Saira, Pakistan and Washington

Saira is a senior President’s Scholar and member of the University Honors Program who is majoring in biology and anthropology in Dedman College. She received a Richter Fellowship to travel to Peshawar, Pakistan, during winter break 2012 to research the health of Afghani refugee children. Then, during spring 2012, she will intern with the U.S. Department of State.

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Preparations for Pakistan

She told me they were beautiful people. Kind, respectful, hospitable. This was a first for me.

My last two weeks have been security meetings, warnings, and updates about the perils of Peshawar, Pakistan. For the first time, someone wasn’t lecturing me about the dangers of Peshawar, but rather was telling me about what it had to offer.

I am traveling to Peshawar in two days to research the prevalence and prevention of acute gastroenteritis (yup, diarrhea) in Afghan refugee children. The past six months have been filled with research, proposals, countless revisions, review board submissions, creating questionnaires, information searches (not to mention the innumerable Wikipedia searches) and, finally, attaining the Richter Fellowship.

When I first began to look into the history of Afghan refugees and their personal migration stories, I did not think to look to the natives and ask about their perspectives. My meeting with the Peshawar-American immigrant made me realize that many Peshawarites viewed Afghanis the way many Americans view illegal immigrants. The description of the beauties of Peshawar and its people was followed by a slight tone of negativity. The struggles faced by these refugees are well known – they were exposed to armed combat, they were witnesses of extreme violence, they were often separated from or watched the death of loved ones. I realized that perhaps the refugees were a burden to the people.

The warnings began to resurface. Religious extremism, political unrest, the overall instability – were they a result of the influx of Afghan refugees? A new story unraveled – could the refugees’ lowly status be attributed not merely to their financial status, but also to their ethnic background? How did this affect the spread of disease? The analytical, research-oriented part of my brain pulled me one way as my emotions pulled me another.

I was pulled back to the present as she offered me chai. She wrapped up her accounts with a story of her father. I could sense the nostalgia of home that she felt, and that’s when I realized this place is home for some, not merely my “project.”

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