By Maria GallegosJune 25, 2009
FORT SAM HOUSTON, Texas -- An Afghanistan teen showed her appreciation for American Soldiers and the work they are doing in her country, by personally thanking Maj. John Meyer, executive officer and Master Sgt. Antwan Nicholson, non-commissioned officer-in-charge, both assigned to the Warrior Transition Battalion, Fort Sam Houston, at the Warrior and Family Support Center, June 4.
Identified as Maryam in order to protect her identity, the 16-year-old always wanted to show her gratitude. "I wanted to speak to them when they were passing through our streets, but because I did not speak the language, it was difficult for me to express my feelings to them," said Maryam.
Beyond language, stringent barriers exist against women and girls moving about the city and interacting with men outside their immediate families in Afghanistan under the Taliban. According to the U.S. State Department, the Taliban forced nearly all women to quit their jobs, restricted access to medical care and brutally enforced a restrictive dress code. Schools were closed and acts of violence against women, including rape, abduction, and forced marriage rose. For their safety, some families resorted to sending their daughters to Pakistan or Iran.
Prior to the rise of the Taliban, women had the right to vote. As early as the 1960s, the Afghan constitution provided equality for women. In 1977, women comprised over 15 percent of Afghanistan's highest legislative body. The State Department estimates that by the early 1990s, women comprised 70 percent of the country's schoolteachers, 50 percent of its government workers and university students, and 40 percent of its doctors in the capitol of Kabul.
Maryam met with Meyer, who served in Afghanistan from 2003 to 2004 and Nicholson who served in 2007. Through a series of questions and answers, Meyer and Nicholson explained their jobs during deployment and the reasons U.S. Sol-diers are in her country.
"Thank you for your service and sacrifices you made for our country. I will never forget this," exclaimed Maryam. She said she felt relieved and content knowing that the American Soldiers were there to protect her family from the Taliban and train Afghan Soldiers.
"This is a great experience, I wish I had brought more Soldiers with me that were deployed in Afghanistan to meet you and talk with you," said Nicholson.
The opportunity to communicate directly with American Soldiers came to fruition when Maryam's father sent her to the U.S., as part of the Youth Exchange and Study program.
"Having an Afghan student in this program meet with U.S. Soldiers has never been done before. Maryam's deep concerns made this possible," said Deborah Sander, area coordinator with the American Councils whose organization administers the YES program.
Created in response to the events of Sept. 11, 2001; the YES program advances understanding between the U.S. and countries with significant Muslim populations according to the American Councils Web site. High school students from more than 35 countries and territories are awarded merit-based scholarships, funded by the Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs, to live in the U.S. for one year, staying with a host family and attending high school. The program has brought more than 170 Afghan high school students to the U.S.
After successfully completing several rounds of testing as part of the application process, Maryam, one of nine siblings in her family, was invited to participate and travel to Texas where she was welcomed by her host family. She attended TMI-The Episcopal School of Texas in San Antonio as a junior.
"This is my first time as a host mom," said Roxana Newson. She was a guest and now she is part of our family. We have three children of our own and Maryam is the peacemaker. I truly will miss her when she goes back."
"We are delighted to have Maryam in this program. Her family sacrifices every day to give Maryam the education and positive influences the program offers," said Sander.
"My father does not sleep at night because he patrols our home in Afghanistan to protect the family from any danger. He is very liberal and believes education is important," explained Maryam.
"It's amazing how much they blossom with all other nationalities, laughing and chatting down the halls," said Cindy Schneid, director of public relations and financial aid at TMI.
Maryam returned to Afghanistan shortly after her visit with the Soldiers. She said she hopes to come back to study journalism at a university in the future.