Preparing for a painful journey

Mission: An Arundel woman braces herself to visit her native Afghanistan for the first time since 1979.

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. She has donated 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."

Fleeing Soviet takeover

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, was 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. The sister, who asked that her name not be used, fled the country and now lives with Vorgetts in Anne Arundel County after having been granted political asylum here.

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," Vorgetts says. "Afghanistan was perfect for terrorists."

But hunting down Osama bin Laden will not be enough to get rid of the terrorists there, she says. To do that, you have to get rid of the "root" of terrorism through education and employment.

That's one of the messages Vorgetts plans to take with her 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, and hopes to come up with ideas for projects that individuals and small businesses here can contribute to.

Will search for relatives

Vorgetts, who is financing her trip, says she will meet with members of the Revolutionary Association of the Women of Afghanistan in Pakistan. She then plans to cross the border into Afghanistan, where she hopes to find members of her family, though she does not know where any of them are.

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," she says. "To go there and see that the house I grew up in is leveled or the schools I went to are destroyed - it will not be easy. 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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