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Springfield Educator, Author Reflects on Her Time in Bahrain and the Changing Role of Women

Photo Courtesy of "Crowded with Voices: Thirteen Years in the Middle East" published by Litho Printers

This week, as part of our Women’s History Month series, we feature a Missouri woman who spent many years in the Middle East as a teacher, and who helped in her own way to shape the history of women on the other side of the world. KSMU’s Theresa Bettmann has her story.

Katherine Chaudhri, or "Kay" as she's known to her friends, loves to teach. Although she grew up in the Midwest in a time when women usually held traditional roles in the home, she knew she was going to college.

“I was very fortunate that my parents were university educated. And even during the Depression, when they had no money at all and I was going to a small rural school, they always spoke of the time when I would go to college. It was an expectation. So I had a lot of support,” Chaudhri says.

Chaudhri married, had children, completed her education and became a teacher. She says it was not until her children were grown that she realized how much she wanted to do more traveling.

Chaudhri knew her wallet couldn't keep pace with the grand travel plans she had in mind, so she applied to become a teacher with the Department of Defense. She was assigned to Bahrain, the small island nation off of the coast of Saudi Arabia. She says she loved her time in the Middle East. She drank up the culture, met locals, and learned how society there was changing. At some point, Chaudhri says, she realized her role was much more than she originally had anticipated.

“In that part of the world, what I became aware of was that a woman’s role was changing and that I was in the middle of the change. And one of the reasons the school fascinated me was that I realized I was a role model for many of the girls. And they were very  eager to know what was open to a woman. So I really felt I was doing and important thing,” says Chaudhri.

Chaudhri was in Bahrain from 1976 to the late 1980s. The changes she saw regarding women were similar to the changes American society had made over the decades, but they were just happening at a later time.

“I think I’ve always believed in the value of education. But, if anything I believe in it more strongly, and I believe in it particularly strongly for girls. Because a girl without an education is very vulnerable to events in her life of any kind. And I saw the tremendous change in the girls of the Middle East as they were becoming educated,” Chaudhri says.

Chaudhri returned to the US in 1994 after living in Germany as part of an educational program working with science and technology. She's published a book about her experiences: Crowded with Voices: Thirteen Years in the Middle East.

These days in Springfield, Chaudhri is still empowering women through education: she teaches GED classes to women who have dropped out of school.

For KSMU News, I’m Theresa Bettmann.