Wednesday, May 23, 2018

Malalai Wassil ’99: Evolving from Afghanistan to U.S.

MOLLY SCHINELLER ’18

STAFF WRITER

During her time at Trinity, Malalai Wassil ’99 focused much of her efforts on working hard outside of class. She was a residential assistant in High Rise and Vernon Place (called New Dorm at the time), interned for the Italian Vice Consul for several years, and babysat for President Evan Dobelle. Each of these roles influenced her as a leader and propelled her to be vice president of her class in her junior year. By the time Wassil graduated with a political science degree in 1999, she had already assured herself, “I’m going to do something big.”

After graduating, Wassil moved to New York City to work in contract management at Travelers Insurance, and took night classes at New York Law School. Though she was already successful from the start, she had her sights set further—on Afghanistan.

Wassil lived with her family in Afghanistan until she was six years old. She knew all the while during her experiences in the States that she had intent of returning back to her home country, and made bold efforts during her time here to push towards a return to the Middle East. While living in New York City, Wassil and a few friends founded an extremely successful charity for the education of young Afghan women, called the Rebuilding Afghanistan Foundation. While still in law school, she attended a lecture by a New York University International Studies professor about human rights violations in Afghanistan. After discussions with the professor following the lecture, Wassil decided to join his research project for the United Nations High Commission for Human Rights. She boarded a plane in January of 2005, and finally was where she felt she needed to be.

Wassil was abruptly forced to leave the region shortly after arriving, due to a Battle of Algiers-esque bombing attack in an Internet café that she frequented often. With shrapnel buried in a deep hole in her back and an extreme concussion, Wassil returned to the United States for medical attention while simultaneously writing a Boston University commencement speech for Afghan President Hamid Karzai.

After healing, she headed straight back to Afghanistan. Over the course of the next ten years, Wassil worked as an attorney for extremely important clients, and made massive improvements to laws surrounding power and electric energy, preventing monopolization by certain companies within the sector. She also taught several classes at the American University of Afghanistan.

She remained in the region until January of 2014, leaving for personal reasons within her family. She has been taking classes at Georgetown Law School to obtain her LLM master’s degree since her return.

When Wassil came back to the United States, she was “so scared of what was going to happen to the ‘plan’.” She had worked very hard to build up a life in Afghanistan, and was terrified to let go of it. When she came back to the U.S., her walls of confidence were slightly knocked down and she needed to re-evaluate her own personal empowerment strategies. As she has compared it, “when your North Face parka doesn’t do the job anymore, you need to upgrade to a Patagonia.” Wassil took up meditation and, by spending dedicated time being grateful for what she has been given on this earth and for the opportunities that she has been able to take advantage of, she has built herself back up to “a person that she can be proud of.”

When asked what advice she’d give to Trinity students moving forward, Wassil mentioned two things. One is to “see outside the bubble.” Just by nature of being a small school, Trinity is inherently a ‘bubble’ of familiarity that is easy to get trapped in. During her time here and beyond, Wassil always made an effort to stay in touch with things outside of those she is directly involved with, and keep in mind what really matters. Her next piece of advice is that, “authenticity of who you are will ultimately allow you to achieve your own success.” Wassil is a very inspirational and empowering woman, and she says that all of her achievements have come from staying true to what she believes in. This type of integrity has led her to success, and will lead others to success as well if they follow in her (very impressive) footsteps.

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