Harvard Law School student Saeeq Shajjan came to the United States seeking an education that would allow him to make a tangible difference in his home country of Afghanistan.
The same is true for Adela Raz, a masters student at Tufts University’s Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy, who says she hopes that her studies in the United States will provide her with a fresh perspective on how to change policies in her native Afghanistan.
Mariam Jalalzada, also a Fletcher School student, harbors ambitious goals as well—she says she hopes to use the skills learned at Tufts to form an educational institute for Afghan women.
Yet during much of their time as students in the Boston area, they found few opportunities to discuss contemporary issues surrounding Afghanistan with their fellow countrymen and women. The Afghan student population in Boston is small—Harvard currently enrolls only two Afghan students at the Harvard Kennedy School and two at the Law School.
But the formation of The Afghan Students Initiative at the Kennedy School last October has created a small but passionate community allowing these individuals to share their concerns about their homeland, students say.
“Before ASI, there was no formal organization where we could bring together Afghan students,” Jalalzada says. “This was the first time we all came together.”
NEW GROUP, NEW PERSPECTIVES
The Afghan Students Initiative was the brainchild of Nathaniel Y. Walton, the program’s current project manager, and Jasteena Dhillon, an associate fellow at Harvard Kennedy School’s Carr Center for Human Rights Policy. The two say they originally aimed to further the discussion on Afghanistan as the United States’ involvement in the region continues.
“The idea was to bring Afghan voices to the debate about Afghanistan,” Walton says. “We thought it would be really important to tap into the great resource of Afghan students here in Boston.”
During its first few meetings, the group identified some specific goals concerning foreign policy and human rights issues.
Dhillon says she viewed the founding of the Afghan Students Initiative as a new opportunity to open up a dialogue on these subjects.
Already active in the Carr Center’s State Building and Human Rights program, which focuses on Afghanistan and Pakistan, Dhillon says she sought to utilize the group to promote Afghan students’ involvement in the foreign policy debate.
The group plans to respond actively to policymakers and interest groups discussing issues in Afghanistan.
In addition, Walton says, the group seeks to publish a journal that will consist of essays addressing the future of Afghanistan as well as its position within diplomatic discussions.
“With all the attention that Afghanistan is getting within the United States, [and] as a fellow in the program, I thought that [the Afghan Students Initiative] would be a great way to provide space and support for the students,” Dhillon says.