Home Campus Directory | A-Z Index

Students Raise Awareness, Funds for Afghan Women

image of Suraya Pakzad with Afghan woman
Suraya Pakzad (right) with Afghan woman
2/4/2011 —

Penn State Brandywine students will kick off their campaign, "Heart for Herat," on Monday, Feb. 14, to raise money for the Voice of Women Organization (VWO). Founded by Afghan women's rights activist Suraya Pakzad, VWO provides education and shelters for women in Afghanistan, home to the city of Herat.

Pakzad is the recipient of the 2008 U.S. State Department's International Woman of Courage Award and the 2009 Voice of Peace Award. Time Magazine recognized her as one of the 100 most influential people in the world in 2009.

"Heart for Herat" is a service-learning project organized by students in women's studies, business writing and literature classes. They are collaborating with VWO's U.S. partner, Traveling Mercies, a non-profit organization founded by Penn State alumnus Aldo Magazzeni. His organization brings clean drinking water systems to communities in Afghanistan and other countries. Since their meeting in 2004, Magazzeni said that he and Pakzad have built a friendship and trust through their common compassion for women and the cause of equality for all people. Magazzeni said that Suraya has taught him "how to endure, how to be courageous and that activism requires sacrifice."

Student-designed cards and bookmarks will be available for purchase in each campus building, from 9:15 a.m. until 6:15 p.m. on Valentine's Day. Bookmarks will sell for $1, cards will sell for $3 and donations will also be accepted. All donations from "Heart for Herat" will aid the VWO in future projects. The project, which will run through the spring semester and include off-campus efforts to raise money, will bring attention to Pakzad's cause. Students from across the campus are invited to join the project.

During the Taliban rule, Afghan women were treated as second-class citizens and denied many freedoms. In 1998, Pakzad began secretly running literacy schools and providing shelters for abused girls and women. She instructed her students to study by the fire, so they could throw their books into the flames if the Taliban appeared. Since the Taliban fell, the VWO has been operating openly and has expanded into other projects that help Afghan women. Despite continuing to receive death threats, Pakzad stands firm in her beliefs to better the lives of the women and children who are currently suffering in the Afghan community.

Phyllis Cole, professor of English and women's studies, and one of the organizers of the project, said, "The visits of Aldo and Suraya to our campus have had a real impact on students. It's moving to hear how grassroots efforts can create change.  What we're trying to do is create our own community of support that links with theirs.  As Aldo says, 'Do something even if it's small; create some world peace.'"

For further information, contact Maureen Fielding at 610-892-1439 or mdf6@psu.edu.

Email this story to a friend Facebook Twitter