More than forty years ago, my parents emigrated from Afghanistan to Iran. They had lived in the mountains in Afghanistan and they were very poor and wanted to find someplace better to work.

I was born in Mashhad, Iran, and while I grew up without seeing Afghanistan, I conjured pictures of my country based on stories my parents and others told me.

I finished ninth grade in Iranian schools, just like an Iranian student. There was no discrimination then. But after America invaded Afghanistan and the Taliban fell, Iranian government policy toward Afghans changed and they put more financial pressure on immigrants. After ninth grade, my family and I tried hard to continue my education so I could get my diploma. But at school, I was now seen as an Afghan student and I suffered the bad behavior of Iranian students and teachers.

They were disrespectful to us even though Afghan students were often among the top in the class. One of my teachers called Afghan immigrants “dirty, backward people.” Sometimes they would imply that Afghan people were a source of disease. My high school history teacher warned us about a new and dangerous infectious illness caused by Afghan people. I learned to ignore such comments, but it taught me what it means to be an Afghan immigrant in another country: you don’t have a place that belongs to you.

Banned enrollment

By ninth grade, Iran had banned the enrollment of Afghan students. How could I accept this? I could not stay home because of their unjust laws. I visited many schools and asked to be allowed to study. Finally, one school allowed me to finish school there. But these were the worst years of school for me—in 10th, 11th, and 12th grades. After graduating, I learned Afghan students could not study at Iranian universities. I waited three years for the policy to change and finally Afghans were allowed to enter a university if we paid additional fees.  My family couldn’t afford these expenses and I had to drop out.

Finding Afghanistan

Because I wasn’t able to continue my education at a university or find a job, I came to Afghanistan  in 2010. It was the first step of my new life. I understood that my people and my country needed the power of young, intelligent students and experts and professionals to build the country and help the oppressed people. It is also in the interest of the international community that Afghanistan become a better place for its people.

First, I worked in Herat as an administrative assistant in a construction company and then I moved to Kabul to find better opportunities. I enrolled in a private university and found a job as a translator.

After twenty-two years away, I am hopeful for the future of my country and I believe that my people deserve to have a good life.

I do not want my children and my children’s children to feel pain and suffer like my generation or my parents’ generation. I want to do my best to help the Afghan people stand up for basic human rights. My country has a long history of war and oppression but I am optimistic that educated people can help move toward development and democracy. Through education and knowledge, we can remove the dark, teared face of Afghanistan.

By Najma