KABUL — Shabana Basij-Rasikh, who co-founded the School of Leadership Afghanistan (SOLA) in 2008, is an Afghan woman whose own childhood education was disrupted by Taliban rule.
Girls who reached school age in the mid-1990s shared Shabana’s plight. USAID found that in 2002 — a year after the Taliban fell — 900,000 boys attended school, while “women and girls were almost completely excluded from educational opportunities.”
Before the fall, education for Afghan girls had turned into a homegrown affair. Barred from entering classrooms, many girls learned their lessons in living rooms instead.
SOLA is Afghanistan’s first all-girls boarding school. Located in Kabul, the nonprofit seeks to empower girls aged 10 to 18 with a combination of old-school subjects and new-school leadership training.
Today, the Afghan Ministry of Education reports that over 9 million children are currently in school. Female students now constitute around 40 percent of that total, representing the culmination of years of dramatic improvement.
But much work lies ahead to offer females unfettered access to education. According to U.N. Women, girls make up most of the 4.2 million children who remain out of school.
When delivering a TED Talk in 2012, Shabana recounted how she had to dress as a boy for five years in order to accompany her older sister to their “secret school.”
The Taliban had, at that point, stripped women of the vast majority of their rights, including their ability to leave their homes and walk the streets without a close male relative.
For Shabana, the risk was worth it. Education, she explained to The GroundTruth Project, “was our only form of entertainment.”
Those days were the beginning of a fortuitous journey that eventually inspired Shabana to start SOLA. Outfitted with English college prep courses and headed by a diverse administration, the school’s curriculum is designed to prime young ladies for leadership roles in tomorrow’s world.
SOLA’s framework of academic and financial support goes above and beyond what is typically expected of secondary education, staying with students throughout their college and post-baccalaureate careers.
For that reason, growth has been slow but purposeful. SOLA currently teaches a total of 39 students and aspires to eventually have the capacity to instruct 340.
Implicit in Shabana’s aims is a tried and true grasp on how change and development can take hold after decades of devastation — an awareness culled from a wealth of hands-on experience when it comes to education for Afghan girls.
“You have to understand that you’re working towards something that you may not live to see,” she told The GroundTruth Project. From that understanding comes a perspective that infuses realism with hope.
– Josephine Gurch
Photo: U.N. Multimedia