Conflicts & War

Afghanistan’s best student this year is girl from persecuted minority

By Baber Khan Sahel

Kabul, Oct 7 (efe-epa).- An Afghan girl has scored the highest among more than 200,000 students in the national university entrance examination this year, making the daughter of a coal miner from the persecuted Hazara minority a celebrity in the patriarchal society of the war-battered people.

Shamsia Alizada’s life has turned around since the day exam results were out at the end of September, with politicians and organizations describing her as a “symbol” of progress for women and “the new face” of Afghanistan.

Even the list of media outlets waiting to interact with her has become more like a celebrity, having to rearrange her schedule each time a new event comes up with Afghan authorities.

“I am having really busy days, therefore I have to turn down or put in pending tens of invitations and media interviews. I can rarely answer my phone calls as I am receiving too many calls these days,” Alizada told EFE.

But her journey towards the “happiest moment” of her life has been arduous.

Her family has struggled to make ends meet in a country where 39 percent of girls do not go to school due to economic, cultural, and security problems in the wake of 40 years of uninterrupted war.

“We have always been struggling with financial problems, and I always tried not to put extra burden on my family. I have never had a chance to go for private tuition or get an admission in highend educational institutions because of exorbitant fees,” she said.

Her father, Nasim Alizada, works in a coal mine and earns less than $200 a month, which is hardly enough to run a family of five, living in a small rental house in western Kabul.

Alizada said that was the reason she had become an expert in handling small sums of money with “great effectiveness” and asserted that “financial restrictions” should be allowed to deprive children of education.

“Do not be ashamed of being poor. Be ashamed of the day when your children grow up uneducated,” she said.

She said her life might have changed forever after she scored 353 out of 360 in the university exam to enable her to fulfill her dream of studying at Kabul Medical University, where the best students in the country get admission.

But her constraints were not just financial.

Alizada is a Hazara, a Shia Muslim ethnic group that has been continuously targeted by Islamist extremist groups like the Islamic State, which consider them apostates.

In August 2018, a suicide bomber blew himself up inside a Hazara educational center in Kabul, where hundreds of students were studying.

At least 34 were dead and 56 wounded in the bombing on the top floor of the building, where high school students were attending preparatory classes for their university entrance exams. Alizada escaped because she was home that day.

She was born after the Taliban regime between 1996 and 2001 when girls were banned from schools and their mothers were forced to stay indoors since the Islamists did not let women go to work.

Nearly two decades after the fall of the Taliban, 38 percent of students in schools and 28 percent in universities are women.

Women also hold 28 percent of public positions, an achievement Alizada hopes will be defended during the peace talks between the Afghan government and the Taliban that began last month in Doha.

“The Taliban should respect the national constitution of the country, which is the main guarantor of the women and girls rights,” she emphasized, amid fears that the country may lose its hard-won gains if the Taliban return to power.

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