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'Why Was I Born a Girl?': A poem from Afghanistan is sending shockwaves to students in the US

11th grader Fariba Mohebi's powerful poem has highlighted the realities of life for young women in Afghanistan under Taliban rule.

'Why Was I Born a Girl?': A poem from Afghanistan is sending shockwaves to students in the US
Image Source: Displaced Afghans Camp In Ruins Of Afghan National Palace. KABUL, AFGHANISTAN - OCTOBER 21. (Photo by Chris Hondros/Getty Images)

At Canyon Crest Academy, a public high school in San Diego, students have been reading a moving poem written by Fariba Mohebi, an 11th grader in Afghanistan. Banned from attending school after the Taliban takeover, Fariba broke down and wrote, "Why Was I Born a Girl?" The poem, a powerful condemnation of the way young girls are treated in Afghan society, traveled 8,000 miles to the United States through Periodic Zoom sessions between Afghan and American learners. As the 11th grader accesses education in a makeshift tutoring center in her community under threat of punishment by the Taliban, students in the USA grapple with their understandings of privilege, The New York Times reports.


"If I was a tenth as courageous as these girls are, I would be a lion," wrote Diana Reid, a Canyon Crest student. "They are my heroes." She wrote this account after a Zoom call with students of the Mawoud tutoring center in Kabul, during which Afghan girls described navigating bombing threats and Taliban interference. Selena Xiang, another Canyon Crest student added, "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. It’s so different from my life, where education is handed to me on a silver platter."


At the Mawoud tutoring center, where Fariba currently attends lessons, girls sit in class with boys and men teach girls—testing the limits of Taliban rule. Najibullah Yousefi, the center's principal, played an important role in organizing the Zoom sessions between the two schools. "We are so happy we are not alone in this world," he said. "There are some beautiful minds on the other side of the world who are concerned about us." He collaborated with Timothy Stiven, who teaches an AP history class at Canyon Crest Academy.


In one of these periodic Zoom calls, the students discussed Fariba’s poetry, translated by Emily Khossravia, a Canyon Crest student. Her poem "Why Was I Born a Girl?" was soon published in the school magazine, which prompted an in-depth look at the state of access to education and other Afghan realities for the American students. For instance, the pupils at Canyon Crest learned that Mawoud’s previous location was leveled by a suicide bombing that killed 40 students in 2018. The students in Kabul are also learning from their American counterparts. Fariba, who wants to become a famous poet and cancer researcher, shared, "They have motivated us to achieve our goals—and for me, my goals are very big." Zalma Nabizada, another Mawoud student, said, "I lost my motivation and was in darkness after the Taliban came." However, the Zoom sessions have nudged her to keep trying to achieve, so she can become, as she described, "a star that shines."


Nonetheless, for Fariba, one heartwarming Zoom call cannot soften the realities of her life in Afghanistan. "We prepare ourselves mentally for the worst," she noted following a session. "It’s terrible to say, but that’s our reality." In the meantime, she and her peers strive hard so they can pass Afghanistan’s rigorous university entrance exams. But, there is no guarantee that she or other young girls will be permitted admission. Therefore, she writes in her poem, "[Aghan men] shout and scream: Why should a girl study? Why should a girl work? Why should a girl live free?"


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