Shukria Dellawar is an Afghan-American peace and security expert, writer, poet, and outspoken human rights advocate. She has worked with Afghan and global organizations including Women for Afghan Women, Women Thrive Worldwide and Center for International Policy and has long advocated for sustainable peace in Afghanistan. Recently, my colleague Marzia Nawrozi and I had the chance to speak with Shukria about her vision for peace in Afghanistan.
Pary Shuaib: You have a strong background of advocating for human rights, peace, and progress in Afghanistan. Tell us about what motivates you.
Shukria: I was raised in the United States, but with my father always educating me on Afghan history and culture, I never felt disconnected. And when the attacks on September 11 happened, my youngest brother was in Afghanistan. We lost him in the war. From that day on, I swore that I was going to work on the Afghan peace process.
My focus has always been peace-building because without peace, we are taking one step forward and two steps back. After advocating for an Afghan-led peace process for several years, I went through a burnout phase. We needed to have a very serious, a robust peace initiative that could have been backed by regional and international actors, but it wasn’t happening. That is when I started to think about what I as an individual can do for my country. I took some time off in 2011 and this is when I started to write poetry.
My first poetry book is coming out Fall 2017. It’s called The Inner Journey because it captures my own evolution as a person in terms of growth. As I worked for peace in Afghanistan and contributed in any way I could, I also went through an inner evolution which forced me to reflect on the meaning of life. The first book is The Inner Journey because it explores topics such as what needs to be healed within us? If I have anger, pain, sorrow, that has gone unresolved and it’s sitting in my subconscious and then I enter some scene where that becomes a trigger – how am I reacting? If am unhealed, I cannot heal someone else. So, my work on Afghanistan made me go within. And I would say I’ve spent a considerable amount of time looking within, healing whatever must be healed so that my work comes from a place of peace, love, justice, and truth. Whether I want to speak on the conflict in Afghanistan, or to the pain of humanity, I want to do it in a way that is uplifting and soothing; in a way that causes people to unite, to love, to think beyond their conditioning.
Pary Shuaib: Many Afghans in the diaspora want to contribute to peace in Afghanistan but they may not know how to. How can they be effective voices?
Shukria: I am an Afghan-American and I own both identities very strongly. I say Afghanistan is my pulse and my heart is American. One cannot do without the other. And at this stage of my life, after having evolved and looking at the lens of what the majority of humanity is suffering from, I would also say that I am a global citizen.
My message to other Afghans in the diaspora is to follow your heart. When you do, you will do good – whether it is in Afghanistan, in the United States, or anywhere else in the world. Of course, as expats we have a responsibility towards Afghanistan as well because we know our roots and we may understand the situation better than non-Afghans. So if your heart is pulling you to Afghanistan, explore potential ways you can contribute.
I think we all need to work on unity and on healing ourselves and our country. We need peace at the national level, but we also need kindness and love among individuals. We must be able to look past ethnic divides and come together in these difficult times. I believe in the Afghan spirit and I believe there is going to be a peaceful future, but it will require all of us to engage in heeling one another and understanding one another. Peace-building is everyone’s responsibility.
Pary Shuaib: Being an outspoken advocate can come with a lot of caveats. Have you faced any challenges because you are a woman advocate?
Shukria: I always believed in my own dreams. The challenge was getting others to understand why I did what I did. We are often expected to get married younger, but I chose not to. I wanted to pursue my education and I wanted to work on issues that I care about. As I pursued my dreams, the biggest challenge was to make sure I didn’t hurt my family who just wanted the best for me and wanted me to settle down and be happy. They have loved me so much and I have been exceptionally blessed to be in an environment where I felt I could push the boundaries and live to my fullest potential.
I’ve been so lucky to especially be surrounded by supportive men in my family. My father was an advocate for me. My brother has supported me every step of the way. I often say he is my role model. He has supported my education, independent ventures and so much more. He has made my journey easier.
The second challenge was with struggles within me. There were times, when my family was supportive, but it required more courage to follow my dreams. I had to fight my own inner demons that at times stopped me. This is tough to harness but it has made me really learn what I’m made of, both my weaknesses and strengths. I never give up on something that I believe in. I really believe that regardless of what conditions you are in, if you can envision something and you can really hold that vision and work hard towards it, you will make it a reality.
Read Shukria’s poetry here.
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