Sadiqa Basiri Saleem knows few women in her war-torn homeland of Afghanistan have enjoyed the educational opportunities she has had in her life. Since 2002, she’s worked diligently to change that. Now the Mount Holyoke College senior has been honored with a Rising Voices Award in recognition of her ongoing work to provide an education to the women and girls in Afghanistan. Saleem was among six women – including Secretary of State Hillary Clinton – presented with awards by the Vital Voices Global Partnership in a ceremony at the Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts in Washington, D.C., on March 19, 2009.
Saleem spent 18 years in a Pakistani refugee camp before returning home seven years ago. Disheartened by the lack of schooling available to females in Afghanistan, she founded the Oruj Learning Center, providing uniforms, supplies, and funding to enable 36 girls to study in an abandoned mosque. Although she left her homeland again in the fall of 2005 to attend Mount Holyoke through the U.S. Initiative to Educate Afghan Women, she has continued her work; with the help of family, friends, and donors, she has since expanded the Oruj Learning Center to six schools. Today more than 2,800 women and girls are enrolled, often learning side by side in the same classroom.
Vital Voices cofounder and president Alyse Nelson Bloom told Saleem, “Your work through the Oruj Learning Center has allowed girls in a war-torn country access to an education, but more importantly it is a source of encouragement for all girls to pursue and achieve their life goals.”
Prior to the award ceremony, Basiri Saleem was interviewed about her work by Greta Van Susteren of Fox News. See the video:
For more information on Saleem and her work, see the Vital Voices Web site: