The Price of an Education - Rahila's Story

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Rahila recounts her early childhood in her homeland. Born in central Afghanistan, Rahila says of her birthplace that it is too beautiful to properly describe in words. She has precious little memories of her early years, but the country she remembers like the back of her hand, and she fondly recalls playing in Afghanistan’s mountainous snow.

At the age of six years Rahila was the only female child in her family, but she is quick to explain that her family were not ashamed of her femininity. On the contrary, Rahila’s face lights up when she tells the group who have gathered to hear her story over dinner, that she was beloved most of all by her father who called her his Princess.

Rahila and her family lived in an area of Afghanistan that was controlled by the Taliban. Education was confined to religious study for males only, and it was a crime for females to attend school under any circumstances. Desperate to receive an education, Rahila dressed in boys clothes which she borrowed from her cousin, and with her father’s permission bravely attended school despite the dangers.

Unfortunately the Taliban discovered her transgression.

Her father was allowed to choose his daughter’s punishment - death or exile, and so at the tender age of six years old, Rahila found herself alone in Pakistan with relatives she had never before met. She cries softly as she recalls this period of her life, but informs her listeners that the saving grace of her forced exile was that she was legally allowed to attend school in Pakistan.

In 2008 Rahila’s father was also forced to leave his homeland. He made the long journey to Australia, and found himself on Christmas Island after his boat was intercepted. His whereabouts remained unknown to his family for a period of 4 months. Thankfully his refugee status was eventually approved, and in 2011 Rahila and the rest of her family were granted Humanitarian Visas to join her father in Australia. The family was joyously reunited.

Rahila pauses from her story to thank Australia for giving her and her family the chance for a better life, but she muses how the racist and sexist attitudes she occasionally encounters, somehow seem to demean her new found happiness. She wonders why people seem to think that she is forced to wear the head scarf, which she proudly wears as a free woman and a symbol of her continued faith.

Upon arrival in Australia, Rahila was enrolled in Year 10 at high school. She recounts how she threw herself into her education with relish, and how after high school she sought permission from her father to attend university. It was a hard decision for him, Rahila admits, but he gave his blessing for her to make her own decision.

Rahila shares that she is currently studying International Law & Politics, and that she hopes to be a humanitarian advocate in the future. Then she laughs as she happily tells the crowd that she has always been a “troublemaker”.

This is the story of Rahila’s journey. Would you have been brave enough to defy the Taliban, knowing the dangers that could bring? I’m not so sure that I would have been.