Rotary Peace Center at Chulalongkorn University, Bangkok, Thailand
One of my kind Rotarian friends, Fary Moini, looked at me and said, “Mahmood, you have seen the world through a small hole, and I want you to see the world through a window.” My friend’s lofty idea changed my life forever. The first door toward my goal was opened for me to come and study at the Rotary Peace Center at Chulalongkorn University. Air India was the first milestone overseas that totally changed my life forever.
During my fellowship in Bangkok, I have seen women from every walk of life, which makes me wish we could have such a decent opportunity for women. There are women I meet every day with genuine smiley faces that make my day so bright. Likewise, in my class at the Rotary Peace Center at Chulalongkorn University there are women and men from diverse cultures and backgrounds with amazing experience from various fields. Sharing those experiences is interesting and effective for our class discussions. I am learning lessons from every single individual I meet during the course, especially from the women.
For instance, the women I met in Ubon Rachathani during our field study who had studied up to grade four managed their own community bank. I was helped when I had a severe pain in my chest around 3 AM by two of my female peace fellows who helped me and looked after me from hospital to hospital while the taxi driver was trying to charge us for going around and round while my health was deteriorating. Last but not least, an extraordinary woman, Jenn Weidman, smiley and friendly with great stamina and passion for her work has inspired me.
Constantly receiving violent and abusive news from Afghanistan really gets on my nerves – such as sexual harassment, torture, abuse, social exclusion, threats, the impact of existing gender gaps, and the feminization of poverty. However, when I hear of just one positive step toward strengthening women to pursue their dreams, it makes me hopeful and determined. We have been proudly informed about the first Afghan female Air force pilot in the history of Afghanistan, Nelofar Rahmani. Her story makes me stronger and more passionate to work more and fight for women’s rights as these are my objectives to get to my goal. As a peace practitioner and a teacher who has been teaching for the last 6 years, I have found this universal truth—that women’s rights are commonly withheld around the globe, especially in Afghanistan, where the challenges women facing are unique.
As a teacher, I am working with a project that has been made possible through a grant from the La Jolla Golden Triangle Rotary Club Foundation to enhance information technology education in Jalalabad. We work to empower both male and female students from the College of Education, Rokhan University, Teacher Training College, as well as 22 schools in Nangarhar province. I have come across female students in my work, listened to their depressing and heart-melting stories that make me tragically nervous because of the ignorance and lack of critical thinking in certain communities.
It is also worth mentioning that under our current critical security situation, what I have found are excellent ingredients in their vision. One of my students told me there are lots of landmines down the road. She said, “If I cannot walk and fight against them, thousands of my sisters that are facing certain challenges in life will face the same issue as I do.”
In 2013 in a peace and education conference, I asked the members of my panel and around 200 female student participants from twenty-two schools in Jalalabad, a general question: “Why do we celebrate International Women’s Day?” I received a different answer from one female participant. She said, “We are only celebrating International Women’s Day in honor of women in a dialogue-oriented based manner, so let’s celebrate it in actions every day. Let’s respect women every day; let’s treat them as we treat our sisters, our daughters, and our mothers.” Looking at her age and bravery I was amazed and at the same time tears of happiness started rolling down my cheeks.
Also, in a presentation in my class on women’s empowerment, a female student brought a beautiful quotation from Dr. Steve Maraboli, which says, “The empowered woman is powerful beyond measure and beautiful beyond description.” That was an amazing lesson for the community to realize the power of women. In a war torn country, it is very challenging to abolish structural and behavioral aggression against women and to establish gender equality.
In nutshell, as an agent of change, I fiercely believe in the potential of women to bring about change toward a prosperous and sovereign society, which is inclusive of women to determining Afghanistan’s future. I am hopeful for that day where women are free to exercise their political, legal, and socioeconomic rights. When we Afghans are all better off and we are all empowered, both men and women.
Mahmood Rahimi, Afghanistan
Rotary Peace Fellow
January 2015 Session