A dream of greening Afghanistan drives Endicott student

Hamid Atif, Afghanistan Hamid Atif, Afghanistan
By Alysa Obert
Globe Correspondent / May 13, 2010

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In the northern corner of Afghanistan there are wind farms, producing a constant hum, that bring water and electricity to 3.5 million Afghans. While this vision exists solely in the imagination of Endicott College graduate Hamid Atif, bringing green technology to his home country is more than a dream. It is the light that guides many of his decisions.

Atif, a business major with a finance concentration, will be only the second person in his family to graduate from college when he receives his bachelor’s degree from Endicott on May 15. But with the diploma comes the acute reminder, Atif says, of the opportunities many of his Afghan peers will never have.

The Atif family fled war-torn Afghanistan to Pakistan when Hamid was 9. After seven turbulent years, they found a program that allowed them to immigrate to the United States. Two years after their arrival they moved into an apartment in Ipswich, with $1,500 in their pockets and eight mouths to feed. Two weeks later came the 9/11 terrorist attacks.

“We thought OK, now we are in the US. We’re safe, nothing’s going to happen, and then it was like, wow, I can’t believe this happens here,’’ said Atif. “When we were in Pakistan people hated us because we were not Muslim enough, and when we came here people hated us because we were Muslim enough.’’

The family planned to move to Boston because it was more diverse, but then decided Ipswich would be safer. Even so, there were times when Atif and his family felt unwelcome.

“We got jobs, and got fired from jobs, and got new jobs because we didn’t know the language and there was a lot of frustration,’’ said Atif. “But it’s a good pain, and later when you remember it, you enjoy it, which is a good thing.’’

Atif stayed close to home for college so he could translate for his parents. He also wanted to study on a small campus. He attended night classes at Endicott his first year after transferring from North Shore Community College. Because Atif excelled, he was able to enroll as a full-time student the next two years.

“Hamid received a lot of personal attention from professors, with whom he was free to speak and seek advice,’’ said mentor Aron Viner, professor of business at Endicott.

At Endicott, Atif chose to study business and focus on finance, a choice that initially puzzled professors, as it did not seem where his natural talent lies.

“I’ve told Hamid to change his concentration, but he says ‘No, I love this stuff’ and he continues with it,’’ said John Mussachia, associate professor of business and Atif’s advisor. “The level of determination is amazing.’’

But it is his determination that Viner fears could put his former student in harm’s way.

“He is absolutely fearless and completely invested in the future of Afghanistan,’’ said Viner. “He’s willing to go to a place where volunteer workers have been murdered, and he is not scared.’’

His commitment to Afghanistan and its future led to his participation in a program known as Afghan Students Initiative. It invites Afghan students from Brandeis, Tufts, Boston University, and Endicott to work on policy or environmental issues with legislators and to correspond with students in Afghanistan.

Their meetings take place in the Carr Center for Human Rights Policy at Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government. And Atif met students on a trip last year to Kabul, where he interned with a company that works to eliminate mine fields.

For Atif, the next step is not graduate school, but in-field experience. He hopes to work in Afghanistan with Doctors Without Borders, or with internships in Sweden, Germany, or Japan, nations that are leaders in today’s green technology. He believes his knowledge of Afghanistan and these internships will help him decide which models could be best for the terrain.

“Imagine even to the south, solar panels turning a barren desert into a green land through irrigation,’’ said Atif. “My goals are ambitious but I see a positive future for Afghanistan that others do not see.’’

Alysa Obert is a writer with the Gordon College News Service.

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