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Afghan student is a profile in courage
Afghan student speaks about the plight of women in her native land

 Alaha Ahrar, an Afghan woman who attends the University of Mary Washington, says that if God wills it, she will become her homeland's first woman president. She spoke about her life yesterday at a Fredericksburg church.
PETER CIHELKA/THE FREE LANCE-STAR
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Persian Poem by Alaha Ahrar:

آرزوی صلح در جهان

آرزو دارم که دایـم صلح باشـد در جـهان

با لب پرخنده بینم هر طرف طفل و جوان

آرزو دارم به انـسان زندگی ای با هـمی

فرق رنگ و ملت و لسان نباشد در میان

آرزو دارم نگــردند طـفـلکان بیشتر یتیم

تا نمانند بیـسواد و شاقۀ کار از بهـر نان

آرزو دارم که آیـــد عـاطــفه بر هـــر دلـی

تا همه نسل بشرباشند بهم یک جسم و جان

آرزو دارد (الـهه) مـیهنـش گـردد صـــفـا

جنگ منفوراست بهر جا صلح باشدهرزمان

با احترام،

سجیه الهه (احرار)

English translation:

Hope/ desire for world peace

Wishing there is lasting world peace,

I wish to see young and old, Lips full of smile

Wishing to live together as humans,

Where there is no difference of color, nation and language.

Wishing no more children become orphans,

Where for a piece of bread, they suffer illiteracy and hard child labor.

Wishing sympathy comes to every heart,

So humanity is one body and soul.

“Alaha” wishes for a renewed land,

Where war is despised when there is peace/ war is cussed! I desire peace everywhere.

Written by:

Alaha Ahrar

Date published: 4/5/2010

By CATHY DYSON

Alaha Ahrar hopes her homeland of Afghanistan will become a peaceful nation once more--and that she can lead it, one day.

"I will become the first female president of Afghanistan, if God wills," Ahrar told about 80 people gathered in the fellowship hall of the Presbyterian Church in Fredericksburg yesterday.

Those who know the 21-year-old, who went to secret schools as a child because females aren't allowed to get an education, believe she can bring about reform, if anyone can.

"My hat's off to her," said Terrie Crawley, who with her husband, William, is paying for Ahrar's education at the University of Mary Washington. "I think she does have a shot at being president, if things improve. I hope we live to see it."

Ahrar spoke to the church's adult Sunday school classes on Easter morning--and thanked the audience for giving her time on such a sacred holiday.

During a slide show, she documented the violent history of her homeland and talked about various invaders, from Mongol rulers to Soviet fighters, who have tried to conquer her people. She told the audience how attackers killed all the intellectuals and destroyed their libraries and agricultural lands.

"Due to decades of war, Afghanistan turned into a war zone and into one of the most unfortunate areas of the world," she said.

Ahrar thanked her biological parents, who struggled greatly to educate her and her two older sisters. She also acknowledged the Crawleys, her "American parents," who had given her a "golden opportunity" to study abroad.

UMW partners with an organization called the Initiative to Educate Afghan Women. So far, three Afghan women have come to the Fredericksburg university to study.

Ahrar, a sophomore, lives on campus and is focusing her four-year studies on political science, international studies and human rights.

From experience, she already knows a lot about the latter--or the lack thereof.

Women in the audience grimaced when Ahrar talked about females in her country who choose suicide--by setting themselves on fire--because they have no other options. They're forced into marriages, become victims of domestic violence and are banned from education.


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Alaha Ahrar, a sophomore at UMW, responded to the following questions yesterday after speaking at The Presbyterian Church in Fredericksburg.

ABOUT ISLAM: "Killing innocent people is not a message of Islam or any religion of the world," she said, adding that all who follow Islam "are not terrorists."

THE FUTURE: She hopes that when she returns to Afghanistan she'll be able to get a good job, which would entitle her to receive government-funded security guards.

HER FEARS: She grew up among bombings and, because of Afghan law, never left home without a male member of her family. She carried some of those fears to America. She rarely leaves her dorm room after dark, and once, when she had to go to the library in the evening, she asked for a police escort. She has never left the campus alone, but then, she doesn't own a car or a cell phone.

HOMESICK? She misses her parents most. "They are my best friends, and I would love to see them."