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As a fourth grader in Dubai, Mala Rafik '94 was asked in school what she wanted to be when she grew up. Rafik answered without hesitation. "I want to be a lawyer," she wrote, "so I can help people out of hard situations."
Today that's what she is-and does.
That scrawled statement from fourth grade hangs on the wall of Rafik's law office in Boston, the latest stop on her career path as a human rights attorney. That she's achieved her childhood goal is remarkable, though not entirely unexpected. "Growing up, it's all I ever wanted to do," she said.
Rafik was raised in Dubai in the United Arab Emirates by an Indian Catholic mother and a Pakistani Muslim father. For as long as she can remember, she says, she has objected to the injustices that everyone, especially women, in Arab countries must accept. There is no freedom of speech in Dubai, let alone freedom of the press, says Rafik, recalling the frustration she felt as a young girl when the letters of protest she and her mother sent to the national and local newspapers were systematically ignored.
But at Colby, Rafik sped along her chosen path. Midway through Rafik's freshman year, the Gulf War broke out. At a town meeting-style discussion about the conflict in the Middle East, Rafik met Professor Kenneth Rodman (government) for the first time. A bond formed, and Rafik took all of the classes that Rodman taught while she was at Colby.
Rodman remembers being impressed by Rafik's idealism with respect to international human rights issues. With Rodman's guidance, Rafik completed a senior honors thesis on the international responses to the Cambodian genocide. "I credit Professor Rodman for encouraging my passion for human rights work," she said, "[for] teaching me the fundamentals that I would take into the working world and making me think in a more global perspective about human rights and how so much can be seen as human rights work."
Following graduation from Colby, Rafik earned a law degree from Northeastern University. Her course of study, which focused on feminist approaches to international law as well as on international law, led Rafik to the Women's Rights Network-an organization designed to empower women around the world with the knowledge of their human rights. She became the program director for this international human rights organization prior to joining its board of advisors, on which she continues to serve today. In addition to serving the Women's Rights Network, Rafik also gained valuable experience in the law as an attorney for the American Civil Liberties Union.
Today she is an attorney with Rosenfeld & Associates of Boston, a firm dedicated to securing health care coverage, particularly for those suffering from chronic illnesses. Rafik sees the work that she does now as human rights work. "You can't have civil rights unless you have your health," she said. In a career that requires her to deal with distressing and emotional situations, her consolation is the knowledge that she is making a difference in the world.
-Anne Garinger '01
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Alumni Reunion 2001
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