An Afghan refugee girl grew up to be a prize-winning doc — with a little help from dad

Enlarge this image

Dr. Saleema Rehman stands outside Holy Family Hospital in Rawalpindi, Pakistan. The Afghan refugee of Turkmen origin has won UNHCR’s Nansen Award for her work helping refugee moms and babies in Pakistan.

Betsy Joles for NPR


hide caption

toggle caption

Betsy Joles for NPR


Goats and Soda
‘Other Nobel’ Goes To Amazingly Humble Surgeon In South Sudan

«She’s a trailblazer. She’s beaten the odds by becoming the first female doctor in her community. By achieving her dream of offering health care to the most vulnerable – refugees and Pakistanis alike – Saleema is a living testament to how women can contribute to the socioeconomic development of their communities,» said Noriko Yoshida, UNHCR’s representative in Pakistan, in a statement.

Enlarge this image

Rehman, 29, was determined to go to medical school. The support of her family — especially her dad — helped her succeed. In June, she was granted a license to set up her own medical practice.

Betsy Joles for NPR


hide caption

toggle caption

Betsy Joles for NPR


World
At Pakistan’s Border With Afghanistan, People Wait To Cross From Both Sides

Even with her parents’ encouragement, growing up as a refugee with big ambitions was not always easy. Rehman’s family escaped the Soviet War in Afghanistan in 1979 to the refugee camps in Swabi in Pakistan’s Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province, where Rehman was born and raised.

«I wasn’t aware of my refugee status until I applied for secondary school [outside the camps]. Before that, I was among refugee children and went to a refugee school, but when I wanted to study further, I realized how I was different,» she says.

Because of her status, she faced bureaucratic challenges and fewer opportunities, says Rehman. And she realized «there was no one to guide me because there were not many Afghan refugee women who had done this before.»

Still, she remained determined to seek higher education. The admission process to get into medical school was complicated, says Rehman, and required her to travel to different cities for the necessary paperwork and entrance exams. Her dad accompanied her on each trip.

Her motivation, she says, gave her the strength to pull through. «It was what I wanted to do.»


Goats and Soda
The Taliban Swore To Kill An Afghan Doctor For Giving Birth Control To A Child Bride

Rehman’s hard work was rewarded when she was selected in 2009 for the only seat reserved for Afghan refugees at Rawalpindi Medical University in Rawalpindi, Pakistan. But getting in was just the first step. It was the first time she lived without her family, unusual for women to do so in her culture. And she needed to pay her own tuition, which she did by applying for scholarships.

Rehman graduated from the five-year course and started her residency at Holy Family Hospital in Rawalpindi in 2015, where for the first time, she had the opportunity to serve her community. «It is a large public sector hospital and I treated patients, both Afghan refugees and locals,» she says.

It was here, while interacting with other refugee women, that Rehman decided to specialize in gynecology. «I was reminded of what my mother had to go through during childbirth and wanted to help women,» she says.

Just as she did in medical school, Rehman managed to secure the only seat available for Afghan refugees in specialization studies at Holy Family in 2017. «I was living my dream working with pregnant women, delivering babies,» she says.

But she wanted more. She wanted a license to set up her own medical practice.

That’s a difficult thing for refugees to do in Pakistan. Displaced people have limited rights to work or operate their own business in the country.

Asia
For Afghan Woman, Life Under The Taliban Is Taking Shape

For Afghan Woman, Life Under The Taliban Is Taking Shape




Listen

·
4:02


4:02


Toggle more options

  • Download
  • Embed


    Embed


    <iframe src=»https://www.npr.org/player/embed/1038854792/1038854793″ width=»100%» height=»290″ frameborder=»0″ scrolling=»no» title=»NPR embedded audio player»>


  • Transcript

Still, she applied and applied — and in June, after many rejections, Rehman was granted her license. «I was able to start my clinic in Attock, where there are many Afghan refugees but not enough facilities to help the women,» she says. Her family gave her funding and support to start the clinic.

Rehman is setting an example for a whole generation of Afghan women. She speaks at schools for refugees and provides advice to girls when she can. «I tell them: nothing replaces hard work and determination,» she says.

Enlarge this image

Rehman sits for an interview with Power99, a radio station in Islamabad, Pakistan, on Oct. 5.

Betsy Joles for NPR


hide caption

toggle caption

Betsy Joles for NPR

Rehman sits for an interview with Power99, a radio station in Islamabad, Pakistan, on Oct. 5.

Betsy Joles for NPR

«When I started secondary school, I was the only girl in a room full of boys, but now classrooms are filled with young girls with dreams,» she adds. «I was so happy when another Turkmen refugee girl who is studying medicine reached out to me, saying I inspired her. There were two more girls from Afghanistan who contacted me [about studying medicine].»

But even as Rehman advocates for the education of Afghan women, across the border, her homeland plunges into turmoil. The Taliban, known for restricting freedoms for women and girls, took over Afghanistan in August. She is concerned about the country’s uncertain future, particularly the new wave of refugees escaping Taliban atrocities.

She intends to support the recently displaced Afghans in Pakistan by «delivering babies and saving mothers.»

«I wish and pray for peace for my people every day,» she adds. «Truth is, nobody can understand the significance of peace until they have walked in the shoes of a refugee.»

Ruchi Kumar is a journalist who reports from India and Afghanistan on conflict, politics, development and culture stories. She tweets at @RuchiKumar

  • refugee women
  • Afghan refugees
  • refugee
  • Afghan women
  • Pakistan
  • women
  • Girls
  • Afghanistan

Добавить комментарий