After the Islamic Emirate banned older girls from education, many girls found alternative avenues to continue their studies, find intellectual stimulation – and even, as this Daily Hustle found out, make a living in the private education sector. AAN’s Rohullah Sorush hears from one young Afghan woman about how, even in the face of overwhelming setbacks and personal tragedy, she has managed not only to succeed in her learning endeavors but to thrive with the love and support of her family.Primary schoolgirls walk to school on a Kabul street.
Photo: Wakil Kohsar/ AFP, 9 August 2022.
Every morning, after I drop my younger sister at school, I teach an online English class to a group of lively girls my own age. My students are intelligent and all are fast learners, except for two who are in grade six and younger than the others – it is a little difficult for them. But they work hard and, with some extra attention from me, mostly keep up with their classmates. After the class ends, I take a moment to think about the road I’ve travelled to get to this place. I thank God for the support I get from my family and for his blessings.
A life-changing tragedy
I was born in Kabul, near the famous Darulaman Palace, in 2007 to a middle-class family. My father is a shopkeeper. He couldn’t finish his education because he had to start working to support his mother and two sisters when he was in eighth grade after his father died. But my mother was a high school graduate. Her schooling was disrupted when she was in grade 10 and girls were banned from school during the first Emirate. But later, during the Republic, my father encouraged her to go back to school.
An NGO near our house ran a school for older girls and young women who had been left behind in education. In that school, my mother finished grades 11 and 12 and got her high school diploma.
A lifetime ago, we used to be a very happy family. Back then, my two younger sisters, my parents and my grandmother and I lived together. But like all families, we’d had our share of tragedies. My parents had lost two sons before I was born and then a daughter after I came along. Then, four years ago, I lost my mother and my little sister. They’d gone to Ghazni to spend the summer with family, but as they were driving into our village in Jaghatu, their car hit a landmine. My mother and little sister were killed in the blast. along with two other family members. And, then four months later, my grandmother died. It felt like my world had ended.
There were just the three of us left – my father, my sister and me. Our house, which was once filled with joy and laughter, became silent and gloomy and my father, who used to be lively and come home with chocolate and candy in his pockets for me and my siblings, sank into a dark mood. About a year after my mother died, my father remarried and, after that, things went from bad to worse. It didn’t take long for my stepmother to start quarrelling with my dad. She wasn’t too keen on having my sister and me living with them and demanded that my father send us off to live with my maternal grandparents, which my father refused to do. She even tried to get my father to marry me off, but my mother’s family interceded and told him I was too young to get married.
Family support makes all the difference
Education is a big thing in my family, for my father who couldn’t finish his own education and for my mother and her family who rank education above all riches. My maternal uncle, in particular, has always taken an interest in my education. He has encouraged me to keep my head down and be dedicated to my studies. When I turned 10, he arranged for me to start learning English in one of the private language institutes near our house. During the Covid-19 pandemic, when all the schools were closed, he made sure I kept up with my English language studies and that I had an online meeting with my teacher twice a week so that he could check my homework. After my mother died, it was my uncle who coaxed us out of our misery. He came around every afternoon to make sure my sister and I were keeping up with our schoolwork and brought us presents when we got good marks in our classes. He told us that learning was the greatest of all distractions and that a good education would be our ticket to a better life.
In August 2021, girls were banned from going to school, and like my mother before me, I had to stop going to school. Otherwise, I would be in grade 11 now. I kept up with my English classes and also took up a job at the language centre as a teaching assistant, helping the teacher with the younger kids in the lower grades. A year later, when I finished the course and graduated first in my class, the institute hired me as a teacher. My uncle, who used to be a teacher himself, helps me with my lesson plans and gives me books to read to improve my English and help me become a more proficient teacher.
With more knowledge comes more responsibility
This year, I was promoted to be a manager at the centre. I still teach two classes a day, but now I’m also responsible for overseeing the work of other teachers. I monitor their classes and have quarterly meetings with them on the progress of their classes. I make plans for new courses and prepare weekly reports for my superiors. There are separate classes, at different times, for boys and girls, but girls can only attend in-person classes up to grade 6. After that, we have online classes for them. We have male teachers for the boys and female teachers for the girls.
Once, the Taleban came to our institute to see if we were observing the rules. Back then, the older girls also came to classes at the centre. Although the classes were separate, they told the institute’s owner that the older girls weren’t allowed to come. After that, we started our online courses for the older girls because we didn’t want the Emirate to shut us down.
These days, I keep myself busy and try to stay out of my stepmother’s way. My father isn’t around much. He stays late at his shop and when he’s home there are endless arguments with my stepmother. There is no space or time for us to be together as a family anymore. The money I bring into the house helps keep my stepmother’s complaints about me and my sister down. It’s a lifeline that allows me to make sure my sister and I pay our own way and also contribute to household expenses.
Making dreams come true
Every morning, I get my younger sister ready and take her to school before I get behind my computer to teach the online class for the older students who cannot attend classes in person. After that, I go to the centre from 9 to 12 o’ clock to carry out my managerial responsibilities, before picking up my sister and taking her home. Then I have a quick lunch and go back to the centre for a class I teach to the younger girls. My afternoons, until 5pm are spent making sure everything is on track at the centre. On Fridays, when I’m not working, I take my sister to my grandparents’ house and spend the day with my mother’s family. This is my routine.
The hours are long and it’s a lot of responsibility for someone as young as I am, so I work hard every day to make sure I do my job well and show everyone that I’m up to the challenge.
I’m very unhappy that I can’t continue my education. But when I lose all hope, I remember my mother and how she was finally able to go back and finish high school. I hope one day, when this ban is removed, all girls can go to school and to university. I count my blessings every day. I am lucky to have this opportunity to work as a manager at the institute and also teach other girls. I am happy I can help girls and boys learn something. The girls who study in the centre all have dreams. I’d like to think that I’m playing a part in helping their dreams come true.
Edited by Roxanna Shapour
This article was last updated on 17 Jan 2024