‘In the United States, I Feel Optimistic’

Samira Rustami, 20

I was born in Kabul, instantly disadvantaged because of my gender and caste. Repeatedly, I was reminded that I should not pick up a book or a pen. I just needed to learn to cook and clean to serve the family. When I did manage to find time to study, my mother would tear my books and even try to burn them to stop me. My brother, however, was showered with encouragement, so naturally, I often found myself wanting nothing more than to be a boy.

When I read Malala Yousafzai’s book, I was overwhelmed with inspiration. Moved by Malala, I studied hard, trying to find a pathway that no one was supporting or even thought was possible.

One day, while scrolling through Facebook, I learned that applications had opened for the annual Indian Council for Cultural Relations scholarship program, in which Afghan students are invited to study in India on a full scholarship. I secretly submitted an application and took a qualifying test. When I was admitted, my parents refused to send me. After pleading with everyone in my family, one of my uncles agreed to vouch for me. And while studying in India, I truly understood the value of education — that a woman can only be free and strong when she stands on her own two feet, armed with knowledge.

After completing my Bachelor’s of Business Administration, I returned to Afghanistan hoping to find a job in the finance industry. But my caste and gender continued to thwart my employment options.

When the Taliban overran Kabul this past August, I realized I had to take a frightening risk, leaving behind my whole life and family. I fled with only what I could fit into my backpack.

In the United States, I feel optimistic. With the opportunity to attend university, I aim to start over with a dream to become a nurse. I hope this opportunity will inspire other young Afghan girls, just like myself, that they, too, can achieve their dreams by not giving up, by believing in themselves, and by being focused and strong.

Source: https://www.nytimes.com/2022/08/12/world/asia/afghanistan-refugees-taliban.html