WCW International Scholar-in-Residence Pashtana Durrani is the founder of LEARN Afghanistan, the country’s first-ever digital school network. Below is an excerpt of an essay she wrote for Global Citizen about her experience running LEARN from abroad since the Taliban took power in August 2021.
Over the past two years, a lot has happened.
When the Taliban banned women from working in NGOs, it made it practically impossible for women to exist in any sphere. For two weeks, we had to shut down everything. All learning was stopped. I thought it was the end.
Then, my deputy director called me and said they were restarting the classes and even more girls had enrolled. Two weeks earlier, we had to close our doors on 220 students. Two weeks later, we had more than 280 in three schools.
In July this year, I returned to Afghanistan after 18 months of Taliban rule. I went to Helmand, the sister province to Kandahar, and I entered one of our schools. All of the students and all of the teachers knew me even though we had never met. No introductions were needed, and there were no pleasantries. We all knew the importance of the work we were doing.
What keeps me going is that we have already been through this. This is not the first time we’ve been here.
One moment I’ll always cherish is when a girl raised her hand and said: “I’m in Grade 7 now but I’m going to need support until Grade 12. Are you going to stay here until Grade 12?”
There are times I worry: “What will happen after this date? How are we going to get the funding?”
But this girl was saying to me: “I’m going to show up. Are you going to show up for me?”
There have been heartbreaking moments over the past two years, too.
The worst thing I have seen was when, in March, the girls went to school and were turned away.
How horrible is the world that there can be young girls taking to the streets to beg to go to school?
I’m not going to claim that we have been at the forefront of fighting with the Taliban by openly opening schools. I have to be smart about it. The best resistance is for them to see a woman or a girl reading right under their noses. That’s only possible if we do our work silently.
What keeps me going is that we have already been through this. This is not the first time we’ve been here. The one thing people should know about Afghans is that we are a country of rebels. And we will keep rebelling against the Taliban and anyone who enforces their outdated mentality again, and again, and again, until they lose power—which they will.
Read the full text of Durrani’s essay and watch a film based on it at globalcitizen.org.
Pashtana Durrani is an Afghan feminist, activist, and educator who founded LEARN Afghanistan, the country’s first-ever digital school network. In 2023, she received the Global Citizen Prize, which celebrates remarkable changemakers who are taking exceptional actions to end extreme poverty.