11th grader Fariba Mohebi's powerful poem has highlighted the realities of life for young women in Afghanistan under Taliban rule.
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.
When Fariba Mohebi, an 11th grader, learned in September that most Afghan girls would not join boys returning to school under Taliban rule, she broke down and sobbed. From her despair, a poem emerged: “Why Was I Born a Girl?”https://t.co/TEAOfBn4Nn— The New York Times (@nytimes) January 22, 2022
"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.
This International Day of Education marks 129 days of closure of girls' school in Afghanistan. The Taliban have banned girls above age 12 to go to school. Girls are abandoned from fundamental right to education. Call on Taliban authorities to #OpenSchoolsForGirls 📚 pic.twitter.com/tMmg0zadOL— Amnesty International South Asia (@amnestysasia) January 24, 2022
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."
A university teacher in Kabul, Selai Popal tells me – we go to sleep with the hope that this is just a bad dream… so that the next day we won’t be afraid that the Taliban will come and marry us or kill us. Girls and women are losing their hope for the future of #Afghanistan pic.twitter.com/GSH8eDbfUp— Yalda Hakim (@BBCYaldaHakim) January 18, 2022
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?"