Companies, Cultures & Leaders I Admire:  Hassina Sherjan and The Delicate Balance in Afghanistan

May 16th, 2014 by Bita Milanian - 3 Comments

1While I have never met Hassina Sherjan, I feel I know her as a sister through a friend of mine who met her in Kabul, Afghanistan a few years ago. I am honored to share her story with you as the second in a series on people who don’t only wish for change, but are the change.

In my first post in this series, I shared the story of my friend Fasha Mahjoor, founder and CEO of Phenomenex and tireless philanthropist. In Fasha’s case, he started a business and embedded into it a culture of caring and service.

In Hassina’s case, she courageously started underground schools for girls during Taliban rule in Afghanistan, continues to run Aid Afghanistan For Education or AAE (an incredible non-profit focused on educating girls and boys), and who started a business to help support her educational efforts while also providing good, valuable jobs for women and men in Kabul.

At the same time I was a girl in Iran, Hassina was a young woman in Kabul. In the 1970s, she experienced the incredibly beautiful and generous culture particular to Afghans, and enjoyed the short-lived freedoms and open opportunities before the Russian invasion and Taliban rule. Many women in Hassina’s family worked: some as teachers, others as politicians and entrepreneurs.  Her mother opened Afghanistan’s first floral shop.

Hassina’s family immigrated to the United States in 1978, settled comfortably in the Northwest, learned English and completed her education along with her two brothers. When she became aware of the oppression of Afghan women and girls in the 1990s (forbidden to go to school, forced into marriages as young girls, stripped of freedoms she once enjoyed), she returned to her country and met with women and children, many of whom had been forced to the streets for survival, then invested $3,000 in five clandestine schools for 250 girls in Kabul.  Despite threats of violence against the faculty and students, the schools continued to operate and as part of the reconstruction of the country following 9/11, remained open, grew and continue to graduate both boys and girls.

As part of this journey, Hassina also founded and remains CEO of Boumi, an internationally recognized home accessory business.

While Hassina has been honored many times, as an inspiring philanthropist, entrepreneur, philosopher, co-author (Toughing It Out in Afghanistan, published in 2011), and sought-after motivational speaker, she remains humbled by not only her faculty and students, but the need to keep going, to do more, and to never stop advocating, particularly as the future of her beloved country hangs in the balance.

2AAE now operates 13 schools in nine provinces throughout Afghanistan, and educates more than 3000 female and over 100 male young students annually. Since 2007, 1124 students have graduated from AAE schools and many of them are working, going to university or established their own businesses.

Meantime, I encourage us all to support Hassina’s efforts (you can donate at www.aidafghanistan.org/donors). And to also enjoy the beautiful products the Boumi team creates out of a sunlit facility in Kabul.  Not only does Boumi sell beautiful pillow covers and other home accessories, but lab coats for doctors, and kitchen cooks’ uniforms.

I am inspired – and hope you are too – including inspired to action.

Someday when I am finally able to meet Hassina in person, I will share more.  In the meantime, this post is dedicated with everlasting love to my best friend, Mejgan, a loving and amazing Afghan woman whose spirit lives on in my heart and the hearts of many others.

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