7,000 Miles From Home but Closer to Her Dreams | PCOM
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7,000 Miles From Home but Closer to Her Dreams 
Women’s History Month


March 26, 2024

Alaha Abdul Faruq (DO ’27) as a childAlaha Abdul Faruq (DO ’27) could have been on the other side of the world, living a very different life right now.

Born in Afghanistan, her family fled to escape the Taliban’s rule.

“I don't remember much because I was a baby,” she shared. “My mom always tells me stories of how dangerous it was when I was born, especially because I was a girl, so she and my dad made the difficult decision to move.”

Abdul Faruq describes trying to avoid detection during their trip out of the country and how difficult it was to keep secrets at such a young age.

“We took a car from Afghanistan to Pakistan. As a female, my mom couldn’t travel alone, so my uncle came and acted like he was my dad. Me being a child, I was obviously not accepting of that,” she said.

“Thankfully, we got there safely and eventually to Russia where we lived for about eight years. It was a hard life because we didn't have the right papers. I was going to school, but it was never going to lead to anything.”

Alaha Abdul Faruq (DO ’27) medical school portraitFast forward to today: Abdul Faruq is now in her first year of the Doctor of Osteopathic Medicine program at PCOM. A reality she says may never come true for others back home.

“The fact that there's someone in Afghanistan who probably wanted to go to medical school but, unfortunately, can't do that always brings me back to how privileged I am,” she shared. “Why would I not take advantage of my time here?”

Amidst the struggles of her childhood, Abdul Faruq had a toy medical kit. She would go around “healing” everyone. Now, she wants to heal people in real life, especially other women.

“A lot of things in Afghanistan relating to the medical field are often disregarded and not paid attention to,” she said. “Showing Afghan women how the medical system works could be beneficial as they try to assimilate into a country they know nothing about.”

Abdul Faruq hopes to make a difference by continuing her efforts outside of PCOM. She is on the board and volunteers for the first official Afghan organization in Philadelphia history, Afghans of Philadelphia or AOP.

AOP was established to unify the Afghan community within Philadelphia. Currently, they have  been developing programming and social events to help integrate Afghan women and youth that were resettled to the city after Operation Allies Welcome, which was established by the Department of Homeland Security in 2021.

Alaha Abdul Faruq (DO ’27) and her family“We started off by putting our efforts into fundraising and gathering donations,” she said. “We then took those donations to camps and handed them out to immigrants who were still trying to figure out where to go.”

The organization allows Abdul Faruq and other members to share the rich culture they feel others don’t know much about.

“I think the sad thing about Afghanistan is that a lot of people don't really know anything about it other than the war and the Taliban, but I want to show them that there's much more to it,” she said.

“I love to share about my culture and take attention away from the negatives and focus on the positives. Philadelphia is the City of Brotherly Love, and Afghans are known to be very hospitable, so I think it’s a great combination.”

Throughout her life, being a woman has been labeled as a weakness, but as Women’s History Month comes to a close, Abdul Faruq is overwhelmed with gratitude for all the women who came before her and those who will come after her.

“Women have been powerful throughout history. Many things have blocked our way, yet we always find loopholes. We've always found ways to use what we know and what we have to our advantage,” she said.

“I feel like being here, being able to vote, and being able to go to school is the effort of all of the women behind us in history who have pushed through to make sure we're here, and I think we're able to go even further than that.”

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    For the past 125 years, Philadelphia College of Osteopathic Medicine (PCOM) has trained thousands of highly competent, caring physicians, health practitioners and behavioral scientists who practice a “whole person” approach to care—treating people, not just symptoms. PCOM, a private, not-for-profit accredited institution of higher education, operates three campuses (PCOM, PCOM Georgia and PCOM South Georgia) and offers doctoral degrees in clinical psychology, educational psychology, osteopathic medicine, pharmacy, physical therapy, and school psychology. The college also offers graduate degrees in applied behavior analysis, applied positive psychology, biomedical sciences, forensic medicine, medical laboratory science, mental health counseling, physician assistant studies, and school psychology. PCOM students learn the importance of health promotion, research, education and service to the community. Through its community-based Healthcare Centers, PCOM provides care to medically underserved populations. For more information, visit pcom.edu or call 215-871-6100.

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