“My daughter will be a role model, a light for other children. I promised that when she was born,” says Nouria’s father.
Thunder roared and rain whipped the earthen houses in the village of Ghani Khel on the night she was born, fourteen years ago. The girl’s father, Khan Wali, held her up in the light of a gas lamp and vowed: “You will have the same chances in life as a boy, to go to school and learn a trade.
The girl was named Nouria, which means light in Arabic.
“She will be a role model for other girls,” her father wrote on the back of his copy of the Koran, the holy book of Islam, the night she was born.
The years passed. Nouria turned seven and started going to a school built by Sakena Yacoobi’s organisation, AIL. Nouria was good at reading and writing, but found maths difficult. She loved her school, where boys and girls could study in the same class. But one day when Nouria arrived at school, there was a note stuck to the door with a knife. “This school is closed. We will cut the throats of parents who send their children here,” it said.
Nouria, who was 11 years old by now, knew exactly what was going on. The Taliban had closed the school! She ran home and told her father. On the same day, Taliban soldiers turned up in the village. They went from house to house telling people that they had taken over the village. Everyone had to obey their orders.
“They had beards and black turbans. And so many weapons... pistols, rifles and rocket launchers. I was sad and afraid of what was going to happen,” explains Nouria.
The school remained closed. Until Nouria’s father and the teachers at Sakena Yacoobi’s school came up with a plan to hold secret lessons.
“We would gather a handful of students and one teacher in someone’s kitchen or living room. We pretended to be running errands so we could get there without being found out. We hid our schoolbooks under our burkas. Then we went home again, one at a time, not in a group. It was terrifying, but also a little bit exciting. We didn’t trust everyone in the village – some of our neighbours sided with the Taliban and thought girls shouldn’t go to school,” recalls Nouria.
For over a year, the Taliban governed the village and Nouria went to the secret school. Then one day, there was news on the radio. The leader of the Taliban men who had terrorised the villagers had been killed in battle. Now Nouria and the other children could relax. The school would open again, in its usual building with classrooms, desks and chalkboards. The villagers who had supported the Taliban fled.
Favourite food: Sweets
Best friend: My cousin Fatima
Wants to be: A teacher
Likes: School, poetry, stories, sweets
Favourite animals: Tigers and eagles
Text: Jesper Huor
Photos: Makan E-Rahmati