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Shabana Basij-Rasikh speaks on International Day of the Girl | 10x10

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Hello I'm Shabana Basij-Rasikh, and I am one of the co-founders of the only boarding schools in Afghanistan. I am constantly amazed by the resolve of the girls that apply to our school. For example, just last month, I had to turn down an applicant because I felt she wasn't the right fit. A week later when I walked into my office, there she was. 12 years old, dressed in light blue, a shalwar kameez with matching head scarf, and sandals, waiting with her father beside her. She stood up, shook my hands firmly, and said, "Hi, I'm Shanna." Of course, I had to interview her. Among the things that I asked her, I said: "Pretend that I am the president of Afghanistan and I offer you a job as a minister." "What ministry would you choose?" Shanna didn't miss a beat. "I would choose the Ministry of Defense, because I want to bring peace and security to Afghanistan." Being a general's daughter, I could not help but think about my own life, when I was roughly Shanna's age. One morning, when I was 11 years old, I remember waking up to the sound of joy in my house. It was 7 a.m. ...and my father was listening to BBC News with a big grin on his face. That was extremely unusual in my family during the Taliban regime. Because I had always seen my father depressed when he would listen to the news. But that morning, he was happy. So I asked what was happening, and he said, "The Taliban are gone." I said, "What do you mean?" And he said, "They are no longer in charge of Afghanistan." My mom shouted, "You can go to a real school now!" "You don't have to go to that secret school anymore." I will never forget that morning. I was six years old when the Taliban took over Afghanistan, and they made it illegal for girls to go to school. Because education was important in my family, so for the next five years I dressed as a boy. To escort my sister, who was no longer allowed to be outside alone, to a secret school. That way, we both could be educated. We walked for one hour to a school, each day taking a different route, so that no one would suspect where we were going. We would even cover our books in grocery bags, pretending we were out shopping. The secret school was in a private living room... ...run by a woman who had been a high school principal before the Taliban. There were more than a hundred of us, packed in that one small living room. It was cozy in the winter, but unbearably hot in the summer time. We were all aware that we were risking our lives. The teachers, the students, and our parents. We the students would leave and arrive at different times to minimize suspicion. Every once in a while, the school would be cancelled because the Taliban were suspicious. We all wondered what they knew about us. Were we being followed? And do they know where we live? And in my case, what if they knew about my father's previous job? For the government. We were always scared. But that one thing that we wanted, we still wanted to be in that school. I want to tell you about my parents, because I believe they are really incredible people. Prior to the Taliban, my mother was a teacher, and my father was a general in the army. Now, under the Taliban, they were jobless, and my father was literally in hiding. This is him. At times I got frustrated by our life, and always being scared, and not seeing a future. I would want to quit, and my father would say, "Listen, my daughter..." "You could lose everything in life that you own. Your money could be stolen, you could be forced to leave your house during war, but the one thing that will always remain with you is whats in here. Your education is the biggest investment in your life. Don't ever regret it. And besides, if we have to sell our blood to pay your school fees, we will. So do you still not want to continue?" My father was the first man in his family to receive an education, and my mom was the first female in her family to go to school. My mom retired from her teaching job two years ago, only to turn our house into a school for the girls and women in our neighborhood. That's my mom, you could never stop her. Today I am 22 years old. I was born and raised in Afghanistan. A country that has been destroyed by years of war that well exceeds my age. Fewer than 6% of women my age in Afghanistan have made it beyond high school. When I went to a public school for the first time in my life, after the fall of the Taliban, 95% of my classmates were six years older than I was. Because they had been kept out of school for all those years. Had my parents not been so committed to my education, today at 22, I would be a sophomore in high school...if I were lucky. But today, I am a proud graduate of Middlebury College. Thank you. You know, they say it takes a village to raise a child. The village that raised me and invested in my education was created when my grandfather insisted on sending my mom to school. And when my father was sent to school, and then saw the value of marrying an educated woman: my mother. And my village was strengthened when my parents made my education possible. I have come to realize something about Afghanistan, and this is something that is often dismissed in the West. Behind every successful woman, there is always a father who recognized the value of his daughter. In my case, I dream big, but my father? He dreams bigger for me. And that's what I saw that day in my office. I saw a man dreaming big for his daughter. Now, can you imagine the kind of Afghanistan that a 6 year old Shabana would be raised in if girls like Shanna can grow up to be Ministers of Defense? That's why I am back in Afghanistan. Yesterday, when the 14 year old Pakistani girl who advocates for girls' education was shot by the Pakistani Taliban, my sister reminded me... ...that it only takes a single bullet to get rid of a woman like me. But I have been giving this education, the opportunity to receive an education. I am back in Afghanistan because I want to give that opportunity to other girls in countries where its still very risky for girls to go to school. As in my father's words, I am not embracing risk by doing what I do. I am fighting it. Thank you.

Video Details

Team: Girl Rising
Duration: 8 minutes and 50 seconds
Country: United States
Language: English
License: All rights reserved
Producer: Martha Adams, Tom Yellin, Richard Robbins
Director: Richard E. Robbins
Views: 81
Posted by: girlrising on Feb 6, 2014

Shabana Basij--Rasikh was six years old when the Taliban took power in her native Afghanistan and banned women and girls from school. Still, she managed to get an education and then go on to study at Middlebury College, where she graduated at the top of her class. Shabana is now Managing Director of SOLA (School of Leadership, Afghanistan), a nonprofit that helps exceptional young Afghan women access education worldwide and jobs back home. Shabana shared her incredible story at the 10x10 campaign kick-off event in New York City on the eve of the International Day of the Girl.

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