Violence flared in Afghanistan on the night Ilaha Eli Omar ’12 was born in 1979 and has continued ever since, but the Thunderbird Global MBA On-Demand student still dreams of peace for the women of her homeland.
Omar, who left Afghanistan with her family when she was 40 days old, says her prospects would have been bleak if she had remained in the war-torn country. “I could have been dead,” she says. “Or I could have been an amputee or could have been married to someone I did not even know and have 10 kids by now.”
Instead, Omar grew up surrounded by prosperity in Southern California.
“I am educated, I have a business, I have my health, I have everything and more,” she says. “So it is my responsibility now to take everything I have learned and pass it back to Afghanistan.”
A political rival assassinated Afghan President Nur Muhammad Taraki on the night of Omar’s birth, and her mother needed a military escort to reach the hospital. Her grandfather, the secretary of commerce, fled the country immediately, and her parents escaped in the following weeks.
Shortly afterward, the Soviet Union entered the country. Some of Omar’s relatives stayed in Afghanistan, but most resettled in Pakistan, Australia, Europe or the United States.
“When we have our family reunions, it is like a big melting pot,” Omar says. “You have your French and your Germans and your Australians and your Americans, and there are multiple languages. At one time you might hear three different languages going on.”
Omar returned to Afghanistan on a relief mission in 2003 and met many Afghan women in remote villages.
“They were all so happy to see us,” Omar says. “The women said, ‘We do not want you to throw money at us. We want you to create opportunities for us.’”
Omar said that desire led her to Thunderbird after she learned about the school’s Project Artemis, a women’s empowerment program that brings Afghan women to Glendale, Arizona, for two weeks of business education.
“Afghan women coming to the States, getting educated, learning how to become entrepreneurs, and going back home and spreading that knowledge and creating those opportunities — I don’t see anything better than that,” she says.
Omar chose Thunderbird’s On-Demand program because the distance learning format allows her to stay in California and run Multipoint Wireless LLC, a technical staffing firm that Omar launched with two partners in 2003.
“The On-Demand program works for my lifestyle because I am an entrepreneur and I can’t leave my business and come to school full time,” Omar says. “I decided I am not going to apply anywhere else. This school is perfect for what I want to attain.
|Escape from Afghanistan: Elaha Eli Omar describes her family’s 1979 flight from her homeland.||Empowering Afghan Women: Elaha Eli Omar talks about the needs of Afghan women.|
|Rallying for Afghanistan: Elaha Eli Omar describes a 2003 relief mission she helped organize.||From Afghanistan to Thunderbird: Elaha Eli Omar describes her path to the On-Demand program.|
|Return to Afghanistan: Elaha Eli Omar describes her 2003 trip to her homeland.|