- The Washington Times - Wednesday, August 28, 2002

BRISTOL, R.I. (AP) In Afghanistan, the six young girls studied in basements or any nooks they could find to avoid the eyes of Taliban rulers.
Banned from attending school, some learned surreptitiously from their fathers. One had a teacher who would pass himself off as a grandfather. Until Taliban rule ended in the fall, the girls wondered what it would be like to again study openly.
"It was like a sin for women to study," said Forozan Farhat, a 22-year-old from the former Taliban stronghold of Kandahar.
But the women are about to do what had once seemed impossible go to college in the United States. A scholarship drive started by Roger Williams University in Rhode Island has provided each woman with a free college education in what is believed to be first time female Afghan emigres have been given full scholarships to study in the United States.
Two are attending Roger Williams University in Bristol. The others are going to Notre Dame College, in Euclid, Ohio; the University of Hartford, in Connecticut; the University of Montana, in Missoula; and the University of Southern Oregon, in Ashland.
Under the terms of the scholarships, the women are required to return to Afghanistan and help rebuild it.
Dressed in flowing traditional Afghan robes, most wearing head scarves, the women talked excitedly Monday in fluid English about helping a nation left destitute from more than two decades of war and tribal fighting.
"We are going for them, not for America," said Masooda Mehdizada, 19, who is attending Roger Williams and aspires to be Afghanistan's president.
The idea for the scholarship drive began over dinner in the fall with Roger Williams President Roy J. Nirschel, his wife, Paula, and Fatima Gailani, a politically active Afghan woman who lived in Providence and has since returned to Afghanistan.
Paula Nirschel chose the winners from a list of a dozen hopefuls. Roger Williams will pay $250,000 for two girls' education.
The Taliban, a strict Islamic movement founded in the early 1990s, prohibited Afghan girls from attending school after they turned 8.
The students persevered any way they could. Some studied while in exile in neighboring Pakistan. Others taught English to children half their age.
Miss Farhat, who's attending Notre Dame College, studied hard to teach herself English, using whatever books she could find. She was overwhelmed when she learned she would be able to study in the United States.
"I was so happy I cried," Miss Farhat said. "My friends asked, 'Forozan, why are you crying?' I said, 'I'm going to America.'"

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