This article appeared in the Ottawa Citizen " The Upbeat" July 5th.
By Dianne Rummery and Alison Hobbs ( members of UWHAW)
Physician and human rights activist Dr. Sima Samar was the guest of honour at “Voices of Afghanistan,” a reception held June 18 at the home of Hugh and Hally Siddons to raise scholarship funds for the Gawharshad Institute for Higher Education in Kabul. Hally leads a study group of the Canadian Federation of University Women in Ottawa that has been contributing to these essential scholarships for four years, organizing a Musical Lunch each April at the NAC as well as this annual garden party.
Dr. Sima Samar, left, with former foreign affairs minister Flora MacDonald and Afghan Ambassador Sham Lall Bathija at garden party fundraiser.
Gawharshad prepares young men and women, studying as equals in a spirit of tolerance and dedication, to take a leadership role in a future Afghanistan.
Dr. Samar’s long term vision is one of equality for all. She told her audience at the reception that every child has the right to live with dignity, explaining that empowerment means having the right to decide one’s destiny, to have control over what to wear, what to do, what to be and how many children to have.
Gawharshad’s Empowerment Centre chooses girls from deprived backgrounds and gives them an opportunity for further education in political science, law, engineering or economics. These girls are highly motivated because they have surmounted enormous cultural and financial barriers to complete their high school education. As a result, more than 30 per cent of Gawharshad students are women. Students from all regions and ethnic groups attend the institute and, unusually, the classes are coed.
Dr. Samar not only founded the Gawharshad Institute but is also chair of the Afghan Independent Human Rights Commission. She spent many years developing schools and clinics in Pakistani camps where so many Afghans sought refuge, and in Afghanistan itself. She longs for Afghan women to know and demand their rights, to take a role in the running of the country and to be at the peace table. Among many honours and awards, Dr. Samar is an Honorary Officer of the Order of Canada, holds an honorary doctorate from Carleton University and has been a nominee for the Nobel Peace Prize.
The participation at the reception of Sham Lall Bathija, the recently appointed Afghanistan ambassador to Canada, along with Laila Ayan, first secretary at the embassy, Flora MacDonald, former minister for Foreign Affairs, who continues to work for humanitarian causes in Afghanistan, and William Crosbie, former Canadian ambassador to Afghanistan, was warmly appreciated by Dr. Samar and her Canadian friends and supporters. Several young Afghans or students with connections to Afghanistan attended as well.
Besides wine and gourmet treats among the roses, guests bid for a weekend at the Claremount Inn and Spa in Prince Edward County and an Afghan inspired print in a silent auction. Afghan girls learn exquisite embroidery and examples of their work were also for sale. Guests were treated to henna hand painting by two Ridgemont High School students who had collected funds to present to Dr. Samar.
Born in Canada, these girls share an Afghan heritage and know the barriers to education for Afghan girls. Freshta Mohseni and Sahar Amedi have baked and sold cupcakes, painted hands for donations and prepared an Afghan meal for 80 teachers, all to raise funds for their counterparts in Afghanistan.
Although this was a brief private visit, Dr. Samar also met with staff at the Department of Foreign Affairs, Trade and Development and spoke at the University of Ottawa