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Mariam, a happy, sophisticated 27-year-old who speaks six languages, is on the verge of making her dream come true. This December, she will graduate from college. While completing a university degree is a dream for many young Americans, Mariam’s journey to this point is the stuff of nightmares.

Just four years ago, she spent eight months as a prisoner in a windowless room in Mali for refusing to marry a man older than her father and infected with HIV.

Kursten Phelps, Managing Attorney at Tahirih’s office in Greater DC, was charged with ensuring that Mariam would never again face death at the hands of her family in Mali.

“In Mariam’s case, she had just turned 16 when her father told her she had been promised to a wealthy man from Mali,” said Kursten.

“She knew that if she was forced to go through with the marriage, she would never be allowed to go to school and achieve her dream of higher education,” Kursten said, “so she secretly applied to a university in the U.S. and was accepted.”

She was permitted to go on the condition that she’d return to Mali to marry her much older fiancé at the time of her father’s choosing. When she returned for winter break, her father decided that time would be now.

Desperate for a way out, she told her uncles she was no longer a virgin. The result?

They beat her savagely and imprisoned her in a room with no toilet or windows, only a hole for food.

“It’s awful to imagine that level of suffering, to know that if she died, they wouldn’t care,” Kursten said.

Mariam languished there for eight long months in the dark, her dreams, shattered. Finally, when Mariam’s uncles went away on a trip, her mother and sister rescued her. She fled to the U.S., where she ended up in Kursten’s office, desperately seeking help.

Kursten won asylum for her Mariam, establishing that she would risk death if forced to return to Mali.

“When I first met Mariam, the first thing that came to mind was that she was tough as nails… she’d had to be to overcome everything she had been through. The second thing was how very tired she was from fighting the battle of her life,” Kursten said of her client.

“I’ll never forget the day Mariam received her asylum approval letter in the mail. She couldn’t believe it had finally happened. ‘It doesn’t even feel real,’ she told me. Her nightmare was finally over.”

Now, like many college students, Mariam lives with a roommate and is making plans for her life after graduation. She is studying agribusiness and hopes eventually pursue an MBA.

Each day she continues to live the dream that, from the floor of a neglected storage room in Mali, seemed impossible.

But the sad reality? We are only able to help one in four girls like Mariam…

With your help, we can change the future for so many more! Your gift to Tahirih will mean that we can hire and partner with more attorneys like Kursten who can help brave women like Mariam achieve justice. Together, we will help them move past the nightmare of violence and pursue their dreams — we’ve never needed your help more than right now. Please donate today.