Samea’s story articulates her life-long pursuit of knowledge, and how family history influences her own journey in life.
When I was in third grade living in Pakistan with my family, my father passed away. He worked with the United Nations Development Program (UNDP) in Islamabad, Pakistan, and was the only breadwinner of the family. Since I lost my father at a very young age, I don’t remember much about him. I don’t know him. Now that I understand what losing a parent at a young age means, I would give anything to spend more time with my father, talk to him and get to know him.
In 2007, I was one of 38 students selected from across Afghanistan to participate in high school exchange program in the United States. I was not sure what my mom’s reaction would be, but to my surprise she was on board with letting her 15 year old daughter leave Afghanistan to figure out her own destiny.
Years later, I came across my dad’s picture in Ambassador Khalilzad’s book. My dad also participated in a high school exchange program in 1966. My father is the one with glasses in the first row. I know, I look like him.
Education played a crucial role in my parents’ lives. So when I lost my father, my mom made sure my sisters and I continued our education. She made sure to raise independent, strong, confident and educated women because she knew that our lives would be full of difficulties in a male dominant society. After the collapse of the Taliban regime, we returned to Afghanistan – to our home. Unfortunately, in Afghanistan, my grandfather with the support of a local religious leader, a mullah, took everything my father had left us and evicted us from our own home. We were told we meant nothing because we were women. We were told we were a burden because we were women. We couldn’t do anything because there was no law in Afghanistan to protect women from such abuses. It took us years to stand on our own feet again.
I graduated high school in 2008 in Baltimore, MD, and went back to Afghanistan. Since I was not able to make a decision about what to do next, I decided to work. I got a job with one of the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) projects in Kabul. After a year and half, I got a five year scholarship to study at the American University of Central Asia (AUCA) so I left for Bishkek and lived there until 2013.
I began 2013 in New York City. I was part of a small group of AUCA students who were selected for an exchange program with Bard College. That year is still one of my favorite years of my life. I lived in the upper east side, studied at Bard Globalization and International Affairs (BGIA) program in midtown Manhattan, interned with New York University, and later Afghan Mission to the United Nations.
By the end of 2013, I knew my time in NYC was not done yet. So I started looking into transferring to NYU. I should also mention how important it is to have a support system wherever you are – a group of people who believe in you and are there to help and guide you. I got accepted to NYU because of that support system.
A few months after moving to New York City, I was introduced to Women for Afghan Women (WAW) located in Queens, New York. I was alone in a big city, away from family and friends, but WAW quickly became my second home. I started volunteering and then working there for about three years. WAW provides direct side-by-side and comprehensive services to the Afghans, especially women, in Afghanistan and the US. Coming from Afghanistan, I never realized that the same issues, including poverty, domestic violence and isolation follow Afghan women even to the US.
Now, I am working with a media management company called GroupM. I am a graduate candidate at Columbia University’s School of International and Public Affairs. I am desperately looking forward to my graduation in May 2020. My mom didn’t make it to my graduation from NYU because her visa was denied so I am also looking forward to having her by my side on the day of my graduation in 2020.
In addition to school and work, I keep myself busy with creating different kinds of art pieces. When in Afghanistan, Pakistan or Kyrgyzstan, I never thought art could be something I could pursue. I do that now whenever I need to take a break from my crazy NYC life. All pieces of my artwork has a connection to Afghanistan, that is one way I stay close to Afghanistan while thousands of miles away. One of my pieces is part of an exhibition called “Fragmented Futures: Afghanistan 100 Years Later” in California which is organized by Afghan American Artists’ and Writers’ Association (AAAWA).
Looking back, I see how far I have come. None of this would have been possible without the continuous support of my amazing mom and sisters. Even while I am writing this, I find it difficult to hold back my tears as I am being reminded of the harsh life I had in Pakistan and Afghanistan with my family. The past years of my life is the source of my inspiration for my present and future. I very much look forward to the day that I can give back to my community, especially those who don’t have anyone to stand by them.