‘Why Was I Born a Girl?’ An Afghan Poem Inspires U.S. Students


KABUL — When Fariba Mohebi, an 11th grader, realized in September that the majority Afghan girls wouldn’t be part of boys returning to high school below Taliban rule, she shut the door and home windows to her room. Then she broke down and sobbed.

From her despair, a poem emerged: “Why Was I Born a Girl?”

“I wish I was a boy because being a girl has no value,” Fariba wrote. Afghan males “shout and scream: Why should a girl study? Why should a girl work? Why should a girl live free?”

Fariba’s poem discovered its approach to Timothy Stiven’s A.P. historical past class at Canyon Crest Academy, a public highschool 8,000 miles away in San Diego. It was relayed by way of Zoom calls between Canyon Crest and Mawoud, a tutoring heart Fariba now attends in Kabul, the place women sit at school with boys and males educate women — testing the boundaries of Taliban forbearance.

Periodic Zoom classes between the Afghan and American college students have opened a window to the world for ladies at Mawoud, hardening their resolve to pursue their educations towards daunting odds. The calls have additionally revealed the cruel contours of Taliban rule for the California college students, opening their eyes to the repression of fellow excessive schoolers midway all over the world.

“If I was a 10th as courageous as these girls are, I would be a lion. They are my heroes,” Diana Reid, a Canyon Crest scholar, wrote after a Zoom name this month during which Afghan women described navigating bombing threats and Taliban interference.

For the Afghans, the Zoom classes have been a enjoyable novelty, and a reminder that some Americans nonetheless care about Afghans 5 months after U.S. troops withdrew in chaos and the American-backed authorities and army collapsed.

“We are so happy we are not alone in this world,” Najibullah Yousefi, Mawoud’s principal, advised the San Diego college students by way of Zoom. “There are some beautiful minds on the other side of the world who are concerned about us.”

The Zoom calls have been organized in April by Mr. Stiven and Mr. Yousefi. An early matter of debate was Fariba’s poetry, translated by Emily Khossravia, a Canyon Crest scholar, and revealed within the faculty journal. “Why Was I Born a Girl” prompted an in-depth schooling in Afghan realities for the American college students.

The class has realized that Afghan college students threat their lives simply by strolling by the tutoring heart’s fortified gates. Mawoud’s earlier location was leveled by a suicide bombing that killed 40 college students in 2018. The faculty’s new constructing, tucked into a tight bend in a slim alleyway, is protected by armed guards, excessive partitions and concertina wire.

Most of Mawoud’s 300 college students are Hazara, a predominately Shiite Muslim minority ruthlessly attacked by the Islamic State in Afghanistan, ISIS-Okay. Hazara faculties, protests, mosques, a New Year’s celebration and even a wrestling club have been bombed by ISIS-Okay since 2016, killing a whole lot.

Two Shiite Muslim mosques attended by Hazaras have been bombed a week aside in October, killing greater than 90 folks. ISIS considers Hazaras apostates.

Since the Taliban takeover, a number of commuter minibuses utilized by Hazaras have been bombed within the Hazara district of west Kabul often called Dasht-e-Barchi. At least 11 folks have been killed and as much as 18 wounded, most of them Hazaras, the Afghan Analysts Network reported.

The Taliban, who persecuted Hazaras previously, are actually chargeable for their safety. The analysts’ unbiased analysis company described the Taliban authorities response as tepid, saying it downplayed the energy of ISIS-Okay, which claimed duty for a lot of the assaults. On Jan. 14, Afghan media reported that a younger Hazara girl, Zainab Abdullahi, was shot and killed at a Taliban checkpoint simply 5 minutes from the Mawoud heart.

The San Diego college students have realized, too, that attending class is a leap of religion for Fariba and her feminine classmates, who make up 70 % of Mawoud’s scholar physique.

Mawoud prepares college students for Afghanistan’s rigorous college entrance exams. But there is no such thing as a assure that women might be permitted to take the annual exams — or to return to highschool, attend a college, or pursue a profession in a nation the place the Taliban have begun erasing most girls from public life.

The Taliban have mentioned they hope older women will return to varsities and universities, below Islamic tips, by late March. Except for some schools in northern Afghanistan, most Afghan women above the sixth grade haven’t attended faculty since August.

Mr. Yousefi mentioned that Taliban officers who’ve visited the tutoring heart haven’t laid down particular guidelines, as they’d at some public faculties. He mentioned they’ve merely careworn adherence to “Islamic values,” interpreted as separating boys and girls and requiring women to cowl their hair and faces.

When Mr. Yousefi advised the Talibs that a nationwide trainer scarcity made it almost not possible to segregate lessons by gender, “They did not have any logical reply for me,” he mentioned.

For the American college students, the Mawoud women’ accounts of perseverance — delivered in near-fluent English — have been each sobering and provoking.

“I can hardly imagine how difficult that must be, and the courage the girls must have to be sitting alongside male students after facing suicide bombings,” Selena Xiang, a Canyon Crest scholar, wrote after this month’s Zoom name. “It’s so different from my life, where education is handed to me on a silver platter.”

Alice Lin, one other scholar, wrote: “They are stronger, more determined, more steadfast in belief than I have ever been, and I cannot help but think: What if the Mawoud girls had been given my life?”

And Ms. Reid mentioned she was struck by one thing one of many Mawoud college students mentioned over Zoom: “Knowledge is powerful — and the Taliban knows it. That’s why they keep it from us.”

Fariba, 16, the poet, mentioned of the San Diego college students: “They have motivated us to achieve our goals — and for me, my goals are very big.” She mentioned she wished to turn into a well-known poet and a most cancers researcher.

Zalma Nabizada, one other Mawoud scholar, mentioned, “I lost my motivation and was in darkness after the Taliban came.” But she mentioned that the Zoom classes had helped nudge her to maintain making an attempt to attain. She desires to turn into, she mentioned, “a star that shines.”

An indication, in English, hangs in a hallway at Mawoud: “Dreams Don’t Work Unless You Do.”

Before suicide bombs killed college students at Mawoud in 2018 and at a nearby tutoring center attended by Hazaras in 2020, Mawoud had 3,000 college students. Since the bombings and the Taliban takeover, the scale of Mawoud’s scholar physique has dropped by about 90 %, the principal mentioned.

Some Mawoud college students fled with their households to Pakistan or Iran. Others have stayed dwelling, afraid of bombings or Taliban harassment. Fariba mentioned she spent weeks persuading her dad and mom to let her attend the middle.

The heart’s guards turned to looking rifles after the Taliban refused to allow them to carry assault rifles, Mr. Yousefi mentioned. When college students stroll to and from the middle, the principal instructs them to journey in small teams, to keep away from presenting a mass goal.

On a latest freezing morning, the Zoom session was ceaselessly halted by technical issues, however every re-established connection was greeted with cheers and whoops from each lessons.

There was a heartfelt dialogue of a query posed by a Mawoud woman: How do you address loneliness? There was close to silence when a Mawoud scholar, Sona Amiri, displayed her soccer medals, then mentioned women had stopped taking part in soccer after the Taliban takeover.

Another Mawoud scholar displayed his oil work, then advised the San Diego college students that the Taliban have cracked down on artists, forcing them to color, draw and carry out in secret.

Other Mawoud college students described goals of graduating from highschool and college, and of pursuing careers as docs, journalists, legal professionals, poets — and for one woman, as Afghanistan’s ambassador to the United States.

They spoke, too, of by no means backing down. “This bad situation can make a person more powerful,” Ms. Amiri, the soccer participant, advised the American college students.

Aaron Combs, a Canyon Crest 10th grader, responded moments later, “The fact that every one of you guys are brave enough to speak up for yourselves is incredibly inspiring.”

Afterward, Fariba, the poet, mentioned the classes with the American college students did elevate spirits, at the very least for a whereas. But for her, a heartwarming Zoom dialogue can’t soften the each day indignities and terrors endured by a younger Hazara girl in Afghanistan.

“We prepare ourselves mentally for the worst,” Fariba mentioned simply after the Zoom display screen had gone darkish. “It’s terrible to say, but that’s our reality.”

Safiullah Padshah contributed reporting from Kabul, Afghanistan.



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