March 11, 2007
“In 1992, I was in sixth grade, living a normal life in Afghanistan with my family,” remembers Mahmood Khan, a first-year student at Lewis & Clark. “But suddenly, everything changed when war erupted in Afghanistan.” The country had fallen into a period of warlordism after the withdrawal of Soviet forces.
In an effort to flee the fighting, Khan and his family headed to Peshawar, Pakistan.
A decade later, Khan was working for Mercy Corps, an emergency relief organization, serving as a field system administrator for South Asia, the Middle East, and Africa. Now he is studying computer science and economics at Lewis & Clark.
His story is one of grit, determination, and a healthy dose of intelligence.
When Khan arrived in Pakistan, he didn’t speak the language and was unable to register for school. After a period of home study, he was able to enroll in a school with fellow Afghans. Over time, he learned both Urdu (the language spoken in Pakistan) and English, and grabbed any opportunity to learn about computers–including a one-year course of study at a private school.
In 2002, after the United States had entered Afghanistan and ousted the Taliban, Khan felt the situation had improved enough for him to return to his homeland.
Khan’s uncle, who was working at Mercy Corps as a health coordinator, helped his nephew get a job as a translator with the organization. Khan’s dedication, skill, and interest in computers led to repeated promotions, and he rapidly reached the position of IT and administration manager.
But Khan always had a desire to get a college education. “You don’t need a suitcase to carry an education,” says Khan. “I view it as an investment in the future for myself and my family.”
Khan began looking into colleges. One of his Mercy Corps colleagues happened to be Karen Lehman Jackson ‘76, a technology systems specialist.
“I thought Lewis & Clark would be a good fit for Mahmood,” says Jackson. “I thought he would benefit from the size of the community, the College’s commitment to international students, and the sheer quality of the academic program.”
During the academic year, Khan works 10 hours a week for Mercy Corps, providing support to its field offices. In the summer, he will work for the organization full time. “It would be difficult to go to college without my job and the support of Mercy Corps,” he says.
Although Khan has not yet nailed down his future plans, he hopes that by the time he graduates, Afghanistan will be a safer, more stable place to return to.
Adapted, with permission, from an article by Cassandra Nelson, senior global communications officer at Mercy Corps.