along with education and hope, have benefited an estimated 1.7 million Afghan children and their families.

Sadeed, who had become a successful businesswoman after coming to the U.S. from Afghanistan in 1982, said many Afghan girls "feel vulnerable" but still attend school "despite the danger they risk" every day.

Noting the brutal violence-acid burns, arson and death-that they face, she asked, "How do girls overcome barriers; what motivates them?" The answer is their persistence and determination, she said, quoting one girl's exclamation: "This is a fight between knowledge and ignorance!" If the aim is to stop me from going to school, it failed."

"This is why our organization has been proposing a national education peace program," said Sadeed, calling the work for women's educational rights and other social justice in Afghanistan "a process." She is trying to promote justice through tolerance, she added, while also pursuing a master's degree in peace and conflict studies.

The author of "Forbidden Lessons in a Kabul Guesthouse" also challenged her listeners to act. "If girls are willing to take these risks," she said, "what are we willing to do?"