Young Girl Who Fled the Taliban Helps those She Left Behind if Pakistan Doesn’t Deport Her

Robina Azizi, 18, had just found some stability and a meaningful occupation when the Pakistani government announced that it would begin in November 2023 deporting nearly 2 million refugees back to Afghanistan.  It meant that the initiative she had worked so hard to get off the ground, which helped Afghan girls continue learning, would face an uncertain future–much like herself.

When the Taliban sent girls back home from their classrooms in March 2022, Robina felt as if her world came crumbling down. For a while, she had hours empty of any activity, idle at home. Scrolling through her Instagram, she discovered an online education program offered by the American charity, Dallas Foundation. Worldwide Education Fund, the initiative she had seen the add for, operates a global virtual school for children and young adults in marginalised communities throughout South and Central Asia.

Although she did not speak much of English, with the help of her sister, Robina applied to the program. And, in July 2022, she was back to learning business, even if it was not in a physical classroom.

The Taliban’s return, however, meant that stability was not an element of life anymore. A crippling humanitarian and economic crisis had engulfed Afghanistan. So, in October 2022, Robina’s family left for Pakistan, perhaps in search of a better life. Kabul, where they had moved a year ago from the northern Balkh province, did not have much to offer.

Settling in the suburbs of Islamabad, Robina resumed her online learning. But the exclusion of millions of her peers from similar opportunities kept buzzing in her head, invoking a sense of injustice. She would share her thoughts with others on the platform, including her mentors.

Anna, a 19-year old American volunteer who was mentoring Robina was moved by her commitment to help others. She promised that she would help if Robina wanted to do something about girls who could not go to school in Afghanistan.

In April 2023, Robina finally launched her own education initiative, the Girls on a Path for Change (GPC). Agitated by the Taliban’s education ban, volunteers from across the world poured in to help Afghan girls through GPC. More than 200 people from around the world came up to teach English language, photography, painting, writing, digital literacy, entrepreneurship, online trading, and poetry, among others.

Robina, 18. Photo: KabulNow

“The Writers Committee amplifies the voices of education-deprived girls, the Digital Literacy Committee bridges technological gaps, and the Online Trade Committee fosters independence. Poetry and Recitation provide a platform for emotional expression, offering solace and shared experiences,” Ana, Robina’s mentor, said about GPC.

Ana brought in one of her friends, Alexandra Slayton, a teacher trainer and education specialist. Alexandra said she had been pained by the Taliban’s ban and when Ana told her about GPC, it felt only natural to help.

“I reminded myself of what I was doing at 18 years old. I was enjoying my last year of high school, hanging out with friends and talking about my plans to attend college,” she said.

“I couldn’t imagine having my right to an education taken from me and being confined to my home. These young girls have lost their hopes and dreams.”

Alexandra helped turn the GPC into a more rigorous education academy by designing its curriculum and bringing more education activists, and specialists who wanted to help Afghan girls get around the Taliban’s education ban. Robina knew there was a need for it. But she did not know how many out there wanted to help. Volunteers poured in from far away places, from Canada and the US all the way to Bangladesh and Thailand.

The program has been helping girls who graduated high school in 2021 or earlier but cannot go to university due to Taliban’s ban on female education. Aarin, a volunteer from Thailand said, “the goal is to ensure that every aspiring girl has the opportunity to access educational pathways.”

Handicraft exhibition in Balkh. Photo: KabulNow

Soon, the initiative’s focus expanded beyond education and encompassed women’s empowerment at large. Robina mobilized girls in six provinces inside Afghanistan to organize art exhibitions and handicraft expos. In remote places such as Takhar, Daikundi and Ghazni, the program instilled a renewed hope in young girls, Robina felt.