2023

Annual Report

Scholar Story

MYANMAR | M. was a medical doctor with over a decade of experience working for the Ministry of Health in Myanmar when a military coup unfolded in 2021. Like many of his colleagues, M. felt compelled to protest the military junta and offered much-needed medical care to those standing up for democracy. M.’s actions placed him under the scrutiny of the new military regime, who searched his home, had him dismissed from his job, and put a warrant out for his arrest. Fearing capture, he went into hiding for nine months. 

After hearing about SAR’s work, M. reached out for help. SAR worked with M. to secure a position in Oslo and helped M. during a perilous journey to safety as he fled through Thailand. After four long months of uncertainty in Thailand, M. was finally able to travel to his new position. Now safely in Norway, M. is continuing his medical research as well as teaching and advising master’s students.

Scholar Story

AFGHANISTAN | In Afghanistan, Zahra Hakimi was an educator, faculty member, midwife, family planning trainer, and women’s reproductive healthcare provider. She often worked in secret and at personal risk to provide treatment to survivors of sexual assault.

Within a week of taking control of her city, the Taliban raided Hakimi’s home. They condemned her work as “anti-Islam.” They threatened her and her husband and demanded her teenage daughter for a forced marriage. Hakimi had no choice. She had to flee.

Hakimi tried several times to escape Afghanistan, first through Iran, then the United States, ultimately reaching safety in Canada. SAR helped Hakimi navigate the difficult journey every step of the way. SAR secured a position for Hakimi, who is now a visiting researcher at the Centre for Research on Health and Nursing at the University of Ottawa, where she is teaching and continuing her research.

Since December 2022, the Taliban has banned higher education for women in Afghanistan. Now in Canada, however, Hakimi’s daughter hopes to become a dentist. “Every day that my children can go to school,” Hakimi says, “my heart is full of joy.”

Scholar Story

UKRAINE | For eight years, Kateryna has taught forensics and cybercrime investigation at a university in Kharkiv, close to the Russian border. When Russia invaded Ukraine in February 2022, Kateryna and her family were directly in harm’s way.

She quickly fled her home with her one-year-old child, driving for days through bombed towns and over destroyed roads. Kateryna and her child eventually arrived in Lithuania without any money or prospects of employment. Kateryna was able to connect with Vilnius University, who brought her on temporarily as a researcher at its Center for Ukrainian Law.

While Kateryna was just starting to get her feet under her, SAR worked with Vilnius University through the EU-funded MSCA4Ukraine scheme to extend her placement and continue her important research. Now safely working in Lithuania, Kateryna is hopeful that her research can help rebuild a stronger Ukraine, despite the current struggles.

Scholar Story

Sri Lanka | Dinesha Samararatne is one of the 2022–2023 Mellon/SAR Fellows. She is a law academic with a focus on public law at the University of Colombo, Sri Lanka. She studies public law issues in Sri Lanka with a particular interest in the intersection of women’s political participation and constitutional law. Beyond the Sri Lankan jurisdiction, Dinesha has an interest in public law in South Asia and in the study of the concept of the global south. Dinesha has published extensively in leading journals in her field.

With the support of the Mellon /SAR fellowship, Dinesha created a course specifically aimed at academics and those working in higher education in Sri Lanka. The course provides insights into the current scope of academic freedom and institutional autonomy in Sri Lanka. Dinesha hopes to build on this course by undertaking a full analysis on the current conditions of academic freedom—both in Sri Lanka and South Asia more generally—and comparing doctrinal claims to the reality faced by scholars, researchers, and other members of the higher education community.