The Student News Site of Chatham University


The Student News Site of Chatham University


The Student News Site of Chatham University


Dr. Mariam Raqib visits Chatham to discuss global awareness and environmental sustainability

On Friday, November 14, in the spirit of furthering Chatham University’s missions of global awareness and environmental sustainability, Dr. Mariam Raqib visited the campus to speak about her environmental work in Afghanistan.

Raqib, who was born in Afghanistan, was forced to flee with her family during the Soviet occupation. They fled first to Pakistan, then eventually made their way to America, where she received an undergraduate degree from Wells College, and a doctorate in Law, Policy, and Society from Northeastern University.

It was during her time in Afghanistan doing research for her thesis that Raqib noticed the devastation and destruction that Afghanistan’s 30 years of war had inflicted on the natural environment of the nation.

As Dr. Peter Walker, Dean of the Falk School of Sustainability, mentioned while welcoming everyone to the event and introducing Raqib, “we always hear about the human suffering,” which makes it easy to overlook the fact that the nation itself was also ravaged by the war.

After her introduction, Raqib took her place at the podium in the front of the room and began addressing the approximately 15 people in attendance, including Esther Barazzone, President of Chatham University.

“You have an image of an Afghanistan that is broken,” she began, “but this is not the Afghanistan that I remember.”

Raqib went on to recount her childhood memories of growing up on her grandfather’s farm and enjoying his gardens and orchard.

“There was a relationship between the land and the people,” she said, “but that all ended abruptly.”

She then told of her family’s journey after they were displaced from Afghanistan, due to the fact that her father was an officer in the Afghan Army.

In regard to the struggles that they faced, she said that people had a choice to either get out of Afghanistan and never look back, or embrace the difficult situation and try to find a solution for it.

“I did not turn my back on it,” she said, “I don’t think that I could have.”

While Raqib assured the audience that she believed in the importance of education–which is what many programs in Afghanistan are currently about–she also learned during her time there that 80 percent of the natural environment was destroyed by the Soviets, who were trying to eliminate any places that the Afghan army could hide.

Because of this lack of farmable land, people in Afghanistan have become reliant on foreign aid.  This is why Raqib decided that focusing on the environment was vital for making the people self-reliant again.

In 2008 she founded Afghanistan Samsortya–a non-profit organization dedicated to, “reforesting the countryside and re-establishing food autonomy for Afghans.”

She began by working with local communities to find out what the issues were, and from there began a small nursery that has since turned into three large fruit orchards. The organization has also installed solar panels to decrease dependency on gas, and has provided families with dairy cows and chickens that provide sustenance for years.

As she said, “while a child’s education is important, I want to make sure that that child lives tomorrow, and the next day, and well into the future.”

After her talk Raqib showed the audience a short promotional video for her organization, the showed a slideshow full of photos that she took on her last trip to Afghanistan. She told personal stories of the individuals in the photos, ending with one of a flower pot made out of a bombshell.

“The reality of the past is being recognized,” she said, “but the bomb will go away one day.”

After the presentation Raqib took questions from the audience.

Barazzone inquired about Raqib’s greatest fear about the project, to which Raqib replied that there are a lot of uncertainties. She said that the hardest part was taking the first step, especially when people told her to wait until the area became more secure.

“There are not going to be securities,” she said, “the work we’re doing now could lead to that security.”

I don’t have the luxury of working in a safer place,” she added.

This was followed by questions about the social fabric of Afghanistan as well as the role of religion and the empowerment of women.

Raqib explained that after the war and the diaspora the people are all very divided, religion has become politicized, and women have less rights than they did before the war.  However, she said that one of the most important things to be done at this point is to, “nurture the young.”

“This is a commitment of many years,” she said, and though she doesn’t expect to see huge result in her lifetime, she explained that the work they are doing is, “for future generations.”

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