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An aunt’s legacy and the unrelenting devotion of alumnae help bring Parwin Ahmadi ’27 to Randolph

Parwin Ahmadi ’27 can still vividly recall her last days in Afghanistan.

In the days after the Taliban invaded Kabul in the summer of 2021, Parwin and her family—her older sister, Somaya, along with their parents, younger brother, and grandmother—were among the thousands of people waiting at the airport to leave the country.

“On that first night at the airport, I gazed up at the sky, filled with countless bright stars,” she said. “It was a breathtaking sight, but the coldness in the air only added to the heaviness in our hearts as we left our home behind.”

The family made the perilous journey to the airport with help from a network of the College’s alumnae from across the world—a group that banded together and worked their connections to ensure that the family found not just safety but that the children could eventually continue their education.

It took several days before they were cleared to leave Afghanistan on a military plane. They had no idea where it was headed.

“It felt really strange leaving our country like that,” she said. “We were on a military plane, not a regular one you’d expect when leaving a country. Normally, you know your destination when you board a flight, but we didn’t. It was a truly sad and unusual experience, and I can’t emphasize enough how sad it felt.

“I had always dreamt of leaving my country,” Parwin added, “but my vision was to find scholarships for education, and then return to contribute to my homeland. I never imagined that I’d be leaving in such a sorrowful manner.”

A family legacy

Parwin started classes at Randolph this fall as the first recipient of the Kobra Ahmadi Nader ’10 Scholarship for Displaced Students. The scholarship is named in honor of her aunt, who attended Randolph as an international student with assistance from alumnae and The Initiative to Educate Afghan Women.

Kobra, a graduate of the Class of 2010, tragically died in a car accident in 2012, but left behind a legacy.

“Kobra was kind, thoughtful, very smart, and she truly loved her country,” said Susan Sardina ’70, who became close with Kobra after she came to the United States. “Everything she achieved, she achieved on her own, and it was remarkable. It shows how hard work and commitment can really pay off. And now that’s continuing with her nieces, which is really very exciting.”

Parwin and Somaya had always hoped to follow in Kobra’s footsteps at Randolph.

“In our family, education is highly important,” Parwin said. “Our parents always wanted us to study and become independent, just like Kobra. She was the first girl in our family to get an education, and even though she’s not with us anymore, her legacy remains strong, especially in our commitment to education.”

A perilous journey

When Kabul fell to the Taliban, Parwin and Somaya were studying at the University of Kabul. That, in and of itself, made them targets, as well as their father’s work with the Afghanistan Independent Human Rights Commission.

“We were so afraid because he had all the documents and his uniform,” Parwin said. “We had my aunt’s pictures from when she was studying here. We were hidden, all of us, in the house. We couldn’t leave our house at all.”

“We were filled with deep, paralyzing fear of the Taliban and the uncertainty it brought,” Parwin added. “As a young girl, I simply wanted to learn, read, and dream beyond my home. But the Taliban’s strict rules for girls made these dreams seem impossible. It was a battle to keep hope alive, but I held onto the belief that one day, somewhere, my dreams of education and a life without fear would come true.”

Sardina, too, was afraid, and immediately reached out to Somaya to check on the family. She knew something had to be done to get them out of the country.

She tried going through political channels with no luck, then sent an email to Susan Fant ’84, who reached out to the College. It snowballed from there as more alumnae found out about the family’s plight and jumped into action.

“It was just a miracle that everyone was getting connected to each other,” Parwin said in October, not long after she returned to campus from fall break.

In Farmville, Juanita Giles ’96 heard what was happening and started making phone calls of her own, learning about the complex processes involved in securing visas and sponsors for refugees.

All of their work—connecting with people on the ground in Afghanistan, as well as completing mountains of paperwork stateside—culminated in the family being spirited out of Afghanistan a few days after the Taliban’s invasion.

“We talked a lot about Kobra’s hand being on everything, miracle after miracle,” Giles said. “Every tiny thing had to go perfectly, and every person had to show up at the right time.”

The family finally boarded a flight several days later, eventually landing in Abu Dhabi. They lived in a humanitarian camp there for nearly a year—the first several months spent in quarantine with no time outdoors.

For Parwin, “those days were just like years,” she said.

She found herself looking at the night sky once again, this time from a tiny window in the room she shared with Somaya.

“It was the only view I had for 11 months,” she said.

Stacy DeLano ’71, who worked at the College when Kobra was a student and became close with her, connected with the Ahmadis while they were in Abu Dhabi. Like Giles and Sardina, she now considers them part of her own family.

“This whole thing is just a complicated web, and it all starts with Kobra,” DeLano said from her home in Portugal. “I feel like she is looking down on her family, and she’s taking care of them.”

During their time in Abu Dhabi, the family found encouragement from DeLano, Giles, Sardina, and the rest of the alumnae who helped them.

“They encouraged us to hold on to hope,” Parwin reflected. “People were reaching out to celebrate our birthdays. It was truly remarkable to discover that there were individuals who genuinely cared for us, even though we were complete strangers. In the midst of the challenging and nightmarish times, it felt like a ray of hope. Many compassionate souls extended their support, making our days in Abu Dhabi more bearable.”

A miracle

As the family waited and went through various background and medical checks, the work among College alumnae continued.

Giles connected with nonprofit leaders in Farmville and put together a team to help the family with housing, food, jobs, and more.

By the time the family landed in the United States, a fully furnished home was ready for them in Farmville.

“Juanita was sending pictures to us of everything in the house,” Parwin remembered. “It was amazing to have everyone waiting for us to come. It felt really good. We didn’t know anyone in this country, but we had people waiting for us.”

They met Giles, who Parwin and Somaya now call their godmother, in person for the first time on the day they arrived, and Sardina last fall when she drove down from Boston. They’re still waiting to meet DeLano, but Parwin hopes to visit her in Portugal eventually.

Meanwhile, work to establish a scholarship in Kobra’s name was ongoing behind the Red Brick Wall, with President Sue Ott Rowlands making the first leadership gift to the fund.

“I’m so incredibly proud to have been involved in any of it along the way,” Sardina said. “Anyone who knew Kobra absolutely loved her. To think that, now, her name can live on is incredible.”

Parwin, who is majoring in business with a minor in computer science, finished her first session with A’s in both classes. She’s excited about the possibilities of internships and plans to participate in Model United Nations next spring.

“I wasn’t sure if I would be coming to Randolph at all,” she said. “We were really hopeful to go to school again, to be educated, to be free. It’s a miracle to be studying again.”

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