Afghan Master’s students complete studies here, depart for home

Seven UMass Amherst College of Education Master’s degree students, all of whom are faculty members at universities in Afghanistan, recently completed their degrees after a 2 ½ year program of study in International Education on campus. In conjunction with the School’s Center for International Education’s Afghanistan Higher Education Project, the students were selected to study at UMass Amherst based on their education experience, English language skills and leadership abilities. On December 15, they were congratulated by College of Education faculty and staff in a celebratory event in Hills Hall South before returning home to Afghanistan.

The students are: Ahmad Khalid Mowahed, Balkh University; Sayed Sarwar Yaqubi, Jowzjan University; Mohammad Tariq Habibyar, Herat University, Chaman Ali Hikmat, Bamyan University; Siddiqullah Barikzai, Kabul Education University; and Delawar Darmal and Sayed Ahmed Javid Mussawy, both of Baghlan University.

Dr. David R. Evans, director of the Center for International Education, opened the event with a warm welcome to faculty, staff and friends who had come to congratulate to the Afghan students. “In Afghanistan, these men will become sources of innovation and change,” Dr. Evans said. “The last 2 ½ years have been a mutual learning experience. Their presence has enriched us, the Center, the school, the community. We’re not saying good bye. We’re starting a new journey together.”

Dr. Christine B. McCormick, Dean of the College of Education, spoke to the group at the celebration, saying: “In these 2 ½ years, you have learned a new language, acclimated to a different culture, and we want to honor that you made great sacrifices to be with us. You have learned from us but we have learned from you, too. We’re confident you will be transformational leaders in your country. This is a proud time for us, for you and your families.”

Habibullah Wajdi, academic coordinator for the Afghan masters’ candidates, recalled that when the seven students arrived in the U.S., “they had huge challenges to overcome but all had a genuine mission. They come from a country where they were teachers, they were leaders of leaders. Teachers are true leaders in Afghanistan. They were ambassadors for Afghanistan.”

Each of the students spoke to those gathered, expressing thanks for the patience of and guidance of their teachers and gratitude for the friendships they had made during their courses of study here. Ahmad Khalid Mowahed mirrored the feelings of the group when he said, “I hope our interaction will bring close our two nations. I hope one day we would have good understanding of each other. Our experience was like this: you plant a seed, you nurture it, it becomes a tree, and then you benefit from the tree. We still need to be nurtured. We don’t want this ceremony to end our relationship, our friendship.”

In closing the event, Dr. Joseph B. Berger also spoke about the long-term relationships he and others in CIE developed with the Afghan students. “The most important hat I wear here is that of friendship,” he said. “It didn’t take me long to realize that this is at the top of my educator experience. We took seven raw students and had an amazing experience. We brought seven young men into the classroom and it didn’t take much time with any one of them to know the level of commitment they had The impact you have on your university when you go back is going to be amazing. Your Master’s degree is a springboard. At home, you’ll face challenges, but you won’t do it alone. You’ll have each other, you’ll have us. We’ll be here while you’re doing your work out there. But Afghanistan is going to be a better place because of what you will do.”

The Center for International Education’s Afghanistan Higher Education Project is a 5-year, $7.4 million project funded by the U.S. Agency for International Development to develop institutions of secondary teacher training in Afghanistan. CIE is part of a consortium of U.S. partners led by the Academy for Educational Development, which also includes Indiana University. The consortium works with 18 Afghan universities and four-year teacher training institutes to develop both their institutional capacity and the professional skills of the over 600 faculty members working in education in those institutions. Recently, USAID asked the consortium, including CIE in collaboration with the Institute for Global Health at UMass Amherst, to take on an additional responsibility to strengthen The Kabul Medical University.