MHC Student Garners Civil Rights Award

Posted: April 21, 2006

The Massachusetts Teachers Association (MTA) announced that Sadiqa Basiri '09, a Frances Perkins Scholar from Afghanistan, will be named this year's recipient of the MTA's Louise Gaskin Civil Rights Award. The award will be presented to her at a banquet at the Sheraton Boston Hotel May 4.

Basiri was selected for the award for her "courage, passion and extraordinary effort in advocating for the education of girls in Afghanistan." She helped found four schools for girls in the remote Wardak province, where no schools for girls had previously existed. Those schools are still in operation today, although two were burned down by arsonists. In those schools, the girls must study outside in the open air.

Basiri was born in Afghanistan in 1979. Bombardments in the province of Wardak, where she lived, forced her and her family to flee to Pakistan when she was six years old. There she was able to attend school and then enroll in a university, though the university was shut down during the time of the Taliban. Eventually, she earned a certificate in computer science and later began working for the Afghan Women's Education Center in Pakistan.

She returned to Afghanistan to fulfill her goal of opening a school for girls in a country just emerging from under the harsh rule of the Taliban. In Afghanistan, few girls have been allowed to attend school and only 20 percent of the adult women are literate.

"My dream is to see my sisters well educated in a peaceful Afghanistan," Ms. Basiri wrote in an autobiographical essay. "They should be able to raise their voices to get their rights since I can't stand seeing them tortured and murdered in the name of honor any more."

Basiri was assisted by a Washington, DC-based organization called the Advocacy Project, which publicized her efforts via its Web site. A generous donor who read the article provided most of the funding for four schools. Now, approximately 1,100 girls are being educated in these schools.

Basiri came to the U.S. last fall to attend Mount Holyoke, where she is studying international relations. Her father continues to help oversee the schools, and her husband, who remains in Afghanistan, helps with the administrative paperwork for this project.

The MTA learned about Basiri's efforts through Fred Goldberg, a fourth-grade teacher in Townsend, Massachusetts, who established an exchange program this year between his students and students at some of the schools Basiri founded. She addressed Goldberg's class at a "Peace Night" last December and described for them what life is like for girls growing up in Afghanistan.

Her nomination for the MTA award was also supported by Stacy Kosko, a former MTA member who now works for the Advocacy Project.

The MTA was founded in 1845 to represent the interests of educators in the Commonwealth. The organization now has more than 100,000 members, including public school teachers, public higher education faculty members, and education support professionals.

The award is named for Louise Gaskins, a retired teacher and advocate for civil rights. Criteria for the award include "humility, leadership and tenacity" in promoting equal opportunity for women and people of color.

The MTA has been granting Human and Civil Rights Awards since 1983.

Related Links:

MHC Welcomes First Afghan Students (News Story)

The Frances Perkins Program