Afghan Graduate Encourages Others To Succeed

Afghan Qiammuddin Amiry graduated Sunday from Colby College. Only a few years ago, he was weaving carpets in Kabul to help his family. He later worked as a translator with the British military, and it led to opportunities that earned him a scholarship and brought him to the United States. Now he helps bring more Afghan students to America, like Sikandar Ahmadi.

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DAVID GREENE, host:

We're going to hear next from a former translator in Afghanistan. Qiammuddin Amiry once worked alongside British Special Forces and yesterday he spoke on behalf of his classmates at the Colby College commencement ceremony in Maine.

Mr. QIAMMUDDIN AMIRY (Former Afghan translator): Starting with our professors and faculty, without your wisdom, leadership, kindness, and patience, we wouldn't be who we are today, and by that I mean skeptical of everything.

(Soundbite of laughter)

GREENE: Qiam, as friends call him, grew up in Kabul under the Taliban. He wove carpets as a boy, six days a week, to help his family earn money. His father, an educated man, insisted Qiam also learn English, and that set him on a long path to the U.S.

Mr. AMIRY: Sometimes I look at my life as a piece of fiction writing, you know, and I kind of see myself as the main character, like what else is going to happen?

GREENE: How did the British Special Forces find a young kid who had learned English? How does that happen?

Mr. AMIRY: Well, British are really getting what they want. A friend of mine from high school had found a job with the British and they were pretty new in the town, so they needed another translator. So my first interview with the British, I mean that was miserable, 'cause I had such a hard time understanding and my listening skills were weak. I had to work really hard to learn English.

GREENE: How much pressure was there in meetings like that with British Special Forces? Did you feel like if you messed this up, the doors closed, the future's not as bright?

Mr. AMIRY: No, I think at home, the fear of life becomes sort of survival, you know, and anything is possible, keep knocking and one of the doors will open.

GREENE: When you say anything is possible, I mean you strike me as someone who is - has a lot of self motivation. If someone there wants to repeat your journey, I mean how much is outside assistance, and how much of is it what you do?

Mr. AMIRY: I think it's both. My life is a combination of both. I was blessed with a loving and supporting family. And the fact that my parents were not educated, and the fact that they wanted something better for me, probably motivated me to get in that. But obviously, I wouldn't be here if I hadn't got the scholarship. So when I say everything is possible, it does not mean that somebody can lie down. You have to work for it and see opportunities in everything.

GREENE: I want to ask you about this commencement speech that you wrote. This journey that you've taken, from making carpets back as a teenager, did that factor into the speech in the large part?

Mr. AMIRY: I think one thing that I want my classmates to know, I've become who I am today as a result of my past experiences and present experiences. So I want to tell them that they had a role in shaping my identity and shaping my dreams and what I can achieve. I use my life as an example to tell them that anything is possible and they have a larger obligation to the world around them, because they are after all, the fortunate and the privileged ones.

GREENE: Now Qiam has also used his influence to reach other Afghan students. Three years ago he helped start a scholarship program through a prep school in Maine called the Gould Academy. Qiam interviewed dozens and dozens of kids in Kabul and he settled on two, one of them actually joined him in the studio: Sikandar Ahmadi.

Mr. SIKANDAR AHMADI (Scholarship recipient, Gould Academy): We still do need a lot of help in terms of bringing people out of Afghanistan and educating them in the West. There are still a lot of kids who are at my age who are even smarter than me, they can't really get those opportunities like the one I had, and they can really make a change to the destiny of Afghan people and to the world eventually.

GREENE: And is that your plan? Are you going to go to college and go home at some point?

Mr. AHMADI: Well, that's definitely one of my biggest dreams as one of the very few and fortunate Afghan kids, I should do something for my people.

GREENE: And QIAM, what's next for you?

Mr. AMIRY: What's next for me? I'm going to the Fletcher School of Foreign Diplomacy at Tufts. I want to find a place where I can be the most affective for the cause of Afghanistan. If it's Kabul, I'll be in Kabul.

GREENE: Well, thank you both so, so much for joining us. It was a real pleasure.

Mr. AMIRY: Thank you, thank you.

Mr. AHMADI: Yeah, thank you very much.

GREEN: That's Sikandar Ahmadi and Qiammuddin Amiry, Afghans who are now studying in the U.S. They joined us from Colby College in Waterville, Maine.

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