Fatemeh Hashemi’s work to build a better educational future for girls in Iran

Weidenfeld-Roland Berger Scholar Fatemeh Hashemi (Magister Juris, 2014-15) writes of her personal mission to improve female education in Iran, through her family’s inspiring university foundation.

WRB_Hashemi,FatemehMy home country of Iran is a country of over 75 million people located in the Middle East. It has a long and illustrious history as a great civilization with deeply rooted traditions. Like most old nations, Iran has also gone through periods of glory and subjugation. Between 1980 and 1988 Iran faced a brutal and costly war with its neighbour Iraq and for the past decade it has endured the most severe international economic and financial sanctions which have ever been imposed on a country.

In spite of this, today Iran has one of the highest levels of literacy in the region, as well as a highly educated and skilled work force. Women constitute 55% of all students in all the country’s major universities. Education has always been part of Iranian genetic make up.

However whilst this is true for Iran’s big cities and major urban communities, the situation in rural and agricultural areas is far less encouraging. In these areas, the norm is for boys to relocate to big industrial or commercial centers straight after high school. Entrenched traditions and customs dictate that girls are expected to stay at home, get married and bear children.

Beautiful scenery around Khonsar

Khonsar, a city of thirty thousand people, is typical of Iran’s agricultural landscape. It is located about two hours’ drive from Iran’s second largest city Esfahan and is surrounded by high mountains and deep valleys. It has a beautiful scenic landscape and, due to its historical isolation, it has maintained very deep cultural traditions and religious belief.

My father was born and spent his youth in Khonsar before relocating to Tehran. Over sixty years, he became successful in the construction business and accumulated a sizable fortune. During my upbringing, we were often reminded of our good fortune and privileges; we were taught that it is a moral duty and responsibly to give something back to the community. As such, as a family, we have always tried to help people in need in this region and ten years ago my father decided to establish and build a university in Khonsar only for girls. The purpose of the university was to give girls from low-income families access to higher education, alongside specific skills that would allow them to make a better life for themselves and help their family financially.

Hashemi University has now been operating successfully for a number of years. It has a cohort of 350 young girls from all over Iran, mostly from low-income families, who are housed in the university dormitory for a period of three years. To date, results have been very encouraging. Most of the graduates have found employment and some have started their own businesses. Demand for places at the university has continued to outpace university’s ability to expand and accept more applicants.

Hashemi university
Hashemi University

My father is now 80 years old and less energetic than in the past, so I have decided to take over his role with the aim of introducing a more sustainable western style institution in Iran, drawing upon my own experience of the western system of philanthropy.

My idea was to establish a legal foundation to oversee the continuing operation, expansion and modernisation of the university. The first major objective of this foundation is to change the region’s outmoded cultural prejudices and biases against the young female population, establishing more equality between the sexes and transforming local attitudes to better reflect the twenty-first century ethos of female education for future self-reliance and independence.

Secondly the Foundation plans to establish a sustainable administrative body to undertake ongoing promotion and marketing schemes to seek private donations and public funding to secure the University’s future. Thirdly a supervisory board is to be created to assure the university’s educational excellence by providing the best programs, the latest educational tools and well-qualified staff.

Legal documents are currently being prepared and procedures finalised. We have been considering our administrative requirements and looking for a suitable space to house the new Foundation. I am also in the process of contacting successful business people all over Iran who were either born in Khonsar or descend from Khonsari parents or grandparents. After my initial efforts, this will be widened to include many other well-to-do people in Iran.

Upon my return to Iran after graduating in August, I plan to dedicate a large portion of my personal time to ensure that this project takes off and becomes not only a success on its own merits but also a model for others to emulate.

About the Scholar

Fatemeh Hashemi

Magister Juris (MJur), 2015
St Anne's College, Oxford
Roland Berger Scholar

Happy Ark School for Migrant Workers’ Children

Being honoured with a Weidenfeld-Hoffmann scholarship, I decided to study activism in Russia and China.
I set off to Kunming, the capital of Yunnan province to find relevant initiatives and to get to know young people who voluntarily work for the improvement of the society.
Fortunately, I didn’t need to look for long – in the University I am affiliated with there was a recruitment to volunteer at the Happy Ark school for migrant workers’ children.
Happy Ark has been established a year ago by a Malaysian Chinese couple and operates as a charity. It is located in Kunming’s slums… What once was a village with farmers now has been “developed” to narrow sets of crowded streets, with cheap but tall buildings.
irina blog 2

No wonder that this area of the city feels like “another world” with strong smell of alcohol, people on the streets making fire to keep them selves warm and policemen patrolling every corner. While the parents are trying to make their ends meet, children are wandering around those streets. In China, when the school finishes in the afternoon, most children spend their time doing homework, playing sports, and attending additional classes such as music or language. But what about families that can’t afford extra- curriculum education?

Happy Ark is providing high quality free after-class education and mentoring. Children arrive rafter lunch to attend classes and make their homework under the supervision of the volunteers. The classes are arranged around different themes related to such as optimism, compassion, work, and others. Pupils have sports, drawing and English language classes and have time to do their homework.

Children get stickers if they come to school every day during the week. On Saturdays they can exchange their stickers for presents such as toys, pens, stationery items. Every category of presents has a different price – so the children have to make decisions if they want to exchange what they have 2 right away, or make a longer-term commitment of attendance to get more “expensive” presents later. Also for every correct response to different question, a pupil gets a little present – like a sticker and a bookmark.

I tried to teach English and sports by using their methods and I have found these little tricks very useful. First, in general, due to an authoritative-style traditional education, Chinese pupils are usually not proactive. These children were so enthusiastic to take part in every lesson and activity and their progress was just astonishing!

Screen Shot 2015-04-28 at 10.40.47After taking to some of them I learned that they now have hope for going to the University. Although just a year ago they didn’t see another future than helping their parents to run small shops.

Communicating with the volunteers, students of Kunming Universities, the children develop new aspirations and start thinking bigger. The volunteers admit, that actually they learn more here, by doing charity work than they learn at school. However, not everything is so careless. The whole school consists of two rooms, with the capacity for around 40 seating places. During my time there there were at least 60 children present for each class. The school also constantly needs books, pens and pencils and toys for presents.
There is a constant lack of human resources: “We really need volunteers. We only have 2 full-time staff. We can’t do without help from volunteers like students, but they are always busy with homework, and it takes a long time for them to go to our part of town. Unfortunately we can’t pay for transport.”

Happy Ark accepts foreign volunteers, and would be glad to accommodate anyone who would love to help out with the running the school and teaching classes.

I feel very grateful that I had a chance to get to know the people who run such an inspirational project.
It is certainly a pleasure to provide the students with such educational opportunities that sometimes even children of very rich parents don’t get in China.

About the Scholar

Irina Fedorenko

Geography and Environment (DPhil), 2016
Green Templeton College, Oxford
Hoffmann Scholar

Water Markets in California

California is in the fourth year of a critical drought. As the most productive agricultural region in the United States, the Californian drought has significant ramifications for food security in the country as well as nations that rely heavily on food imports. California is a major player in the global commodities market, exporting large amounts of wheat, alfalfa, nuts, fruits and vegetables to countries worldwide. For example, 84% of the global almond market originates from California. Read more “Water Markets in California”

About the Scholar

Michelle Barbara Valentine

Hong Kong
Water Science, Policy and Management (MSc), 2015
Christ Church, Oxford
Louis Dreyfus Scholar

Ditchley Conference Report

Ugochukwu Ezeh (Annenberg supported Oxford-Weidenfeld Scholar, BCL 2014-15 and Weidenfeld-Hoffmann Scholar, MPhil Law 2015016) attended the Ditchley Foundation Conference on Global Ambitions and Local Grievances: Understanding Political Islam which took place 19th to 21st March 2015.

Over 40 delegates delegates participated in the Conference, drawn from various countries ranging from Syria, Canada, and Egypt, to Nigeria, Saudi Arabia and Pakistan amongst others.

The Conference was divided into three working groups that discussed the terms of reference under the following broad thematic categories:

  • The nature and origins of Islamic militancy
  • The Islamic response to violent extremism
  • The response of the non-Muslim World

Read more “Ditchley Conference Report”

About the Scholar

Ugochukwu Ezeh

Law (MPhil), 2017
St Cross College, Oxford
Hoffmann Scholar

European Commission at Brussels

Environmental governance is a challenging task. In the face of global environmental changes, including climatic changes and loss of biodiversity exacerbated by harmful anthropogenic activities, promoting sustainable responses to these changes has acquired increased significance.

In a regional context, the European Union strives to take up a leadership role globally in advancing appropriate environmental governance frameworks. It seeks to bring about change by evolving viable, feasible and acceptable environmental legislation to tackle impending climate changes, as well as encouraging other regional organizations/nation-states to take up causes similarly. Much legislation is geared towards guiding business, industry and society to inculcate eco-friendly practices in their activities.

In light of these issues, the MSc in Environmental Change and Management field trip to the nerve-centre of the European Union, Brussels, was an attempt to expose us to the frameworks and decision-making processes associated with environmental governance in the European Union. Read more “European Commission at Brussels”

About the Scholar

Manan Bhan

Environmental Change and Management (MSc), 2015
Kellogg College, Oxford
Louis Dreyfus Scholar

Clean Water for Makunga Village

Simon Wanda (Kenya, MSc African Studies 2013-14, Louis Dreyfus – Weidenfeld) initiated a project in Makunga Village, Kenya, where a lack of clean drinking water remains one of the major developmental impediments and health hazards for local inhabitants.

Using his college breakfast money, Simon took it upon himself to finance – and find additional funding – for the digging of a well and the installation of a pump to provide access to clean drinking water. The pump is now in action and serving the whole village. This will be an ongoing project which Simon aims to roll out to other areas, reaching 2,000 households in the next five years. A truly impressive feat!

About the Scholar

Simon Wanda

African Studies (MSc), 2014
St Anne's College, Oxford
Louis Dreyfus Scholar