ADA — Sabera Yazdani and Abdul Qadir Shahidyar are not your typical college students.
They’re both in their mid-20s to early 30s, and already have years of experience as lawyers in Afghanistan. Shahidyar is also married, and Yazdani has been the main source of income for her family since graduating from Kabul University.
The Afghan natives are attending Ohio Northern University as part of a $2.9 million cooperative agreement with the U.S. State Department and the Bureau of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs. The program provides English language training along with courses on the American legal system, constitutional law and more.
Shahidyar and Yazdani are two of 10 Afghans studying law at ONU for the next 18 months. Once their coursework is completed, the students will receive a master’s of law degree from the university, enabling them to take on leadership roles in their country’s rule of law development.
Though their background is unlike most students at ONU, Shahidyar and Yazdani are like any other college student looking to use their knowledge and educational achievements to make changes in their country.
“My goal is this: I came here to take something from this university back home to make some changes in our institutions,” Shahidyar said, “especially in the rule of law and democratic institutions.”
Following years of war, Afghanistan is still transitioning to a democratic governance. Shahidyar said corruption and bribery still abound in the Afghan government, but he hopes the knowledge and experience he gains at ONU will allow him to make the legal system fairer for the country’s residents.
“I was working as a legal director in Afghanistan Chamber of Commerce, and I was working with the oversight commission on access to information,” he said. “There are some difficulties which we have, especially in this rule of law, so I want to make some changes.
“I want to establish new things, but I don’t have any experience to promote this.”
Yazdani said programs that American institutions have are not available in Afghanistan, which is why she decided to travel to the U.S.
“Higher education is needed to achieve my goals,” said Yazdani, who serves as national legal adviser for the Justice Sector Support Program in Afghanistan. “This program is not available in my country, so to achieve these goals I had to do it abroad.”
Yazdani said she also works with a variety of women’s groups in Afghanistan, and of one her main goals upon returning to her native country is combating the issue of violence against women.
“This is a big problem in Afghanistan,” she said.
Both students said with an American diploma, they will likely be promoted within the organizations they work for. Shahidyar said he has aspirations of working in the Afghan Supreme Court or serving as the Minister of Justice.
“If you receive a U.S. diploma, you will be appointed in a good position,” Shahidyar said. “If you have more power, if you have more responsibility, you can do some changes.”
Shahidyar, Yazdani and the eight other Afghan students will attend ONU until May 2017. Next spring, the group will intern with local courts, legal offices and state government agencies.
ONU has graduated 15 Afghan attorneys since 2011, including six women.
Reach John Bush at 567-242-0456 or on Twitter @bush_lima