When Saleema Rehman was a kid growing up in refugee camps in Pakistan, her nickname was “Doctor Saleema.”
Her mom faced severe complications while delivering her – and Rehman’s dad, Abdul, promised that if the baby lived, he would make sure the child became a doctor.
Today, Rehman, 29, is a gynecologist serving displaced Afghan women in the city of Attock, Pakistan. According to the U.N., she is the first female refugee doctor from Afghanistan’s Turkmen ethnic group. And last week, she won UNHCR’s regional Nansen Refugee Award, an annual prize given to individuals doing outstanding work for displaced people.
“She’s a trailblazer. She’s beaten the odds by becoming the first female doctor in her community. By achieving her dream of offering health care to the most vulnerable – refugees and Pakistanis alike – Saleema is a living testament to how women can contribute to the socioeconomic development of their communities,” said Noriko Yoshida, UNHCR’s representative in Pakistan, in a statement.
Rehman, 29, was determined to go to medical school. The support of her family — especially her dad — helped her succeed. In June, she was granted a license to set up her own medical practice.
Betsy Joles for NPR
Rehman says her mom’s harrowing birth story had a profound impact on her work. “My mother needed an urgent surgery to deliver me, but there were no facilities or resources to go to,” she says. “The traditional midwife didn’t know if I would survive.”
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