Like many people in Afghanistan, as a child I was forced to leave my home and seek refuge in the relative safety of Iran and Pakistan. It was then that I witnessed just how vulnerable poor women and children in refugee camps could be.
I saw children who had no shoes and not enough food to eat and I saw women who were repeatedly subjected to domestic and sexual violence. And even though I was only 13, it was then that my “career” in humanitarian work really began.
I began volunteering at the refugee camps, working with the women and children. I spent my free time collecting old clothes, cash and other items from friends and family and taught I English classes to refugee children. And even though it was something I really wanted to do, I did not find it easy. Some people in my orthodox community, even members of my own family, rejected my decision to work as a humanitarian.
Confronting the inequalities of my own society at such a young age was a real challenge and I still look back on this time in my life as the period when I learnt the most.
I now work at HAWCA (Humanitarian Assistance for the Women and Children of Afghanistan) as Executive Director and although rewarding, being a humanitarian worker in Afghanistan is challenging and sometimes very dangerous. During the Taliban regime I received several threatening letters and telephone calls demanding that we cease activities. And sadly it was during this time, when one of our teachers was beaten to death in Jalalabad province for teaching science lessons to girls.
But it is important to remember and cherish our achievements – I remember working hard years ago to convince a farmer in Samanghan province to send his two daughters to school and now I hear that they are both sitting their entrance exams to Kabul University, one to study medicine! It’s stories like these that make me feel proud to be a humanitarian worker.
My dream is to one day see all Afghan women free to make independent decisions about their own lives. I am thankful that, slowly, things are changing.