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Afghan Students Visit Los Alamos For Screening Of ‘The Staging Post’

on February 7, 2019 - 8:29am
Mah Begum speaks about her life in Afghanistan, while Hakima and Desert Academey Headmaster Yann Lussiez look on. The two girls spoke at the Unitarian Church Saturday to raise awareness about the New Mexico Refugee Bridge Program, which is bringing students from Afghanistan to study in New Mexico. Photo by Bonnie J. Gordon/ladailypost.com
 
Hakima tells how education in Afghanistan differs from that in the U.S. Photo by Bonnie J. Gordon/ladailypost.com
 
By BONNIE J. GORDON
Los Alamos Daily Post

 Los Alamos residents learned about the plight of Hazara refugees from Afghanistan and heard from two recently arrived teen-age Hazara students Saturday at the Unitarian Church. The event was sponsored by Los Alamos Interfaith, a grassroots group of members of various congregations.

The Hazaras are an ethnic group native to the region of Hazarajat in central Afghanistan, speaking the Hazaragi variant of Dari, itself an eastern variety of Persian and one of the two official languages of Afghanistan. They are the third-largest ethnic group in Afghanistan. Hazaras are the descendants of Mongol settlers and look like their ancestors. They are Shiite, while the majority of Afghanis are Sunni Moslems. The Hazaras have long been marginalized and oppressed in Afghanistan, and recently they have been targeted by the Taliban

The event began with a screening of “The Staging Post”, a documentary film by Khadim Dai, a Hazara refugee student and co-founder of the Cisaru Refugee Learning Center. He documents, using his iPhone camera, the experiences of a group of refugees assigned to a refugee camp in Indonesia, attempting to resume their secondary education in a very challenging environment while waiting and hoping for an opportunity to live and attend school elsewhere.

 Initially, 10 students from the refugee camp were offered the chance to enroll in high school in Santa Fe at Desert Academy. The New Mexico Refugee Bridge partners in the program with Desert Academy and with United World College (UWC-USA) for cultural and community programming and experiential learning. 

When visas were denied to the students because of their refugee status after the election of President Donald Trump, the program decided to open the door to two Hazara students living in Afghanistan, said Desert Academy Headmaster Yann Lussiez.

The two students, Hakima and Mah Begum, spoke following the film. Hakima and Mah Begum said they want to use their opportunities in the U.S. to help women in their country who have been victims of discrimination.

“People respect me here,” Hakima said. “I can have a future. Here, people respect each other and it’s not based on gender or religion. You are respected as a person.”

Hakima’s family “always let me be free,” she said. But the surrounding society put pressure on them. For example, they were pressured not to let her play soccer.

Education for girls is not easy in Afghanistan. Hakima’s school was attacked by the Taliban and several of the staff were killed, she said. She then attended an international school where a teacher helped her to apply to N.M. Refugee Bridge Program.

Mah Begum was raised in a small village, where she and her brother walked four hours roundtrip to attend school. It was a big improvement over spending the whole day herding her family’s sheep, she said.

“I like to walk, she said. “No one here walks. They all drive in cars everywhere.”

After moving to Kabul, the schools were better than in her former home, Mah Begum said. She studied English for two years and watched English language movies to improve her English.

The two young women have been in Santa Fe for about one month. They praised the warm welcome they have received at Desert Academy.

One big difference from education in Afghanistan is that they attend school with boys.

“Here I can exchange ideas with boys too,” Hakima said.

“The education is much better here, especially for girls,” the students agreed.

They want to remain in the U.S. for college, but then, both said, they want to return to Afghanistan in spite of the discrimination they face as women and as Hazara.

“The open-mindedness people have here, we want to bring that back to our country,” Hakima said. “A lot of changes need to happen in Afghanistan and we want to be part of that.”

N.M. Refugee Bridge and its partners have not given up on bringing refugee students to New Mexico Four students from the Cisarua Refugee Camp will apply for visas to arrive in July, and if they are successful, six more.

The group hopes to raise $175,000 in 2019 to support these and other students in the program. They are also seeking host families in Santa Fe.

Tax deductible contributions can be mailed to New Mexico Community Foundation, 135 Palace Ave. #301, Santa Fe, NM 87501. Visit www.nmrefugeebridge.org to learn more about the program and discover how you can help.  


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