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Tragedy and Triumph

17 year old Farah Ahmedi overcame a landmine injury and war in her native Afghanistan to become an award-winning author in the United States.

Ten years ago, seven-year-old Farah Ahmedi was running late for school in her hometown of Kabul, Afghanistan. Spying a shortcut, she quickly took it, and ran down a back alley. But in a flash, her life changed forever. Farah had stepped on a landmine. The medical facilities in Afghanistan could not accommodate such a serious injury, so Farah was taken to Germany by an aid group where her left leg was amputated and her right leg was fused at the knee. She spent the next two years recovering in Germany, alone and without her family.

Soon after Farah returned to Afghanistan to begin her life again, another tragedy struck. Returning from the market with her mother, Farah discovered that while they were gone, a rocket had hit their family home, killing her father and her two sisters. These would not be her only losses. A few months later, Farah’s brothers fled Afghanistan to escape the Taliban and disappeared. No one heard from them again. Farah and her mother eventually left for Pakistan. They traveled over the mountains on foot, an incredible accomplishment given Farah’s prosthetic leg. They spent several years there, first in a refugee camp and then as servants for a family in the nearby town.

While in Pakistan, Farah heard that the American government, in response to the aftermath of the U.S. invasion into Afghanistan, was inviting a few families—widows and their children—to come to the United States to begin their lives again. Farah rushed to the embassy to apply. Her request was successful, and in 2002, she and her mother were finally relocated to the U.S. by World Relief, a non-governmental organization that helps refugees from around the world.

“There is a huge difference between America and Afghanistan,” said Farah about the move. “Every moment here is safe. There are no bombs or rocket strikes to worry about. And you have freedom. I never doubted that moving to America would be a good thing. My mother was worried, but I convinced her we would be alright. She’s very proud of me now for making that happen. And I’m amazed as I sit here across the ocean just as I imagined when I was a little girl, always dreaming about what it would be like to be on the other side of the sky.”

While Farah’s experiences were terrifying, she has put them to good use. In November 2004, Farah submitted her story to a writing contest sponsored by the Simon and Schuster publishing company and ABC’s “Good Morning America.” From the 6,000 applicants, Farah was selected along with two other semi-finalists. She was paired with ghost writer Tamim Ansary to write a full length book manuscript of her life story, entitled The Story of My Life: An Afghan Girl on the Other Side of the Sky. After the manuscript was complete, America voted, and Farah won.

Before she knew it, she was traveling around the country on a book tour organized by Simon and Schuster. Farah describes the experience as a positive one. “People at the book signing were smiling and crying. After I spoke, they seemed hopeful. They were crying for me, but they were also crying for themselves, because they recognized the things that had happened in their own lives, the challenges they faced, and how they overcame them,” recalled Farah. “The book is meant to inspire people, to make them understand and to make them believe in the possibilities of their own successes—to give them hope!”

When Farah tells her story, people pay attention. Because of this, she is now able to use what she has learned to be a voice for other people threatened by landmines. In this capacity, Farah has agreed to be the new Youth Ambassador for That Landmine Thing, the joint high school outreach program run by Landmine Survivors Network and Adopt-A-Minefield. Now, as a 17-year-old student at Chicago’s Wheaton North High School, Farah conveys to students living in the U.S. how the reality of landmines affects youth around the world. Most Americans are not exposed to the actual consequences of landmines, Farah reminds us, but the problem is real and it affects real people.

Farah wants to use her book and her role as Youth Ambassador to convey what it’s like to be a person with a disability. “I can’t join and enjoy all of the activities other people can. I participate, but there are some limitations. It can make things not as much fun. Sometimes sitting and walking can be uncomfortable and hard to do. I’m nervous about dating. When you have a disability, sometimes people think you’re not smart or that your brain is affected. This bothers me because landmine survivors are capable of so much. I’m proud of who I am. My brain is not in my leg! My legs are not who I am. Who I am is in my heart and in my head!”

Looking ahead, Farah wants to go to college and become a prosthetist. Once she learns the trade, she plans to use the skill to bring more and better prosthetic limbs to the people of Afghanistan. In the meantime, she is thankful that her work has led to special attention being placed on the landmine situation. Farah is already brainstorming about ways for young people to become active as a part of the That Landmine Thing campaign. When asked what American kids could do to help other young survivors like herself, Farah said, “Students should start multicultural clubs for refugee kids—immigrants, refugees, and Americans can all learn from each other. Refugees feel isolated and lonely. It would be good if American students would reach out to them. They can help teach them English, and Americans can learn from a shared culture…. Even better is to incorporate this into a fundraiser to clear landmines and help survivors!”

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