Sadiqa Basiri Saleem

Afghanistan

In 2002, Afghan students started a new term in crumbled facilities under near constant threat of ongoing violence. Girls in particular faced daunting odds. Lacking basic resources for uniforms and school supplies, the 150,000 girls ready to re-enter the education system risked perpetual exclusion.

That same year, Sadiqa Basiri and three other Afghan women living as refugees in Pakistan founded the Oruj Learning Center. Discouraged that girls continued to be refused education and inspired to make a difference, these women pooled their money to fund the education of 36 girls in the village of Godah, where the girls studied in an abandoned mosque. Then, as it is now, the Oruj Learning Center was the solitary local organization operating in Wardak province, only a three hour drive from Kabul yet lacking basic infrastructure and security.

The same year, Sadiqa connected with Vital Voices. The Afghan Minister for Women’s Affairs Sima Simar called on Vital Voices to assist girls in obtaining uniforms, shoes, and socks by employing impoverished Afghan widows as tailors and managers. The Minister described that when she looked out her window she only saw women for as far as her eyes could see, all begging because they had no livelihood. In response, Vital Voices launched an unprecedented public-private partnership of non-governmental organizations, corporations, individuals and the U.S. government to oversee ‘Back to Work, Back to School Afghan Uniform Project to Support Women and Girls.’ This multi-million dollar project responded to Afghan girls’ educational needs and created a long term income generating enterprise for Afghan women. Sadiqa worked on the ground, meeting with the women stitching the uniforms, facilitating the distribution of the products, and ultimately relishing the newfound sense of pride among the students in her school who – many for the first time – arrived to class wearing formal outfits.

Since its inception the Oruj Learning Center has grown in size, scope, and promise. In 2008, the Oruj Learning Center, supported the education of over 2,700 girls in six schools throughout the Wardak province in eastern Afghanistan. Oruj also operates a program for gifted students focusing on English and computer skills. The Family Welfare Center for the Elimination of Violence Against Women, a domestic violence prevention project, provides services 14,000 Afghan women and engages in advocacy by training government staff on domestic violence and establishing networks among spiritual leaders to discussion women’s issues constructively. Oruj conducts training programs for teachers on pedagogy and human rights awareness seminars for the public, and it has established four literacy centers for 200 women in the wardak province.

While finishing her undergraduate degree at Mount Holyoke College as a prestigious Francis Perkins Scholar, Sadiqa is passionately planning her return to Kabul. She aims to expand the Gifted Students program, establish two new schools for returnees and internally displaced persons, as well as to establish an Afghan Women’s Leadership Institute to train high school graduates on business management and leadership skills.

“My dream is to see my sisters well educated in a peaceful Afghanistan,” Ms. Basiri said. “They should be able to raise their voices to get their rights since I can’t stand seeing them tortured and murdered in the name of honor any more.”