For more than three years, Sumaira Waseem, a graduate of Bahria University, a Prometheus Fellow, and Students For Liberty (SFL) Regional Coordinator for Afghanistan and Pakistan, has been challenging the ideas of Islamic fundamentalism and socialism in the most authoritarian countries in the Middle East and South Asia.
To spread the ideas of liberty in her region–where even mentioning them is a defiant act of bravery–Sumaira organized three expert class workshops, two in-person Socratic discussions, one webinar, and an eight-week-long virtual reading group, mostly on topics related to capitalism, behavioral economics, entrepreneurship, Objectivism, and digital currencies.
“Growing up in Pakistan,” said Sumaira, “You only get to learn about socialism and Islamic fundamentalism. Capitalism is always portrayed in a negative light. The government forces you to believe that it devastates ordinary people’s lives and only benefits the rich. That was something I also grew up with,” she continued. “SFL provoked me to challenge this concept and look for the truth. Now, it’s my turn to open young people’s eyes to the political system that our society can benefit from.”
It was a challenge to make students in a region heavily influenced by socialism and ruled by authoritarian regimes interested in learning more about the virtues of capitalism and entrepreneurship. Sumaira had to carefully select the wording to promote her workshops and on-campus events not to scare off potential attendees and also to avoid unwanted attention from the university administration.
Sumaira also took on a vital role in SFL’s Prometheus Fellowship recruitment process, promoting this highly prestigious leadership development program to young leaders in one of the most authoritarian countries. As a result, this year alone, her region generated 185 applications, 82 of which came from Afghanistan.
Last year, despite the Taliban takeover of Afghanistan, which precluded our two active leaders from organizing events, Sumaira’s efforts paid off well when multiple applicants showed interest in joining SFL, thereby ensuring our continued presence in the war-torn region.
Besides that, as a Regional Coordinator, Sumaira stands behind numerous successful events in Afghanistan and Pakistan. As a person who not only recruits students into SFL but also supports them along the way, Sumaira did a great job mentoring student volunteers and helping them overcome all the difficulties they faced because of their cultural backgrounds. “When new student volunteers join SFL, I do not force them into organizing events. I first make them feel comfortable because, like myself, they come from societies that do not accept people as free individuals. So I try and build a safe place where it is easier for them to understand that each person matters and learn how they can personally contribute to making our world a freer place,” said Sumaira.
One of her main goals is to establish a sense of unity between student volunteers from Afghanistan and Pakistan, who often share different political, economic, and religious stances. “I remember my experience feeling like an outsider, and I use it now to make other people welcome,” said Sumaira. “During the first SFL India online sessions, as a Pakistani national, I felt a bit isolated, but when I saw other students being very accepting, very forthcoming, I fought myself to turn my camera on and give out my identity, to tell them my name and my country.” To ensure everyone feels comfortable, Sumaira holds week-long orientation sessions and reading groups, where participants learn more about their peers and make personal connections and friendships.
Most recently, Sumaira was selected for the prestigious Prometheus Fellowship by SFL, and she intends to utilize the opportunity to develop herself to better support leaders of liberty from one of our high-risk regions to create a lasting SFL legacy.