My mother is the most important person in my life. Even before she married at nineteen she was already working to help support her family. Her father had taught math at a girl’s school, but during the Taliban regime the school was shut down and she became the family’s breadwinner.

Her father was well educated and he had a big impact on how my mother grew up. He encouraged her education and she was active in school. She always says that without his support, she could not have gotten an education. She believes if the men of a country support women and girls, a country can progress.

During the Taliban, her family lived in Herat but my mother was able to make the best of the situation for her family. The UN was supporting a midwifery school and my mother taught there. Her two sisters went to the school, and so the UN World Food Program would provide the family with wheat. Meantime, NGOS and UN agencies secretly were supporting women taking English classes. The Taliban did not know about this.

My mother sent her sisters to the classes. Because of her encouragement, they are literate and learned English and they now have good jobs. My mother always told her sisters to be independent. She told them if a woman becomes educated and has her own life and job, people could not commit violence against her in the same way they do against illiterate women.

She was beaten up many times by Taliban while going to work in Herat city because she was outside without a male family member. But she never stopped working. Because of her bravery, magazines wrote about her and printed her pictures in France, Holland, Norway. She received threats, but every time she faced a risk, she became stronger. The same risks have stopped many women from working on behalf of women and girls, but she did not quit. She worked hard and remained eager to study. She helped other women in her neighborhood solve their problems and became an important member of her local community.

After she got married, there were new challenges. Her husband did not have a job, so in addition to supporting her father’s family, she had to run her new family.

During the Taliban regime she eventually ended up working for Internally Displaced People (IDP) and Afghan refugee-returnees in transit camps on the border of Iran. At times she was an education manager, protection officer, and medical officer. These experiences made her powerful. Through her work in medical facilities providing family planning and vaccinations, she helped many women.

Recently, our family had to leave Afghanistan for safety and now we are refugees in a neighboring country.

My mother has been looking for a job at many of the humanitarian agencies that are active in the city where we are relocated, but it has been difficult to find a job to support us. She still looks after her three children who go to school and she helps us with our lessons so we do well in school. Because of her support my two younger sisters and I will have a bright future.

I think by studying the stories of life guides like my mother we can learn from them and follow their lead. My mother always encourages me to study hard, follow my goals, and work hard. When I get a good score on my lessons, she is very happy. She is not just my mother, she is my best friend. She is the one person with whom I can share all the things that I cannot tell anyone else. She listens to me very deeply and she keeps my heart alive.

By Zahra W., age 14

Photo by Michael Foley.