The Turquoise in Afghanistan
Discussing Education in Afghanistan with Firoz Academy Co-Founder Wazhma Sadat’14
By Marina Yoshimura
Nothing stopped her. Not even the Taliban.
Wazhma Sadat ‘14, instead created her own path and has allowed others in Afghanistan to do the same. Today, Sadat—the first female Afghan to have graduated from Yale College and now a J.D. candidate at Yale Law School—has given children in Afghanistan access to education. With Choate Hall & Stewart LLP associate John Calhoun’ LAW 15 and EMVC partner Kunal Lunawat, she founded Firoz Academy,” an online school for children in Afghanistan, in which Firoz means “turquoise.” “With its brilliance mirroring the colors of the clear skies above the Hindu Kush Mountains, Firoz signifies prosperity,” says Sadat. Afghanistan needs her commitment to lift the country out of war and fragility by giving children the education they deserve.
The Firoz Academy is deeply personal to Sadat. She, too, had lived under the Taliban regime, which banned girls from attending school. It was only because she and her family moved to Pakistan that she could continue her education. But although Sadat escaped the Taliban physically, memories of the war stay with her and have shaped her perspective. “I cannot think of any Afghan who was not affected by the Taliban’s ban on education,” and that So my outlook, overall, about my country, goes back to the importance of undoing the lost of five years of education, and then building on it, doubly, for years to come.” War robs children– its greatest victims– of their future. It strips them of education, livelihoods, and for many, their lives. “Part of the reason why we started Firoz Academy was to ensure that for students living in war-stricken countries, war doesn’t become their only means of education,” says Sadat. The U.S. invasion in Afghanistan and the Taliban regime tore the country apart, with long-lasting effects on its people, especially the children. “…war has sadly remained my strongest foundation of how I look at the world even today,” she says. Around 3.7 million children are estimated to be out-of-school in Afghanistan – 60% of them girls. Around 5.3 million children do not yet attend school because of culture or security. Such circumstances perpetuate a cycle of poverty and a generation torn in a fragile state. Afghan children will grow up with the risk of not knowing how to optimize the wealth of natural resources the country has due to a lack of education. Their economy will deteriorate further. Their basic necessities will be hard to obtain. War is more than statistics; it is personal.
Instead of resenting Afghanistan’s challenges, she finds solutions by reading, focusing on her future, and committing to Firoz Academy. “Growing up, we read a lot of philosophy, poetry, fictional novels, and Islamic texts,” she says. “While they left our young minds with questions, they also inspired us to emulate those who came before us.” She says she learned about courage, self-reflection and faith from Prophet Muhammad. Her resistance to the Taliban regime by reading and attending school demonstrates the values she has learned through books she has read. Today, she pursues her education at one of the most academically rigorous universities in the world. Balancing academics at the Yale Law School and teaching at the Firoz Academy was not easy, but Sadat stays committed to both by prioritizing. As for the leadership class she once taught, she says she prepared for class on weekends and hours before it started. She would attend school from 10 a.m. to around 5 or 6 p.m., and at 9 p.m. on Mondays, she would co-teacher her leadership class. “As for managing the workload of school, it took a lot of self-discipline and at times, sadly, compromise to make everything work,” she says. But knowing what is important to her– her family, her education, and work at Firoz Academy– has anchored her to her work.
Sadat is changing Afghanistan’s fate by incorporating technology classes into Firoz Academy’s curriculum. To tap into Afghanistan’s potential in technology, she has tailored her educational programs to better prepare her students for technology; the Academy teaches them computer skills, math, science, and English. Sadat says she wants “to change how people think about the country, but before that, want to change how every Afghan thinks about their opportunities and access to jobs internationally.” With the global market reaching and expanding in Afghanistan, the telecommunications sector, which has helped young Afghans become more tech savvy, could help the country grow economically and socially. She says the technology has provided an avenue for Afghans to join the global services market and that, if given the opportunity, Afghans will thrive in that market.
Firoz Academy is a silver lining for Afghanistan. It provides education to children who would otherwise lack access to this basic right. Although the Taliban and Afghanistan’s patriarchy discourage women and girls from working outside the home, Firoz Academy challenges gender norms by providing Afghan children– both girls and boys– education. “There’s no doubt that Afghanistan today looks very different from Afghanistan in 2001. While we are ecstatic of any improvements in the educational arena, we are well aware of the road ahead,” says Sadat. She is the turquoise Afghans have been waiting for.