Every summer during school break my family travels from our home in Kabul to my father’s hometown in Ghazni province. Ghazni is less secure than Kabul, but it is so beautiful. It is a cultural province, home to many poets and authors, although unfortunately now most of the schools have been closed by the Taliban and most of its books, ancient places, and museums destroyed.

When we go to Ghazni we stay in our grandfather’s house. My grandfather’s house is in a very green place where he has a big garden with different kinds of trees and flowers. Last summer the garden was so peaceful and quiet, with only the noise of children and the laughing of some teenage girls. I heard nothing else and felt I was in a secure place, far from war, bombings, suicide attacks, and killings. I was happy that I could read my books in the peaceful garden.

In front of the house is a large hill, where every morning a girl shepherded a flock of sheep. I could see her in the distance and hear her singing. One day I walked up the mountain and as I approached her she saw me coming and she waited. I introduced myself to her and she introduced herself to me. Her name was Gullafroz and she was fifteen. We asked many questions of each other, but when I asked her about school she started crying. I didn’t understand why and then she told me what happened.

Gullafroz no longer attended school. The Taliban burned down her school and her father, who was the schoolteacher, was beheaded. After that, her uncle forced her to stop school completely and then sold her to a rich man. In exchange, the uncle received a flock of sheep. I couldn’t believe my ears. The price of a girl was some sheep? Gullafroz said that in one month, she was expected to marry the man as his fourth wife.

This is cruelty. She wanted to be a teacher and teach the new generation, not be a wife to birth children when she is not yet sixteen. She wished to make a school, not to shepherd a flock. She said: “I am a shepherd, but these sheep are not my future.”

I was sad that I couldn’t do anything for her. I just gave her some of my books, and I hoped that she becomes a teacher in the future and helps the new generation. I think that if she can’t because she must be married, she would still like to do her best for her children.

I vowed that day to strive for education and the empowerment of women. We have the equal right to study and make choices. I will struggle against any obstacles to achieve my goals, and I will ignite a flame inside the heart of women and make this world a better place for them. We shouldn’t be the victims of illiteracy and oppression.

By Mahtab, age 16

U.S. Air Force photo/Capt. Peter Shinn