Shabana Basij-Rasikh: SOLA and Hope for a Better Afghanistan

‘Kill me now, if you wish, but I won't let your threats come in the way of my daughter’s educated future.”

An Afghan father, walking his daughter home from school escapes a concocted roadside bomb explosion by the span of a few seconds. He reaches home to a phone call, threatening him to abstain from sending his daughter to school, or else there will come a time when he and his daughter wouldn't be lucky enough to escape their deadly attacks. But the father did not give into these shallow, orthodox and misted ideas of education and lifestyle for women. He dismissed the threats and continued educating his daughter. My intractable practice of generalising the entire male strata of Afghanistan as dogmatic and retrograded was corrected on attending a talk by Shabana Basij-Rasikh when she visited our campus with her refreshing ideas to enrich us with a wave of positivity and above all, hope.

Born and raised in Kabul, Shabana finished high school in the U.S. and went on to attend Middlebury College in Vermont, graduating magna cum laude in International Studies and Women & Gender Studies in 2011. In 2016, Shabana was awarded an honorary doctorate from SOAS University of London. While still in college, Shabana co-founded SOLA—School of Leadership, Afghanistan, a nonprofit dedicated to giving young Afghans access to quality education abroad and jobs back home. After graduating from Middlebury, she returned to Kabul to turn SOLA into the nation’s first boarding school for girls. SOLA provides college preparatory courses to students aged 11 to 19 representing all major ethnic groups, religious sects, and tribes.

Amongst all the information Shabana shared with us, what came as most shocking to me was the revelation that the factual reason behind low levels of education, especially amongst women in Afghanistan, was not primarily the tormenting men with long beards and turbaned heads, but a dearth of teachers. Shabana quoted a numerical figure amounting to almost zero when she cited the number of women who’ve completed high school education in Afghanistan. Thus, classrooms became places where lectures rather than being explained, were being fabricated as per convenience due to the lack understanding and comprehension amongst the teaching faculty itself.

Despite all her achievements that are recognised across the world, Shabana came across as an exceptionally humble person who spoke with the same amount of passion in a small classroom at Ashoka University as she did for her TED Talk in the U.S. She explained how insecure parents feel about sending their daughters to get an education, yet fight all odds and take all risks to ensure a brighter future for their girls. But, their dream of making Afghanistan a nation where young girls can attend school without a fear of being attacked by the ideologies of the military is slowly seeing the light of the day through SOLA. An inspiring story of how Shabana wishes to continue her mission even though she recently escaped death due to a blast while travelling to SOLA, bolsters her belief in hope and in the Afghanistan she envisions.

Edited by Nayanika Guha

Images curated by Kangan Dhawan