Submitted by Meghan Feeley

After the International Women of Courage Award ceremony at the U.S Department of State I had the opportunity to speak with Maryam, a special guest from Afghanistan. This is the story she shared…

Beneficiaries of USAID assistance Vivian (Kenya), Terhas (Ethiopia) and Maryam (Afghanistan) celebrated International Women’s Day with Secretary of State Hilary Clinton on March 8, 2011. Photo credit: Department of State

Maryam: As a child growing up as a refugee in Iran and Pakistan, I had seen the white tarpaulins with blue ink of “USAID” on them. They had helped my family to move back to Afghanistan and start our life. Years later, I was in disbelief when I found an email from Ms. Meghan Feeley, who introduced herself as a member of USAID working for the Office of Afghanistan and Pakistan affairs. I read her email carefully and yet did not believe it was sent to me. In her email, she mentioned that I was invited to the White House on March 8th for the 100th anniversary of International Women’s Day to represent Afghanistan.

It was an unbelievable experience. Tuesday, March 8th, 2011, I attended the International Women of Courage Award ceremony at the U.S Department of State. I was sitting at the front row with two other students representing Kenya and Ethiopia. The event was hosted by Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton, and the special guest was First Lady Michelle Obama. During this ceremony Secretary Clinton, First Lady Michelle Obama, the Prime Minster of Australia, Julia Gillard, and the President of Kyrgyzstan, Roza Otunbayeva, were among the speakers.

After the event, the USAID had a surprise for us. We got to go to Hillary Clinton’s chamber and briefly introduced ourselves and had a chance to take pictures with her. Just being in the room with her was powerful enough to inspire us to be optimistic for a better world.

At the White House, the USAID staff made sure we were at the front lines after First Lady Michelle Obama delivered her inspiring speech; she spoke about how women have been empowered over these 100 years and the growth that has occurred in terms of global recognition of women’s rights. Yet we still have a long way to go to reach where our male colleagues stand in this country. After her speech, she came around and gave each of us a hug.

The phenomenon of being in the room where powerful women were speaking so passionately about how women can change the world one step at a time made a huge impact on me. One quote from the day that really stuck in my mind was that “courage is contagious.” I felt that the courage of these women was being transferred from the stage to the women in the audience. This day was one of the most powerful, inspiring and unforgettable days of my life. I was truly honored to be a part of this event. I was thrilled to represent Afghanistan at the 100th anniversary of International Women’s Day at the White House.

Visit our blog tomorrow to read Part Two: Vivian’s Story—Breaking the Cycle of Poverty by Educating and Empowering Girls.