Lailuma Khair Khama Relishes Women's Freedoms in America

Part of an occasional series highlighting University of Virginia employees who have taken advantage of the adult education benefit.

August 16, 2011 — Lailuma Khair Khama is looking forward to seeing her daughter go to college. When she and her family lived in Afghanistan under Taliban rule, that wouldn't have been possible.

They first moved to Pakistan, where her husband died in 2001. Khama, her daughter and two sons came to America a year later, and she got a job at the University of Virginia in 2004. She and her children became U.S. citizens almost five years later.

Now, Khama is content to own a house and have a good job with benefits as a Facilities Management housekeeper. Her supervisors, Wanda Lucas and Hattie Agee, are great to work for, she said, and other coworkers helped her learn her job and study for the citizenship test.

Students have often been friendly and helpful, too, when she encounters them in her everyday duties in the Astronomy Building, she said.

Khama is also a student, though of a different sort – she will soon take her third English as a Second Language class, through one of U.Va.'s education benefits. A native speaker of Farsi, she is working on becoming fluent in English.

Since 2002, the University has contracted with Charlottesville's Adult Learning Center to deliver classes in English as a second language, or ESL, for non-native speakers. The center provides the instructors and the materials; U.Va. pays the fees and holds the classes on Grounds. Also offered are General Educational Development classes toward a GED certificate.

Through the ESL class, Khama contributed a piece of her writing to the "Voices of Adult Learners" booklet, published each spring. Khama wrote about a young Afghan woman's fatal decision to avoid marrying a Taliban man. The man went up to her house and told her father he wanted to marry his daughter. There was no way to refuse without dangerous repercussions. The young woman, Mariam, jumped out of a sixth-story window, to her death.

"Mariam's life ended in a very sad way, but she was my hero because she chose to end her life rather than be married to a Talib," Khama wrote.

Khama has been able to go back to Kabul to visit in recent years. She said although women can work at jobs and girls can go to school, it's still unstable. It's hard to tell if someone is Taliban or not, she said. There is still a lot of resistance to the fledgling government.

On her last trip, she made sure to visit Mariam's grave and pray for her. Khama said many neighbors visit the site regularly to remember the young woman.

In Khama's essay, she concludes, "This story is one of the many tragic stories I have witnessed in my life in Afghanistan and it is to be forever remembered."

— By Anne Bromley

Media Contact

Anne E. Bromley

University News Associate Office of University Communications