Helping prepare for the Afghani visit are, from l. to r., computer skills instructor Pattie Ridenour, EXL Associate Dean Bob Brocklehurst, and EXL support coordinator Andrea Henderson.
Cal State Northridge has been chosen as one of only four universities in the nation to host a visiting delegation of women officials from Afghanistan's new government, providing a specialized two-week training program to help the women gain the skills needed to begin rebuilding their war-torn country.
Through its College of Extended Learning, CSUN is scheduled to host a five-member delegation of Afghani women-none of whom has ever been to the West before-starting Monday, September 30. The visit is being arranged by the U.S. State Department and coordinated locally by the International Visitors Council of Los Angeles.
The five Afghani women-all mid-level government officials in their 20s and 30s-will spend their weekday mornings for two weeks from September 30 through October 11 improving their English and computer skills in a CSUN computer lab, mainly learning how to research and write grant proposals that Afghanistan must prepare to speed much-needed international aid.
"This is a once in a lifetime chance for us to help a nation and its women who have been so suppressed," said Simin Bahmanyar, the College of Extended Learning program development director who will oversee the women's instructional program. "If they can go back with something they learn here and put it to use, then we've accomplished our mission."
Along with the women coming to Cal State Northridge, another five-member group will receive training at Metropolitan State College and the University of Colorado-Denver in Denver, while a four-member group will study at Kennesaw State University in Atlanta. With other stops before and after, the 14 women are due to stay a month in the United States.
"This is a terrific opportunity for Cal State Northridge because we are committed to strengthening our connections with the community, whether here at home or abroad," said CSUN President Jolene Koester. "We already are a very diverse campus with many international students. But I think these kinds of exchanges teach us as much as we teach our guests."
The visit is one sign of the slow but steady reemergence of women in Afghanistan public life after five years of repression under the now toppled Taliban regime. During the Taliban era, most Afghani women could not hold jobs outside the home, were forbidden from leaving home without a male relative and were denied education, much medical care and other essentials.
With the November 2001 defeat of the Taliban, the U.S. government has made a top priority of helping Afghanis begin to rebuild their country, which has been ravaged by decades of civil strife and war. And because of the extraordinary repression the Taliban imposed on women, the U.S. is giving special attention to helping restore their place in Afghani society.
CSUN was chosen for the historic program because of President Koester, who has a longstanding interest in international education and exchange. Koester was one of 36 women university presidents and chancellors who personally sponsored a full-page ad last February in the New York Times supporting women's rights, including education, in post-war Afghanistan.
The presidents and chancellors each head campuses that are part of the American Association of State Colleges and Universities (AASCU). So when the U.S. State Department subsequently asked AASCU to help develop the training program, seeking out universities in major urban areas, AASCU contacted President Koester.
While at CSUN, the five Afghani women will spend their mornings being taught by a rotating team of five instructors headed by Bahmanyar. In the afternoons and on weekends, they will meet with government and private groups, tour museums and tourist spots, and make a noon presentation on Wednesday, October 9 to the World Affairs Council downtown.
The Afghani women slated to come to CSUN are Masooda Barekzaie, a staff member in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs; Marzia Bazul, a judge in the Kabul Public Security Court; Jina Haidari, director of cooperatives, and Wilda Rustaie, a secretary in the Ministry of Women's Affairs, and Breshna Sadat, another staff member in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
Bob Brocklehurst, associate dean of CSUN's College of Extended Learning and the campus' coordinator for the visit, predicted the women will be dramatically influenced by their exposure to Western society. "Our team of instructors is prepared to coach them through a comprehensive classroom learning experience while also nurturing and encouraging their exploration of the Los Angeles community," Brocklehurst said.
Since CSUN first learned last May of the possibility of the Afghani visit, Brocklehurst said countless members of the university community have offered to help with the visit or share expertise with the women, far more than they will have time for. Nonetheless, CSUN officials hope the two weeks will be the beginning of an ongoing relationship with the five women.
CSUN's College of Extended Learning offers various educational programs to those who want to take a wide range of classes and training programs without going through the university admissions process. The college last year had nearly 12,000 students enrolled, in addition to the university's 32,000 admitted students, said Dean Joyce Feucht-Haviar.
A successful visit by the Afghanistan delegation also could open the doors to new opportunities for international partnerships involving the university.
"Each time the university is responsive and successful with a particular group, it broadens our connections with new communities and wins friends for the university who may seek our help for other projects in the future," Feucht-Haviar said.
Afghanistan Culture PresentationTo prepare for the upcoming campus visit, CSUN Vice President for Administration and Finance Mohammad "Mo" Qayoumi will speak on the culture of Afghanistan. The event will be held at 1:30 p.m. Tuesday, September 24, in the Northridge Center of the University Student Union. Those planning to attend should RSVP to Andrea Henderson at x2270 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
@csun | September 23, 2002 issue
Public Relations | University Advancement
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