From Darkness to Dreams: Fighting Against Ignorance and War

By: Mahjoba Frotan

In a small town, Zahra resides with grand aspirations, fueled by her immense dreams. However, her right to education and the opportunity to learn in schools and universities has been snatched away, leaving her disheartened. She expresses, “My dreams were once significant, but now they appear hollow and devoid of meaning.” I had encountered Zahra before somber darkness cast its shadow over our homeland. At that time, she was in the tenth grade, deeply connected to her school, classmates, and engrossed in her subjects. She eagerly mentioned the commencement of the university entrance exam preparation period. With meticulous planning, she envisaged herself as a journalist and an insightful commentator, unraveling critical issues through the media in the coming years.

In that very year, although Zahra still had ample time to complete her schooling, her thoughts revolved around carving a path to realize her aspirations. Zahra exerted tremendous effort, engaging in fervent negotiations with her family to secure their support in sending her to the city center for Entrance Exam Preparation. Through these persistent negotiations, she managed to achieve some favorable outcomes. However, the tides turned after that year. The prevailing war and the pervasive insecurity in her district disrupted her educational journey. Nevertheless, Zahra refused to surrender. The flame of hope for her future continued to flicker within her, as she yearned for an end to the war and the realization of her dreams.

The war eventually came to an end, but contrary to Zahra’s hopeful expectations, it failed to bring peace to the homeland. Zahra reflects on that time, recalling the coexistence of war and hope. However, over the course of two long years, that glimmer of hope transformed into a desolate path shrouded in darkness. It has been more than two years since Zahra’s education was abruptly halted. With a heavy heart, she shares, “When I first heard the whispers of schools being closed for girls, it felt like a haunting nightmare, and I clung to the belief that the dawn would soon awaken me from it. Yet, as days turned into weeks, and weeks into months, no good tidings arrived. Now, two years have elapsed, and this enduring nightmare has left me hollow, unable to move forward.”

During last year’s university entrance exam, the Taliban implemented strict gender divisions in the fields of study, separating girls and boys. Zahra received the devastating news that girls were prohibited from choosing journalism as their major. This revelation felt like plunging from one abyss to another for her. Zahra, who harbored aspirations of becoming a journalist, now believes that her cherished dream will remain unattainable, even if the gates of the university open. Amidst her heartfelt words, Zahra reminisces, “Every time I catch sight of my male classmates heading towards school, a glimmer of brightness pierces through the darkness enveloping my world. Even the mere sight of seventh-grade girls attending school fills me with joy and ignites a flame of hope within me.”

The Taliban have imposed a ban on girls’ education until they issue a “further decree.” Helpless and confined within their homes, all girls are left waiting, obediently following orders about the uncertain reopening of schools and universities. Zahra engulfed in sorrow, raises her voice with a mournful tone, “We have wasted so much time. Can we ever make up for these lost years while we wait for their decrees? Is it even possible?” Amidst her contemplation, Zahra’s mind drifts to her classmates, those whose circumstances she has some knowledge of. She reveals, “Many of my friends have left the country, becoming refugees in neighboring lands, while others cling to hope of reaching European shores to partially fulfill their dreams.”

Zahra shares the stories of her friends who have become immigrants and poses a haunting question, “Can a person be torn apart, leaving one fragment buried amidst shattered dreams, another fragment in their homeland, and carrying yet another fragment to a distant corner of the world?” Her words resonate with truth, forcing me to contemplate the unimaginable. In Zahra’s face, I glimpse the faces of countless Afghan girls, whose anguish for sustenance and survival pervades their captive existence.

Zahra’s heart is heavy with sadness, yet amidst all the turmoil, deprivations, and hardships, one thing remains resolute: she refuses to surrender. Within her, hope thrives, nurtured by daily practice, continual learning, and personal growth. Recently, she embarked on a journey of online education, enrolling in an esteemed university. Through distance learning, she diligently immerses herself in diverse courses, expanding her knowledge. Like countless girls in Afghanistan, Zahra bears the burden of extremism, oppression, injustice, and tyranny, but her spirit remains unyielding. With unwavering determination, she declares, “I am well aware that the path I have chosen is arduous and strewn with challenges, but we have no alternative. We must persist.” The somber shadows cast upon her homeland have failed to extinguish her thirst for knowledge, as she tenaciously pursues her lifelong aspirations.