A ‘worldly’ experiment

A ‘worldly’ experiment

Two Afghan professors leave war, country behind to become students again

Dorm rooms, long days in the lab and quick jaunts around campus running from one class to the next. Sound like a typical college student’s life? Sure. But a professor’s?

Well, that is the experience that two Afghan professors embarked upon this spring when they decided to leave their families, students and homeland behind to travel across the globe to Cal State L.A.

In a 10-week trip arranged by Jamil Momand, biochemistry, Shamsulrahim Rahim and Ziauddin Azimi were exposed to the University’s culture, environment, lab equipment and research techniques.

“This is a big experiment for us,” Rahim said just weeks after arriving on campus. “It’s been very exciting.”

As established biochemistry professors at Kabul University — one of Afghanistan’s premier institutions — Rahim and Azimi have more than 23 years of teaching experience collectively. The trip to Cal State L.A., however, afforded them their first opportunity for hands-on learning with many of the advanced techniques.

“We have seen new teaching and lab techniques here that we had only read about in books before,” said Azimi, noting that he is eager to share what he has learned.

The pair’s journey to the United States, which grew from Momand’s effort to help build a highly educated Afghanistan, began more than two years ago. At the time, Momand’s teaching trip to Kabul University was ended abruptly after a string of bombings and security threats. Momand safely returned to the states, but he was disappointed that his plans were cut short.

“I didn’t forget them,” he said, noting that he had worked with both Rahim and Azimi in his brief time in the country. “I really felt that I wanted to continue my mission of helping out the university and the best way to do that was to help the department and to help the faculty.”

Funding from the Koshland Foundation covered expenses for the research and education trip. While attending Cal State L.A., Rahim and Azimi lived on campus and were enrolled in a rigorous schedule that included a beginner’s English course and stints in four research labs.

Working alongside the University’s faculty and student researchers, Rahim and Azimi were introduced to advanced biotechnology lab work, such as Western blotting, enzyme kinetic experimentation, polymerase chain reaction technique, and lipoprotein metabolism analysis.

“It’s really cool,” said Michael Mendoza, a biochemistry student researcher. “The best thing … is that it seems like they really want to learn. They know a lot, have read a lot, but they just have never done it.”

This was the first time that the biochemistry department at Kabul University was invited to study at an American university, Rahim said, noting that they have visited institutions in Germany, France and Japan, among other locations. The global partnerships are vital to the university and the country’s success, he explained, because poor funding and limited resources otherwise limit teaching in the war-torn country.

For instance, imagine laboratories without beakers. In the medical and pharmacy schools where Rahim and Azimi teach, that has been the situation.

“This is one step,” Momand said of the trip and the partnership. “… but I think that is one way we can improve life in Afghanistan.

“If one day, one of their students starts a company in Afghanistan, and helps build up industry, then I will feel like (we) contributed to that.”