International women participate in leadership institute at KU

A feast of international food was laid out on tables in Plymouth Congregational Church on Saturday evening.

Fare like qeema, a South Asian lamb dish made with spices and vegetables, or burani banjan, a dish from Afghanistan with eggplant, tomato and pepper, gave a taste of the cultures of the home countries of the 19 women participating in an international leadership program funded by the U.S. State Department.

“(The cultural dinner) gives our women an opportunity to share their culture through food,” said Mary Banwart, the academic director of the Women’s Leadership Institute. “They’ve been enjoying American culture and this is how they can show the many who’ve been helped with the institute and the other institute participants.”

The U.S. Institute on Women’s Leadership: Women’s Civic Leadership from the Heartland is a four-week program at Kansas University in which participating women get the opportunity to learn about leadership and United States culture through classes, projects and visits to sites in Lawrence and Kansas.

Mariam Ghaznavi, a 22-year-old from Afghanistan, said the institute is giving her the opportunity to learn how women have overcome struggles in the United States, and to implement those lessons back at home.

The participants come from Mongolia, Afghanistan, Egypt, India, Morocco and Pakistan. Although the overall program is an opportunity for the women to learn about leadership and the United States, participants have also learned about and broken stereotypes when it comes to one another.

“It was great to have to share in the kitchen. We had to respect each other,” said Laila Ait Oujama, from Morocco. “It was a good collaboration moment for us.”

The women will leave Lawrence on July 20 for a weeklong trip to Philadelphia and Washington, D.C., Banwart said. In the capital they’ll visit the Library of Congress and other historical sites before going back to their countries.

“This program is a golden chance for me,” Oujama said. “I can go back and change some issues in Morocco.”