'Trying To Keep That Hope Afloat': Afghan Woman Educated At UMass Flees To U.S.

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Nadima Sahar. (Photo courtesy Nadima Sahar)
Nadima Sahar. (Photo courtesy Nadima Sahar)

Some of the greatest progress made in Afghanistan over the past 20 years was the education of women, and their elevation in public and civic life.

Those gains came, in part, through the work of organizations in the U.S. and other countries to help Afghan women work toward equality and success.

Now many of the women who went through those programs are believed to be at risk from the Taliban.

Nadima Sahar was minister of technical and vocational education in the Afghan government until the Taliban took over the country last week. Sahar was educated in New England with the help of a Providence-based organization, The Initiative to Educate Afghan Women. She obtained bachelor's degrees in political science and business from Roger Williams University in 2006 and a master's degree in public policy and administration from UMass Amherst in 2008.

When the Taliban was closing in on Kabul, Sahar sent her two young children out of the country with her sister. She managed to flee a week ago Monday, the day after the Taliban took full control.

Sahar has a green card, which she said she obtained because she got married to an Afghan-American man more than a decade ago. She knows that documentation helped her get to the U.S. quickly. She's staying with friends in Virginia and hoping to soon reunite with her children to begin a new life in America.

Sahar told WBUR's All Things Considered host Lisa Mullins about her experiences fleeing to the U.S.
Below are highlights from their conversation, which have been lightly edited.

Interview Highlights

On how she is feeling:

"Initially, the first day that I arrived, I felt numb, heavy and shattered, to say the least. But I think right now ... I would like to channel that energy into something more productive. So as much as I am grieving, I am also trying to help those that are trapped inside Kabul right now — from women's rights activists, to my colleagues, to people in the government, human rights activists, anyone who could potentially be a target. I'm helping them to get out of Kabul and then hopefully resettle somewhere a little bit safer."

On whether she felt she was a target because she had worked for the Afghan government:

"It's hard to know at this moment, but from what I have heard from my family members, my house has already been searched four times. They have showed up to my workplace at least two times inquiring about me. So I'm assuming that I would be considered a target since I worked for the government, I was a part of the cabinet. And then also, being a woman who was educated in the United States, would naturally make me a target."

On how she managed to flee Afghanistan so quickly:

"The day that Kabul collapsed on Sunday, last week, I wasn't prepared to actually leave. So I had my plans of staying back. But then I received a call from my colleagues who were on their way to work, telling me that [the Taliban was] at my workplace looking for me and that I needed to get out of my house. So the moment I heard that, I straight headed to the airport, not knowing what the city looked like. There was a lot of chaos, a lot of sense of panic, people rushing, people running.

"As soon as I arrived at the airport, I realized that there were thousands of other individuals ... who were also trapped at the airport. We waited there for more than 12 hours. And then luckily, I was able to board the last commercial flight that left Afghanistan."

On whether gains made by women with the help of the U.S. military, Afghan government and non-profit organizations there and overseas, can survive:

"It would be very hard to predict right now, so all we have right now is the Taliban assuring us that they will continue and build on the gains of the last 20 years. But I think solely relying on the strength of their word, it may not be a wise thing on our part to do, knowing that there is a significant disparity between their words and actions. So I think we worked on a system ... We laid a solid foundation there. But for us right now, to be hopeful for all of those to be preserved and expanded on, is expecting nothing short of a miracle. The possibility of that seems very slim as of now.

"We cannot turn a blind eye to the collective efforts and gains of the last 20 years. The number of women we saw in the government, that was unprecedented ...

"Twenty years ago, as a young woman, I couldn't dream of attaining an education. But 20 years later, my little kid — my eldest daughter — who is 9 years old, she aspires to become the first female president of the country. And she may not be the only one. We have individuals who aspire to become the first female astronaut of Afghanistan ... This is an indication of how far we have come — and not limited only to the education sector. [There have been] health reforms, government reforms and institutional building across the board.

"Unless we make any sort of aid — donations or contributions to Afghanistan conditional to the preservation of those gains, I would not be very hopeful that they would be maintained or that they would be preserved by the Taliban."

On her expectations for her life now:

"For me, I think I always believed that in issues of war, it's not loss of human lives, but loss of hope that dictates the outcome. So as of now, I am trying to keep that hope afloat. I am trying to do as much as I can to help those trapped in Afghanistan, but then also to have my family come here for me to be together with my kids ... and then redefining life, starting from scratch ... You see most generations just going maybe through one war, or maximum, witnessing two. But I think in my generation ... we have already witnessed four to five wars ... So I think for us, this [is what has] become of our life lately, just reducing it all to a little baggage that we carry around, emotionally and physically."

This segment aired on August 25, 2021.


Lisa Mullins Host, All Things Considered
Lisa Mullins is the voice of WBUR’s All Things Considered. She anchors the program, conducts interviews and reports from the field.


Lynn Jolicoeur Producer/Reporter
Lynn Jolicoeur is the field producer for WBUR's All Things Considered. She also reports for the station's various local news broadcasts.



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