2018 Paul & Daisy Soros Fellow Wazhma Sadat was born in Kabul, Afghanistan in a setting where her educational opportunities were severely limited by the Taliban’s ban on girls’ education. When the Taliban’s stringent policies threatened the lives of Afghan civilians, Wazhma’s family joined the millions of displaced Afghans who crossed multiple borders in search of peace and education. After the fall of the Taliban, Wazhma’s family returned to Kabul permanently where she finished high school and travelled to the United States for the first time as a high school exchange student.
Upon her return to Afghanistan, Wazhma worked on various initiatives across the country that improved women’s access to education and furthered the economic empowerment of Afghan women.
Wazhma would subsequently be the first Afghan woman to graduate from Yale College and Yale Law School. After college, she co-founded Firoz Academy, an online academy with the mission to provide educational and e-employment opportunities for the less privileged in war-stricken countries such as Afghanistan.
She is a 2019 graduate of Yale Law School, which was the degree the Paul & Daisy Soros Fellowships supported. After graduating, she completed a yearlong fellowship at the Yale Office of the General Counsel and then started a clerkship at the Connecticut Supreme Court. Among the Paul & Daisy Soros Fellows that inspire her are Fei Fei Li, Reshmaan Hussam, and Mariam Ghani.
You’re now finishing up the second year of the Paul & Daisy Soros Fellowship program. Has the Fellowship been what you expected?
Yes, I have been surprised at how much I love and feel close to my class even though I have only seen them for a few days out of the year.
As a New American, why has it been important to have The Paul & Daisy Soros Fellowships community?
I applied to the PD Soros Fellowship four days after I received my US green card in the mail. I had spent the past few years preparing myself to return and rebuild my country, Afghanistan. But as the security situation in Afghanistan deteriorated, leading my family to once again become refugees, I too had to make the painful decision of not returning home. The decision to stay in the United States coincided with my desire to attend law school amid a deafening cacophony of anti-immigrant, anti-Muslim rhetoric that shaped the political discourse of the 2016 Presidential elections. Those two years prior to applying to the PD Soros fellowship had not allowed me the chance to reflect on my abrupt journey from Afghanistan to the United States.
Becoming a part of the PD Soros family helped me hear stories similar to mine as I tried to piece together my own new journey as an Afghan woman away from my home.
What advice would you give to someone who is thinking of applying to The Paul & Daisy Soros Fellowships for New Americans?
I would advise PD Soros Fellowship applicants to enjoy the process of writing their applications and to think deeply about how they write their essays. Even before I learned that I was selected as a Fellow, I was incredibly grateful for the opportunity to reflect upon the questions and put together the many stories that have shaped my thinking.
How do you plan to stay active with the Fellowship community in the years to come?
I would love to connect with mentors in education, tech, business, and law spaces, and I would also love to mentor or connect with anyone who would like to talk about Islam, global poverty and economic development, human rights, and growing up in war.
What does The Paul & Daisy Soros Fellowships for New Americans program mean to you?
The Paul & Daisy Soros Fellowships community is one that knows too well what it means to belong to many places at once and uses that nuanced placement to make the world a much better place. ∎