Student from Afghanistan Addresses High School Students
“The Taliban: most of us don’t know who they are or where they come from.”
Students at Rumson-Fair Haven Regional High School don’t meet many people with direct and personal knowledge about the Middle East, and this can make current events stories on the events in Afghanistan and Iraq seem remote and unreal. Last week, a visitor changed all of that and brought the news to life for the classes who were able to meet her and learn first-hand the reality that is modern day Afghanistan.
Shamila Kohestani is a student at Drew University because of the Afghan Girls Financial Assistance Fund. She was noticed and selected for this program because she risked her life for the privilege of playing soccer in her home town of Kabul. This earned her the Arthur Ashe Courage Award at the 2006 ESPN ESPYS Awards (Excellence in Sports Performance Yearly Award). A dramatic film was shown at the ceremony that highlighted the courage and hope exemplified by Shamila and her teammates who played in war-torn Kabul on a military base surrounded by walls to protect them.
She came to the United States to attend a soccer camp and met a teacher from Blair Academy in New Jersey who arranged for a scholarship so that Shamila could attend Blair to learn English and be prepared for college.
She was the first student to be sponsored by the Afghan Girls Financial Assistance Fund, which was established in 2008 to help promising young women from Afghanistan to be educated in the United States and then return to help improve conditions in their country.
She was given a four year scholarship to attend Drew University, where she is in her third year studying political science, women’s studies and sociology in hopes of going on to graduate school and one day working internationally, perhaps at the United Nations.
The Afghan Girls Financial Assistance Fund is now sponsoring seven more students. Mr. Thomas J. Coan and his family are Ms. Kohestani’s host family. He is very enthusiastic about this program, and he is particularly impressed by Shamila, “There couldn’t have been a better first candidate for the Foundation. Her public outreach and willingness to share her story are quite honestly the reason that the Fund has gone on to sponsor other young women. Those other girls are here because of Shamila.”
RFH students listened intently as Kohestani explained that Afghanistan has suffered through 9 years of continuous warfare that has directly impacted all of its citizens. They saw a glimmer of freedom that only lasted a short time before the American forces "relaxed" and the Taliban began to terrorize them again.
She explained that the Taliban is made up of extremist Arabs who moved into Afghanistan from other countries. They have destroyed the infrastructure and educational institutions. Libraries and the books they held have been decimated.
Kohestani said, “Most of us don’t know who they are and where they come from. They are not Afghans.” The Afghan citizens do not want the Taliban there and fear them, but they dare not disobey them. When the American soldiers return to their bases at the end of the day, the Taliban thugs enter homes and behead family members to terrorize citizens into doing what they are told.
“People help the Taliban because they have no choice; they are very dangerous. Many citizens want the Americans to leave because they are sick of 9 years of war. But, clearly, if the USA leaves, chaos will result," she said. "Afghans prefer the Americans to the Taliban.”
She said that the press avoids showing that women are still not being liberated because the Taliban sees women’s education as a sign of western influence. Her solution to the entire problem is educating the people. She said that the older generation probably will not change, but education will enlighten the younger people and help make needed changes happen. She hopes that through education, a growing economy and a strong national army, Afghanistan will become a stable country.
Each RFH class was allowed ample time to ask questions, and in response to queries on how she enjoyed the United States, she said, “I have been someone else my whole life. Life is about chances and opportunities. If you miss it once, you are done. So I took the opportunity, and I am living the life I dreamed of," she explained. "People ask me why I always have a big smile on my face. It is because I love being here, love my classes, and have made great friends. I smile so much because I am happy.”
Her final words to the students: “My message to you is to appreciate everything that you have. All over the world, people don’t have these things. You have libraries and loads of books. Treasure what you have here.”