Afghanistan: Can we make a difference? MAHBOBA’S PROMISE

A forum discussion on preparing for peace and progress for Afghanistan as international troops leave.
Mahboba’s Promise in partnership with the Sydney Peace Foundation and Sydney University’s Centre for Peace and Conflict Studies, hosts a forum with distinguished guest speakers.
Ambassador Nasir Andisha, Afghanistan’s Ambassador to Australia and a Fulbright Scholar.
Yalda Hakim, well known journalist and presenter of SBS Dateline, escaped from Afghanistan as a child.
Major General (Ret’d) Jim Molan AO DSC, a retired major-general of the Australian armed forces, awarded Australian Thinker of the Year 2009.
Professor Amin Saikal AM,is a Professor at ANU’s Centre for Arab and Islamic Studies.
Maryam Totakhail,has firsthand experience of the trials of being born a woman in Afghanistan’s complex culture.
Moderated by Jessie Taylor BA(Hons) LLB (Hons) Msc (HA), barrister at the Victorian Bar, refugee advocate and co-creator of the film ‘Between the Devil & the Deep Blue Sea’.
The Hon Dr Mike Kelly AM MP, Parliamentary Secretary for Defence will wrap-up the forum and summarise Government’s plans for assistance to Afghanistan after the troop withdrawal.

The above event will be held at the Footbridge Theatre at Sydney University on Wednesday October 17, 2012 at 6:30 PM.  If you are in Sydney, please try to attend.  If you are not in Sydney, you can follow the event at

After reading about this event, you might feel that you would like to help Afghan women and children.  If so, you can donatedirectly  to Mahboba’s Promise, a well established organization that devotes their energy to helping suffering women and children in Afghanistan.


Maryam Totakhail,one of the panel members, is my Afghan heroine in the book I wrote about her life, titled:  FOR THE LOVE OF A SON.

Maryam’s true story


From the first day I came to know Maryam, I could see that she cares deeply for her country and for her people.  That’s why she is going to take time out of an extremely busy life to travel from Jeddah, Saudi Arabia to Sydney, Australia to appear on the MAHBOBA’S PROMISE  panel to discuss important points about Afghanistan’s future once the international armies depart Afghanistan.  It is the wish of all who care for the people of Afghanistan that the country avoid dissolving into chaos.  (This occurred when Russia was defeated and left the country at which time the various warlords began fighting the other, starting a vicious civil war that killed so many innocent Afghan men, women & children.)

Although Maryam is concerned about the fate of all Afghan people, she is most disturbed about the continued suffering of women and children.  She wants to help in any way possible.   Here’s my chance to wish Maryam every success in this very important cause.


Maryam signing books


Here’s a note from Maryam about the event in Australia: 

Maryam Totakhail supporting widows & orphans in Afghanistan

I would like to introduce myself.  My name is Maryam Totakhail.  I am an Afghan American who was born and raised in Afghanistan before having to flee my country to the United States.  There is a book about my life, titled For the Love of a Son, written by an internationally known author, Jean Sasson. The book covers my childhood in Afghanistan and reveals the truth of the enormous difficulties all Afghan people faced during the times of trouble.  I now live in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia and I am the mother of two sons.

So you see, I know about suffering, but sadly, there are those who suffer more.  But there are those to spend their lives helping to alleviate suffering.  I want to tell you about such a woman.

This woman is named Mahboba.  I had the pleasure to meet Mahboba through a very special lady named Mary who had read the book about my life.

Mahboba is a humanitarian and a global citizen whose life’s work has vastly improved the lives of thousands of women and children.  Quite simply, Mahboba is one of those remarkable women who refuses to ignore the suffering of others.  Her great work has linked many people and organizations in the Australian community.  She works hard, sacrifices much, and gives of herself, not only to her adopted country, but also to the country of her birth.  The more I discover about Mahboba, the more I admire her.  I know that you will admire her, too.

I felt honored to hear from Mary and Mahboba when they contacted me with an invitation to be a guest speaker at Mahboba’s Promise at the November fundraiser in Sydney, Australia.  I knew immediately that the fundraiser would be a very special event and that I wanted to be a part of this very extraordinary occasion.  I do so hope that you can join us at the great event which is to be held on October 17, 2012 in  Sydney, Australia.

I also hope that you can contribute to this great cause.  Your contribution will mean so much to so many.  Mahboba’s Promise organization feeds, clothes, houses and educates Afghan children in Afghanistan.  At this time, her sponsorship program continues to grow and is now supporting 171 widows and 247 children.  The assistance given to these people has a ripple impact, affecting so many family members, and making it possible for the impoverished to eat, to attend school, and to obtain jobs.  Anything you can do to help will be appreciated.

All donations are utilized to buy goods, books, clothes, generators and to hire teachers in Afghanistan.  Please send your contribution to Mahboba’s Promise.

Executive Officer  Mahboba’s Promise, Inc. 

With kind regards, I am Maryam Totakhail, and I thank you.



Recently I chatted with Maryam and told her that I believed the readers of her life story would like to know how she is doing.  For sure, once a book is written about anyone, their life changes forever.  Therefore, I posed twelve questions to Maryam and here is that interview.

The Author of FOR THE LOVE OF A SON, interviews the heroine of the book: 

1)    Maryam, tell us how your life has changed since FOR THE LOVE OF A SON was published:

I would like to say that to tell my story to another person felt as if I was going through therapy.  There were many long hours talking over the phone and hundreds of e-mails going back and forth.  All the trauma, conflict and the hidden emotion came out of me as I talked about my life and then witnessed the beauty of my story emerging on paper.

My life has definitely changed since the book was published.  So many people have responded to the book.  From the first day I have received e-mails, telephone calls, and other communications from women and men from around world. Some readers simply want to thank me, just as Mrs. Hillary Clinton thanked me in a formal letter from her offices.  There are others who would like to meet me.  Others say that they would like to give me a hug.  Such kindness brings tears to my eyes and happiness to my heart. All who have contacted me will never know how grateful I am to learn that my life story touched their lives.

I have also feel a lot of contentment to know that so many people care about someone they do not know.  All the ugliness in the world is being defeated by such goodness.

For example, I receive many texts from a young twenty-four year old man who felt so badly for my situation.  He wants to make me feel better.  He does this by addressing me by the name of Mano.  My lost son, who was later found, used to call me Mano.  A young lady from India calls me just to hear my voice.  I even receive telephone calls from Afghanistan, and believe me, it is not easy to call out of Afghanistan!  A nice Afghan man called me to say that his own mother weeps because she says her life now, is just like my life was when I was beaten and abused and lost my son.  His mother knows that so many women in Afghanistan suffer, as we have suffered.

So, the book definitely changed my life for the better.  Most tell me how much it means to them that my life story was written and is now available for the world to read.  These people say that they feel through my own story that the world is hearing about their story, too.  This is such a blessing for all.  My story has given so many women a voice and for that I am very happy.

2)    As an Afghan woman raised and educated in Afghanistan, what do you think needs to happen in your country so that women can be free to participate in public life?

The entire world knows that Afghan women have been deprived for so long.  The cultural “tribal laws” are what keep women in bondage.  I believe, as many others, that education is the key to women’s empowerment.

When Afghan women have the right to be educated, she will have the ability to work and to earn money.  She will learn to speak up to the men in the family.  That’s when the tribal laws will be abolished; albeit slowly.

3)   What can be done to stop the mental and physical abuse of so many Afghan women?

Do you know that 90% of the women in Afghanistan are illiterate?  This makes them feel hopeless and they feel they have no choice but to accept the physical and mental abuses inflicted by their men, and by society.  Therefore, women must be empowered!

Empowering women comes about from education, national stability, and the abolishment of poverty.  None of these are easy things to do in a landscape like my country of Afghanistan, but it can happen.  Education and knowledge will bring women to a point when they feel strong enough to push for change, so that they have a choice how they live. Once the women have hope, they will gain confidence. Mothers will feel like confronting their husbands over the welfare of their daughters.  This will take several generations, but it can be done.

I believe that once women can help themselves that the entire society will improve.  Even the men will be mentally happier, I believe, when they are no longer in a position of creating so much anguish.

4)   Did the American & English military presence in Afghanistan help or hurt your country?

Jean, this is a hard and sensitive question.

I may surprise you by saying that my answer is yes and no.

YES:  First if all, the most important thing is that the American and the British militaries (accompanied by other countries who wanted to help the Afghan people) forced the Taliban and the foreigner fighters under the banner of Al-Qaeda to give up control of Afghanistan and leave the country, at least for a time.  This was a good thing for these two organizations were destroying the beauty of life for the Afghan people.

NO:  Sadly, the presence of foreign armies from America and England and other countries failed in that there is still no peace in the land.  Only in Kabul can Afghan citizens live peacefully.

I believe, as do others, that the reason for the failure to achieve peace is unemployment and poverty.  These huge problems were ignored.  If there is no food on the table, there will be chaos and violence.  After 9/11, the main focus was on finding Osama binladen and other members of his organization.  Once the Taliban and members of Al-Qaeda were on the run and no longer in charge of the country, the emphasis should have been to rebuild the shattered country, and to make certain there were jobs.  People would have been contented with that solution and would not have later turned to criminal organizations to seek money to support their families.

It is frightening now to see that the Taliban is once again gaining power.  Because of poverty, the Taliban is becoming very successful in recruiting poor Afghan men to their cause.  The country will return to total chaos if the Taliban comes back to rule.

5)   What can America and the other countries still involved in Afghanistan do differently that will help your country?

It is not too late.  As an Afghan woman who has lived inside and outside Afghanistan, I believe that the country desperately needs a civil presence, not a military presence.

At this point, I would urge the countries who want to help Afghan people to send engineers, doctors, teachers, and even farmers to help the people on important things like education and the economy. (While there are some ongoing projects to help the economy prosper, there is not enough to make a difference.)

There is no need to spend any more money focusing on the Taliban, basically, playing hide and seek with them.  Because of these efforts, so many Afghan people are caught in the middle.  Many are killed (just as American soldiers are being killed).

Really, a simple way to put it is for those who want to help Afghanistan, please send economic help, not military help.  Books, not guns!

6)   Corruption seems to be an enormous problem in Afghanistan, and in other countries in the region.  What steps should be taken to stop corruption. 

Unfortunately, you are right.  Corruption is a huge problem.

People are so poor in my country.  The inflation is very high while salaries are extremely low.

Even an employed civil servant cannot maintain a decent life.  These civil servants are the ones running the country.  But they are desperate to provide basic necessities for their families.  So when they have a chance to make extra money, they feel they cannot turn it down.  It would be a big step in the right direction to restrain corruption if wages could be increased.

7)   Readers of the book about your life discovered that your father greatly loved his country.  What do you think your father would say about the situation happening today in Afghanistan? 

My father would have been not happy to live to see his beloved Afghanistan invaded by yet another foreign force.  I can close my eyes and hear him now.  He would have said, “No matter what, we Afghans want to live in a free country.”

8)   What woman in Afghanistan today do you think can make a difference in your society?

I believe that we need more than one woman to make a difference.  We need all our women!   In an old book of thoughts, it says that behind every successful man there is a woman.

I say, behind a prosperous country there are educated woman!

I cannot stress this enough:  The status of women is so very important. A woman is the center and the strength of her family.

If all Afghan women have the opportunity to obtain a good education and the support of her family, then I believe that our Afghan society will be peaceful and prosperous.  Afghan women are the key holders to a great Afghanistan. An educated Afghan woman will be a better mother to her child, a better wife to her husband, and a better leader to her country.

9)   What can the average American citizen do to help the women of Afghanistan reach a status of respect and dignity in their own country and culture?

I lived in America a long time.  I discovered that the average American person is very compassionate and kind.  Yet, all Americans need to be more involved in the decision making as to where American tax dollars go.  There have been billions of dollars spent in Afghanistan, and many American soldiers have lost their lives.  (As have the English and other countries, I am sad to say.) At the end of the day, Afghanistan is still a wreck after huge sums of money have been spent and after many lives have been lost.

If the governments currently helping my country would invest in rebuilding hospital, schools, roads, and factories, you would see a miracle.  The citizens of Afghanistan would turn against the Taliban and other foreign organization who like to make mischief in my country.   That’s when the average Afghan would begin to see the foreigners in their country as peacemakers, there to build and not destroy.  That’s when respect would come.  Tragically, the foreign military presence from countries who want to bring peace has actually brought more damage into the country.  Since 2001, over 2,000 Afghan children die each year as a result of the fighting between foreign military forces and the Taliban.  This is a great waste and a great pity.

10)  Tell us a little something about the upcoming event (Mahboba’s Promise Panel at Sydney University) in Australia that you are going to attend and be a member of the panel.  What do you hope to accomplish?

I’m very happy and honored to be a participant for the October 17, 2012 Afghan event in Sydney, Australia.  This meeting is very important because there will be a forum to discuss how Afghanistan can prepare for peace and progress once the international troops depart the country.

The foundation hosting the event was founded by Mahboba Rawi.  She is an Afghan woman who has been working to help Afghan women and Afghan children who are orphans.  She is doing important work and I am pleased to be a part of this.

The event will provide funds for Afghan the women and children to have a better tomorrow.

11) Although I (Jean Sasson) wrote your story, FOR THE LOVE OF A SON, I know that you are working on a book yourself.  Tell the readers of your life story something about this book you are writing and also, what you hope to accomplish by writing this book.

For the past thirty years Afghan children have only seen conflict.  Afghan children have never known peace.  War and violence has created massive uncertainty in the lives of all the Afghan people.  As a result of never-ending war, Afghan children have been subjected to the horrors of human trafficking, forced child labor, and forced child prostitution.

Since I moved to Saudi Arabia sixteen years ago, I have personally witnessed young Afghan children begging in the streets of Jeddah.

As a mother, and as an Afghan woman, I was compelled to find out why those children were begging in the streets of a foreign country to them.  The Afghan children are MY people.  I wanted to help.  Finally I decided that their lives were a story that the world should know about.  So I started talking to these children and interviewing them.  As time passed, I went to their homes and talked to their mothers.  The stories are amazing.  Let’s not forget that although they may be beggars, the mothers and their children are like the rest of us, human beings who experience hope and fear.

I long for these children to have a home, to eat full meals, to know what it is to be safe, and to receive an education.

Hopefully I can help this to happen.

12)  Readers will want to know the answer to this question:  How is your relationship with Big Duran, your eldest son?

I am happy that my son Big Duran is a college student and is studying.

Sadly, after the book about my life was published, I have had very little contact with my son.  I was told that my son’s father has forbidden him from contacting me.

This is very difficult for me, his mother.  I missed my son for so many years, and then found him, but my dreams of a close and good relationship with my son did not come true.

Thank you, Maryam, for your very thoughtful and well-informed responses.  Hopefully someone in power will read this interview and realize that you are very knowledgeable about your country and that your suggestions for solutions could help the women and children of Afghanistan.  I am also sad and sorry that your relationship with your son is not what you would like for it to be.  I know how much you love both your sons, and I hope that the future will bring a wonderful result with your older son.  Lastly, I am very proud that you are working hard to help others.  I wish you every success with your book writing project about the Afghan children beggars in Saudi Arabia.  I am sure that your interest in those children will do much to help them in their very tough lives.

About jeansasson

I'm a woman with a keen interest in a wide range of topics including women's issues; animal rights issues; humanitarian issues and political movements, such as the events currently sweeping the Middle East. I am an avid reader and collector of books, mainly about travelers of the 18th and 19th centuries. I have enormous curiosity about other people and relish hearing about lives and opinions of people from all over the world. I’m the author of the PRINCESS series, GROWING UP BIN LADEN, MAYADA DAUGHTER OF IRAQ, FOR THE LOVE OF A SON, and more. Over the past few years the princess and I have met and worked together to bring out a 4th, 5th and 6th book. The 4th is titled: PRINCESS, MORE TEARS TO CRY while the 5th is titled: PRINCESS, SECRETS TO SHARE. The 6th, titled PRINCESS, STEPPING OUT OF THE SHADOWS is to be released in October 2018. I am currently working on my memoirs. Details to be released soon. You can visit my website ( or check out my books on Amazon for more info.
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1 Response to Afghanistan: Can we make a difference? MAHBOBA’S PROMISE

  1. They blame President Hamid Karzai’s waning attention to women’s rights as his government prepares for the exit of most foreign troops in 2014 and seeks to negotiate with the Taliban, Afghanistan’s former Islamist rulers.

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