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From Kabul to a US campus

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In the short term, freedom can be as simple as venturing outside at 11 p.m. for the very first time, or ordering pizza just the way they like it. But for five young Afghan women who started their studies in the United States this fall, freedom for their homeland encompasses long-term goals: peace, education, and equality, for starters.

In exchange for their four-year scholarships, they have promised to return home to help transform Afghanistan – an effort they expect will take at least as long as the 23 years that the country was choked by war.

Looking at Masooda Mehdizada and Nadima Sahar, one would never guess that they had recently swung a tennis racket for the first time. What might set apart these Roger Williams University students is how they greet the president and his wife: with kisses on the cheeks. Roy and Paula Nirschel not only set up the scholarships, but have also acted as their American mom and dad from the day they arrived at New York's JFK Airport.

The pristine coastal campus in Bristol, R.I., offers a protective environment, but it is bravery – their own and their families' – that has brought the women this far.

During the Taliban's reign in Afghanistan, Ms. Sahar's father took her and her sisters to Pakistan so they could continue their education. Their mother, a lawyer, stayed in Kabul and made one or two visits a year.

Sahar recalls: "She said, 'I have other family – my country, my people. If I leave them, or the others like me leave them, there will be no one to help.' " Her mother was jailed and injured at various times for defying Taliban rules against women working. Ultimately, she joined the family in Pakistan, and they all returned to Kabul in October 2001, a few weeks before the Taliban's fall.

Sahar felt apprehensive about going home. "When I was a child, I used to hear the shouting of people for help, but no one would help them because everyone was afraid that if they helped them, they would themselves die." This time around, she says, things were "a little better."

Amazed to see the door to America opened
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