a Journey of Courage
Shamshad Sheikh with a young friend.
Sister Shamshad Sheikh
sat listening in a tiny room of the refugee camp hospital as the
woman, driven from her homeland of Afghanistan by decades of fighting,
told a story of misery. This woman, the single mother to twelve
children, had been raped repeatedly and had been afraid to tell
anyone. In her arms she cradled her youngest, just three months
Listening to her story,
Sheikh, the Colleges Muslim adviser, asked herself, Do
I have enough courage to call another woman and hear her story,
too? She did, and by the end of the day had spoken with
twenty Afghan women from the crowd that had gathered to see her
at the sprawling Kacha Garhi refugee camp in Peshawar, Pakistan.
Sheikh recounted her three-week journey to Pakistan before nearly
one hundred students, faculty, staff, and members of the greater
community who filled Eliot Houses lounge Monday. It was
Sheikhs first talk at the College since returning from her
native Pakistan in mid-January.
Giving accounts of
her departure from Logan airport, her arrival in Peshawar, and
her visits to the makeshift hospital and the mud huts where the
refugees make their homes, Sheikh described her feelings of anxiety
and depression at the outset of her trip, her helplessness at
coming face to face with so many in such desperate conditions,
and, ultimately, her gladness at having been able to give time
and money to the few she was able to meetparticularly when
a United Nations worker confided to her that not enough aid was
getting through to those most in need.
Sheikh also showed
slides of women and children she took during her trip. The children,
all of whom wanted to pose for the camera, wore Western clothing,
proof that some American aid is getting to those who need it.
The women were reluctant to be photographed, but were eager when
there was a cash donation offered, however small.
In introducing Sheikh,
Andrea Ayvazian, the Colleges dean of religious life, said
that many of her friends and colleagues had tried to discourage
her from the trip, out of fear for her safety. She went
surrounded by our love and our prayers, Ayvazian said, but
it was truly a courageous act.
The story of Sheikhs
trip was reported in the January 25 issue of the College Street
Journal, as well as by the Springfield Union-News, WWLP-TV
Channel 22, and public radio station WFCR.