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Woman's University an Oasis Amid Educational Turmoil

August 18, 1996

OMDURMAN, Sudan — The only women's college in the Arab world has shielded itself from the wrenching changes at Sudan's state-run colleges by following a simple maxim: No politics.

"There are no political meetings here," said Lucy Joseph, a third-year student at the independent Al-Ahfad University. "No one talks about politics, and that keeps us away from problems."

So while the Islamic government in Khartoum across the Nile reins in the big universities, Al-Ahfad goes its own way.

Its curriculum has a decidedly activist bent, and many of the students say that after graduation they plan to return to their villages, help rural women or work with development and aid groups.

The college still teaches in English--despite the government's efforts to institute Arabic as the medium of instruction. Unlike at other colleges, women are under no pressure to wear the veil.

Gassim Badri, the university's president, said Al-Ahfad wants to train women as "agents of change" in a country where nearly nine of every 10 women are illiterate.

A course in rural development is compulsory, and all 4,000 students must spend time in a village during their third year, he said.

"We want a practical aspect to our education rather than the traditional university, ivory-tower education," Badri said.

"The girls who graduate from here know how to survive on their own," said Mayada Abdulahi, a medical student.

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