A community project hosted at Northeastern University

WBUR Oral History Project: Waheeda Saif


Countless lives were affected by the 2013 Boston Marathon bombings and their aftermath. The WBUR Oral History Project collects stories from individuals whose lives were immediately and irrevocably changed by these events. Thanks to the generous sponsorship of WBUR, our team of oral historians, and the participation of these interview subjects, Our Marathon has tried to ensure that these stories are not forgotten. We believe that these stories matter, and that they demonstrate the ways historical events transform the lives of the people who lived through them.

Oral historians Jayne K. Guberman, Ph.D., and Joanna Shea O'Brien conducted the interviews for this project. Oral History Project Manager Kristi Girdharry, Our Marathon Project Co-Director Jim McGrath, and Community Outreach Lead Joanne DeCaro recorded the interviews and provided research assistance and post-interview processing. McGrath and Our Marathon Audio Technician Ryan McDonough provided sound editing and processing for all of the interviews and clips.

The opinions and statements expressed in interviews and related content featured in the WBUR Oral History Project do not necessarily reflect the opinions of Our Marathon, WBUR, Northeastern University, or any employees or volunteers affiliated with these institutions and projects. Our Marathon and The WBUR Oral History project make no assertions about the veracity of statements made by participants in this project.

Waheeda Saif is the Program Coordinator at the Riverside Trauma Center, the agency responsible for the psychological care for residents and businesses in communities surrounding Boston in the aftermath of the Boston Marathon bombings. Having grown up largely in New Orleans, Waheeda came to the Boston area to pursue her studies in mental health counseling at Boston College. A married mother of three young children whose family is actively engaged in their local Muslim community, Waheeda’s clinical work has focused on child, adolescent, and adult survivors of abuse, and on providing support services in the field in response to traumatic events.

As a non-native Bostonian, Waheeda had previously experienced marathon day as a holiday free from work. This year, she had been enjoying a rare few hours to herself, when her husband called to say that something had happened at the marathon. She only began to take this seriously when she later overheard a group of women in a store talking about explosions at the marathon. She then quickly headed home. When she spoke to her husband again en route, he cautioned her not to allow their nanny, a Muslim woman who covers her head, to use public transportation because he thought it would be too dangerous. Only then did she begin to realize the full import of what had occurred.

Over the following few days and weeks, the Trauma Center team worked tirelessly to provide support for individuals and communities. They launched an outreach effort to provide guidance on how to talk to children about the bombings and other traumatic events, and they worked with community groups in Watertown and Cambridge, as well as with neighbors of the Richard family in Dorchester. They also accompanied individuals as they were going back to their businesses and residences in the Back Bay for the first time and counseled employees of businesses near the finish line.

Waheeda recounts her personal struggle, as a Muslim woman, about whether she should continue to wear her hijab, a Muslim woman’s traditional head covering. She describes the fears of an anti-Muslim backlash circulating within her local community, particularly once the Tsarnaev brothers, also Muslim, were identified as the prime suspects.

Scheduled to participate, as a member of the trauma response team, in sessions for students and staff at Cambridge Rindge & Latin on the Monday following the bombings, Waheeda describes the agonizing process by which she decided to continue wearing her head-covering. She tells how, walking into the school the next morning filled with trepidation, she immediately encountered a young woman student standing with her hand over her heart for the Pledge of Allegiance wearing a hijab. Later, Waheeda convened a support meeting for Muslims at Rindge & Latin which was attended by forty students.


Waheeda Saif (Oral History), Jayne Guberman (Oral Historian), Jim McGrath (Recorder), Ryan McDonough (Sound Editing and Processing)


WBUR Oral History Project



WBUR Oral History Project


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Jayne Guberman


Waheeda Saif


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