Woman braces for next view of her native Afghanistan

Arundel resident to help in rebuilding homeland

January 27, 2002|By Amanda J. Crawford | Amanda J. Crawford,SUN STAFF

For more than two decades, Fahima Vorgetts has dreamed of going home.

But now, as the Annapolis business owner prepares for her first trip back to Afghanistan since she fled the war-torn country in 1979, she braces for the worst.

"I have been warned that the country is so devastated, and most of the people I knew are gone or killed," she says. "I have been told that I will be heartbroken, and I am prepared for that."

Vorgetts, 47, leaves today for a five-week trip that will take her into the midst of the suffering people of her homeland. She will start in the refugee camps of Pakistan, then venture into Afghanistan, to volunteer in schools and shelters and discuss women's rights and other issues with members of the interim government.

For several years, Vorgetts has done what she could to help Afghanistan from afar, donating thousands of dollars from her Annapolis businesses, Aaryana Imports on Maryland Avenue and Moon Cafe on Prince George Street, to women's groups there.

She also speaks regularly to community groups, women's groups and church groups about the plight of the people of Afghanistan. Those speaking engagements have increased to three or four a week in the months since the terrorist attacks Sept. 11 put Afghanistan in America's cross hairs.

Now, Vorgetts says, the time is right for her to make the trip she has been waiting for all these years. "I would like to be part of the process," she says. "The need is so great there, I do not know what I can do and where I can start. But I am going. I am going."

Vorgetts left Afghanistan in 1979 after a Soviet-backed communist government took hold of the country. Seven years earlier, her father, a moderate Muslim leader, had been assassinated.

She came to the United States in 1983 and became a U.S. citizen in 1997, a year after the Taliban took control of Afghanistan.

While Vorgetts established herself here, her sisters in Afghanistan struggled under the Taliban's religious fundamentalist laws. One of her sisters was targeted by the government for running an underground school for girls.

Vorgetts says she wishes the international community had heeded the cries of the women and other poverty-stricken Afghans before the terrorist attacks.

"Terrorists will find a safe haven where there is neglect, lawlessness, poverty and a lack of education," she says. "Afghanistan was perfect for terrorists." Hunting down Osama bin Laden will not get rid of the terrorists there, she says. You have to get rid of the "root" of terrorism through education and employment.

That's one message Vorgetts plans to take to Afghanistan, when she meets with the ministers of education and finance, among others. She also will plead for women's rights and help for the disabled.

It will not be an easy trip, Vorgetts says, but it is a trip she feels she has to make: "I know what war brings to a country. ... But that is why I am going there, to help.

"I hope next time that I go back the situation will have improved," she says. "One day, I'll go back to a peaceful, prosperous Afghanistan."

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