Supporting education for Afghan girls and women
Growing up in Afghanistan as one of nine sisters, Sajia Darwish is grateful to have had a built-in support network to survive a culture hostile to ambitious girls. And for a mother who inspired her to wrench open a door for future generations.
“My mother is very bright, but she has never sat in a classroom,” Darwish says. “She was ‘blamed’ for never having boys, and she carried that blame throughout her life. In many ways it was through her voice that I was seeing the world.”
Although she left Afghanistan at age 13 to attend a series of schools in the United States, her home country retains a powerful pull on Darwish, a master’s student in international education policy analysis. Five years ago, she founded the Baale Parwaz Library, housed in a Kabul public school. The library provides access to books usually unavailable to students there, and programming aimed at teaching critical thinking. “Most of them have never read a novel that wasn’t part of the school curriculum, which is very strict,” she says.
She would like to return home to live and work, but she is realistic about the dangers. Four decades of conflict have produced a “war culture,” Darwish says, that puts people pushing for change at risk. “We’ve lost so many people who were educated abroad and went back to try to do something against the norm, and the next day they aren’t alive. I will have to decide if it’s worth it.”