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‘Hoosier’ strives to help Afghanistan rebuild:  Embassy counselor’s attempts to help his people, inspire IU student intern
by Shannon McEnerney

Indiana Daily Student


He wasn’t always a Hoosier.

Growing up in Afghanistan, Ashraf Haidari survived on the hope that one day he would be able to receive the U.S. education he always wanted.

Now, the current counselor for political, security and development affairs at the Embassy of Afghanistan in Washington, D.C., can confidently say that his journey from the streets of Kabul to the Capitol building is everything he could have imagined.

When he was in Afghanistan, his goal was to get out of the country for an education. Haidari said receiving an education and gaining opportunities outside the war-torn nation would only allow him a greater chance to give back to his people in Afghanistan and help them because of the unmanageable conditions.

“The goal was to get an education, become empowered and get into a position of significant service to my nation and the people of Afghanistan,” Haidari said. “The current position I have has given me that.”

While in Afghanistan, Haidari received a job with the United Nations as a radio operator. He began to teach himself English, as well as other subjects. His goal, even as he ran for his life through the streets with rockets screaming over his head, was to go abroad. He wanted to receive a higher education and eventually be able to return to Afghanistan, where he could rebuild the home country he remembered for its beautiful streets and scenes.

Haidari applied to various colleges in the United States, one of them being Wabash College in Crawfordsville, Ind. After his acceptance, Haidari said he decided on the small liberal arts college because of its opportunities for international students and its quality of education.

Coming to America

But Haidari’s journey to Indiana was not an easy one. The United States did not recognize any Afghan governments or passports during the time he was trying to come to the U.S. He waited in Pakistan for his visa, missing about two weeks of classes and orientation, Haidari said.

When he enrolled as a student at Wabash and began his education, he sacrificed connections with his parents, brother and sister. While going to class and working to support his family back home, Haidari managed to stay involved in campus activities.

“Wabash ... is really like a family,” he said, fondly reflecting on his experiences there. Without the opportunities he gained by coming to Wabash and the U.S., Haidari said he would not be in his current position as political counselor at the embassy.

“I am using what I learned to help my country,” Haidari said, who noted the importance of educating people about the war-torn country.

It is important, he said, to always remember the effects of the 2001 American invasion of Afghanistan as well as the effects of establishing security and government in the nation. And while Afghanistan’s living conditions are better than they were before the invasion, he said they still have much room for improvement.

“I’m working and communicating to help achieve, restore peace and provide stability and help the people of Afghanistan stand on their own feet,” Haidari said. “I always want to help my people as directly as possible.”

Working for change

One IU student recently had the opportunity to meet Haidari.

Junior Maria Shams, whose family is from Afghanistan, interned at the embassy this summer.

While working as Haidari's personal assistant, she said his passion for Afghanistan was noticeable. He would approach her and the other interns frequently, she said, asking them about their projects and whether he could do anything to help them.

Shams said working alongside Haidari helped her decide what she wants to do after graduation.

“I realized that, to Mr. Haidari, it wasn’t a career; everything was personal and very deep,” Shams said. “I felt alone in the sense that I wonder if other people worry about Afghanistan.”

Shams said that her internship allowed her to work and try to improve the lives of people living in Afghanistan.

“Right now, what I did is minor to what I want to do in the future,” Shams said.

Haidari mentioned that what Shams and the other interns did this past summer is a prime example of what can currently be done to help Afghanistan. He described it as “rebuilding the country together.”

“I know that I will make a difference in the history of Afghanistan and the future of the people day to day,” Haidari said. “That is the motivation that keeps me going. It’s not about the money at all.”

As Haidari continues to help his people in Afghanistan from within the U.S. – the same goal he had when he came to Wabash to receive his education – he encourages fellow Afghans to give back to their country and help in every way possible.

“I try and take advantage of a once nonexistent opportunity to help my country rebuild, to stand on its on feet and try to contribute to peace,” Haidari said.

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