Every winter, my mother, my sisters, and I go to Kandahar to visit my mother’s family for a month. I am always excited to see my relatives, but Kandahar is very different from Kabul.
In Kabul, girls go to school to learn. But in Kandahar, many girls go to school because the school gives them things like towels and toothbrushes. In Kandahar, the Taliban has put bombs in front of the schools. In Kabul, my friends and I wear sweaters and trousers, but in Kandahar you see girls my age wearing burqas. If police see a girl wearing trousers they will sometimes ask, “Why are you not wearing the burqa?”
The relatives in my Kandahar family would stop a girl from going to school after she was twelve or thirteen. But when they learned that my father was sending me to school, they began thinking, “Oh, maybe we should not stop our girls from going to school and becoming educated.”
One day when I was in Kandahar, the son of my aunt was doing his homework and he asked me, “Shahira, can you write?” I said, “Of course!” My cousin said, “Wow,” and told my other cousins, “Shahira goes to school for learning, not just for having fun.”
Now my Kandahar relatives are proud that I am working hard to get a scholarship to continue my studies.
For a long time my cousin Zuhal had a secret. She would go to school while her father was at work. Her father didn’t want her to go to school because the security where they lived was so bad. People put bombs in front of the schools to scare the girls away.
Zuhal’s mother allowed her to go to school, but she was always scared that her father might learn their secret. One time when I was visiting them, I asked my cousin if I could go to school with her. We were the same age—eleven. She said yes, but I should not wear the sweater and trousers I wore in Kabul. She gave me Punjabi clothes in black and white. Then we had to hurry and finish breakfast so her father would not see us leave.
It was a winter day, but not cold as we walked to her school. It was a large school with old and new buildings and many students. I went with her to math, Pashto, and behavior class where you learned things like when you do something wrong you should admit it and not lie, and how it is important to help the poor. The students were very surprised when I raised my hand and the teacher told them how they should learn to raise their hands too and how I was a girl who studied hard.
But then the next year when I went to visit my relatives, Zuhal wasn’t going to school any more.
I thought it was because of her dad, but it was because she was twelve. Her grandmother believed that girls should not go to school when they are twelve or thirteen. This made me sad because it is a right for girls to go to school.
By Shahira, age 12
Photo by Phil Borges; graphics by Blatman Design