Written by Catharine Bramkamp
Humaira Ghilzai is a Social Entrepreneur, writer and gender equality advocate. She is the co-founder of Afghan Friends Network (AFN) and the Hayward-Ghazni Sister City relationship, where she has spearheaded critical programs to improve education for women, girls and boys, particularly in the province of Ghazni, Afghanistan. She also lectures about Afghanistan, its people and women’s issues.
“Our media rarely reports success stories in Afghanistan. I feel it’s my job to let people know that Afghanistan is not a lost cause. I love sharing stories of the small successes that make a big difference in individual lives and cause a ripple effect in their community.
“I was in Kabul in the spring to attend to some business for Afghan Friends Network, the non-profit I co-founded 12 years ago. Meeting with our University Scholarship Program students was the highlight of my trip. The students (boys and girls) are majoring in medicine, engineering, physiotherapy and pre-law among other things. We are transforming these young people’s lives with a $50 monthly stipend, which pays for their books, transportation, and food.
“My meetings were tightly controlled due to security. Khatera, a young lady not on the guest list, talked her way into one gathering of the scholarship girls to personally plead her case for a scholarship. She was eloquent, passionate and determined. Here is Khatera’s story in her own words:
There are 13 members in my family. It has been a while my father is suffering from heart disease and he is not able to work now. One of my brothers was kidnapped by unknown people and they killed him after 20 days. My family economic situation is very bad.
I was in 7th grade when me and my friends were attending Khurasan Center [a school AFN started in the Ghazni province of Afghanistan]. I was studying preparation for [college entry] exam and I had a computer class too. After working very hard and by the help of Khurasan Center, I attended [college entry] exam and I got 279. I was accepted in Kabul University majoring Computer Science but I was not able to fulfill my university expenses.
I am hoping to receive scholarship this year from AFN so that I can continue my lessons, it will be great help for me, I will be very happy and thankful. Please reconsider me for scholarship this year because I really need to attend my classes.
“Khatera is now the 16th member of our university scholarship program.
“My friend and colleague Fatema exemplifies how one woman can change thousands of lives. Fatema is an educator, a mother, a wife and a community leader. During the dark years of Taliban rule she ran a secret school for girls from her home. After the fall of Taliban she became Minister of Education in one of Afghanistan’s most conservative provinces, but then she was replaced by a man less qualified than her.
“This setback was devastating, but she didn’t give up. She reached out to me and asked for funding to start supplementary schools to improve education for girls in her province.
“Fatema is now the Director of AFN’s programs in Afghanistan. She runs two Khurasan Learning Centers (KLC) for girls and one for boys, serving over 750 students. With her leadership we help students in grades 7-12 with math, physics, chemistry, biology and English. In the past seven years Fatema has not only affected the quality of education in hundreds of girls’ and boys’ lives but she has empowered women and girls in her community through her leadership.
“Fatema has received ‘night letters’ from Taliban for her advocacy. She has to disguise herself with several changes of clothes as she goes about one day’s work. But none of this stops her. She knows her family, her village, her province, and Afghanistan can only be as strong as its people are educated.
“I don’t see myself as a writer—I am a storyteller with unique life experiences. In March of 2013 I started writing Unraveling Veil. The novel writing journey has been self-revealing, intriguing and at times humbling.
Humaira will present at Inside Perspective, Life as an Afghan Woman on September 13th an event co-sponsored by Afghan Women’s Writing Project, Afghan Friends Network, and WNBA-SF chapter. Meet Humaira in person there and learn about the event HERE.