The Malalai Medal

KABUL, AFGHANISTAN

STORY & PHOTOGRAPHS BY: A.J. WARCO

 

During my visit to Afghanistan in May 2013, I had the privilege of getting to know an extremely talented woman named Mahpekay.

This is her story.

In 2003, Mahpekay was nearly killed after stepping on a landmine while walking through a field not far from the Hamid Karzai International Airport in Kabul, Afghanistan. The explosion severely injured her legs causing her to have them both amputated above the knee. This single event caused Mahpekay to doubt herself of ever having a promising future.

 

 

As the eldest sibling in her family, she is expected to be the main bread winner, especially since her father had passed. Lacking the financial means and physical ability to help support her family, Mahpekay sunk deeper into depression - almost into a non-existent state.

 

photo.JPG

 

While on her way to work, Ms. Gul Maky Siawash, Director of the Kabul Orthopedic Organization (“KOO”), noticed Mahpekay (a teen at the time) sitting against the fence of an immigrant housing camp looking distraught and hopeless. It was in this moment that Mahpekay’s life began to change.

 

 

A few days later, Ms. Siawash arranged to have a pair of prosthetic limbs made for her. Shortly after, Mahpekay stood for the first time in over two years. Ms. Siawash was so moved, she decided to take Mahpekay under her wing. Under her guidance, Mahpekay slowly learned how to read and write, which led to her securing a job at KOO as a female inspector (security guard).

 

It is not everyday you come across a story in your life that truly inspires you to live life to the fullest. This however, is one of those stories.

 

As her skills continued to improve, her curiosity and interest in orthopedics began to grow. She was invited to sit in on professional courses that were being provided at KOO as an informal student. She did — and when time came for final exams, Mahpekay scored higher than any other formal student in the class.

Seeing how dedicated Mahpekay was to succeed, Ms. Siawash began sponsoring her professional training to become a Certified Prosthetist-Orthotist (“CPO”). Following her graduation, she became the first female CPO hired at KOO.

 

 

Mahpekay and I having tea in her family's home in central Kabul.

 

In 2009, Mahpekay was presented with the Malalai medal from President Hamid Karzai for her courage, struggle and dedication towards helping people with disabilities in Afghanistan.

The Malalai medal is among Afghanistan’s highest awards for citizens of Afghanistan and foreign countries.