A University of Lynchburg Student’s Journey From Taliban Oppression to Higher Education

by | Jan 2024

NELSON MANDELA famously said, “Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world.” The story of University of Lynchburg student Shukria Rezayi (not her real name, for security) paints a powerful picture of what Afghani women will do to wield such a weapon.

Girls College, an organization navigating against the oppressive tide of Taliban rule, has become a beacon of hope for Afghan women seeking to pursue higher education.

In January 2023, Alissa Keith, an English professor at the University of Lynchburg, stumbled upon an Instagram story calling for help. A friend of a friend was working with Girls College and was looking for volunteers to assist Afghan women with college entrance essays. This struck a chord with Keith, aligning perfectly with her expertise in teaching English and her passion for helping disenfranchised youth.

Little did she know that this encounter would lead her to Rezayi, a resilient young woman determined to defy the narrative the Taliban had written for her.

“At the time, I didn’t know anything about the international student process, much less the process needed for an Afghan woman who has more hurdles than the average international student to attend an American university,” Keith said.

At the time, the Taliban did not allow women to attend any type of higher education. In the year since, they have banned education for women over the third grade.

“There’s no university education, and they’ve also banned women from being in public spaces,” Keith said. “So they’re not allowed to go to their public parks, they’re not allowed to work out at gyms, they’re not allowed to exercise, and so the crackdown is just more and more and more.”

Girls College allows Afghan women to find education, against the Taliban’s orders. When Keith got involved, she thought she’d just be helping students write essays. It wasn’t long until she was all-in on Rezayi and her pursuit of higher education.

Back in Afghanistan, Rezayi’s dreams were being shackled by always-evolving restrictions. “You don’t have any opportunity there,” Rezayi said. “When the Taliban came, I became hopeless. I was so sad. I was crying at night. Deep in my heart, it was broken inside me.”

However, lives can now and forever be changed. Girls College will create a future for countless women, and Keith will be here standing with open arms to put hearts back together. GN

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