WASHINGTON: “Why was I born a girl?” asks Fariba Mohebi, an 11th grade teenager in Kabul as she tries to adjust to new realities of her life under the Taliban.

The poem echoed across the globe when The New York Times (NYT) highlighted it in a piece about how women in Afghanistan have continued to pursue education despite a strong opposition from the country’s new Taliban rulers.

The newspaper learned about this poem when it was relayed via Zoom to a history class at a public high school — Canyon Crest Academy — in San Diego, California.

“I wish I was a boy because being a girl has no value,” Fariba wrote. “Afghan men shout and scream: Why should a girl study? Why should a girl work? Why should a girl live free?”

At Mawoud, girls sit in class with boys and men teach girls — testing the limits of Taliban forbearance. In a 2018 bomb attack, the academy lost 40 students, which was targeted because it welcomes girls and because it’s run by the Hazara Shia community. Most of Mawoud’s 300 students are Hazara.

“Periodic Zoom sessions between the Afghan and American students have opened a window to the world for girls at Mawoud, hardening their resolve to pursue their educations against daunting odds,” NYT noted.

After a Zoom call this month in which Afghan girls described navigating bombing threats and Taliban interference, a Canyon Crest student Diana Reid wrote: “I was a 10th as courageous as these girls are, I would be a lion. They are my heroes.”

Although every Mawoud student is treated as a symbol of courage and defiance at Canyon, Friba’s poem seems to have touched everyone, and not just at Canyon. Since Saturday, when it first appeared in NYT, the poem has dominated social media and has been appreciated by millions.

NYT reported that when Fariba learned in September that most Afghan girls would not join boys returning to school under Taliban rule, she shut the door and windows to her room. Then she broke down and sobbed. “From her despair, emerged the poem: Why Was I Born a Girl?”

The Zoom calls between Mawoud and Canon began in April and an early topic of discussion was Fariba’s poetry, translated by Emily Khossravia, a Canyon Crest student, and published in the school magazine. “Why Was I Born a Girl prompted an in-depth education in Afghan realities for the American student,” NYT commented.

Alice Lin, another Canyon student, wrote: Mawoud students “are stronger, more determined, more steadfast in belief than I have ever been, and I cannot help but think: What if the Mawoud girls had been given my life?”

Dina Reid said she was struck by something one of the Mawoud students said over Zoom: “Knowledge is powerful — and the Taliban knows it. That’s why they keep it from us.”

Fariba, 16, the poet, said they drew courage from the San Diego students. “They have motivated us to achieve our goals — and for me, my goals are very big,” she said, adding that she wanted to become a famous poet and a cancer researcher.

Published in Dawn, January 24th, 2022

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