Posts Tagged ‘afghan’

Photo: Dominique Soguel.
Young migrants who arrive in Sweden alone become part of a “big family” with older people in this unusual living arrangement.

You may have heard of anti-immigrant sentiment rising in Sweden, a country that historically has been welcoming to victims of war and persecution. But no story is the whole story.

At the Christian Science Monitor Dominique Soguel reports about the ongoing generosity of many Swedes.

“It was when his older Swedish neighbors threw him a high school graduation party that Afghan native Zia Sarwary finally felt a sense of belonging in this picturesque seaside city [Helsingborg].

“ ‘It meant everything to me,’ says Mr. Sarwary, who at the age of 13 arrived alone in Sweden during the 2015 refugee crisis. ‘That was the beginning of feeling at home.’

“Mr. Sarwary is one of dozens of tenants living in Sällbo, a shared-living project mixing elder Swedes and young adults, some of them from Sweden, others – like him – from the Middle East or Afghanistan. The six-story building with 51 apartments helps counter both the loneliness of advanced-age Swedes and the integration difficulties facing migrants who arrived as unaccompanied minors.

“Tenants of Sällbo have found common ground within these colorful walls, which they attribute to the cumulative impact of courtesy, kindness, mutual curiosity, and understanding.

“ ‘The whole goal was to show that even if you are different and even if you are people who would not usually socialize, you would do so if there is a safe environment where you know who is in the house,’ says Dragana Curovic, the project manager for Sällbo. ‘After three years, we can say that it worked.’

“Had they not moved under the same roof, the older Swedes and young migrants living here would almost certainly not have mingled. Fear and misunderstanding would have been major obstacles. Older Swedes’ impressions of young migrants draw heavily on negative press reports linking them to crime.

“As for the immigrants, their interactions with Swedes had largely been limited to asylum center officials – authority figures who set the initial tone for the newcomers’ experience, but weren’t focused on building bonds with them.

“Sällbo attempts to overcome that by getting tenants engaged with each other.

To move in, tenants must agree to socialize at least two hours per week.

“That can happen in shared kitchens, activity rooms, or cozy living areas. Each floor boasts three common areas, ranging from puzzle and scrapbooking rooms to libraries and film-screening rooms to carpentry workshops. Sun-kissed kitchens are set up for mingling, growing herbs, pickling, and baking. Artwork decorates the hallways. …

“Young and old concur that the pandemic helped strengthen the bonds that bind them. Younger residents did grocery shopping for the elders, who returned the favor by helping those with low computer skills keep up with their classes online.

“Now a logger working night shifts, Mr. Sarwary wishes he had even more time to spend with his older neighbors and feels bad when he needs to cut conversations short to catch his bus. After all, elders are treated with deference in Afghanistan. He believes curiosity feeds residents’ capacity to find common ground across cultures and age groups.

“ ‘People try to understand each other,’ he says. ‘I know you have your differences. I have mine. But we can meet in the middle ground and do something together that is good for both of us. There is a positivity in everything. That is the best part.’

“ ‘Sometimes you do things that are not correct,’ Mr. Sawary continues. ‘Instead of people coming in scolding you, they come in and they’re like, “Oh, you could do it this way.” ‘ …

“It helps that people understand that he had a tough background and approach him with an open mind to learn about his headline-grabbing, war-torn homeland.

“ ‘They would always ask instead of just judging. “OK, is this true about your country?” ‘ he says. …

“Jan Gustavsson, a retired provider of security systems, says he like helping young people from Afghanistan and other parts of the world integrate. ‘We can see in … Stockholm and Gothenburg, there’s a lot of problems. … I think it will help if these people live together with Swedish people.’ …

“Anki Andersson oversees scrapbooking activities on Tuesdays. Her husband, Kalle, helps fellow seniors do seated workouts. ‘Sällbo is the perfect place if you are mobile and seeking to socialize,’ says Ms. Andersson. ‘People here are so alike in a way. It is hard to explain. We click together very well, both the older and young residents. …

“ ‘If we have something we need to do or heavy things to carry, they give as a hand. We are a big family.’ “

More at the Monitor, here. No firewall. Nice pictures.

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Photo: Pat Greenhouse/Boston Globe.
Samya prepares an evening meal. Back in Afghanistan, Samya and Noori’s fathers are out of work and their families struggle to find enough to eat. Noori sends them $200 to $400 a month.

In today’s story, an Afghan who worked as an interpreter for US troops builds a new life for his family in Lowell, Massachusetts, a longtime “gateway” city for new Americans.

Alexander Thompson reports at the Boston Globe, “Scarcely any of the 40 Afghans who trooped off planes at the Manchester, N.H., airport on an unseasonably warm day on Nov. 18, 2021, had ever heard of Lowell.

“Among the dazed and weary refugees at the airport was an irrepressibly optimistic former US military interpreter called Noori. His wife, Samya, and two young daughters, Taqwa and Zahra, were at his side. They were exhausted, but they were safe.

“Noori recalled that he didn’t know a single person in New England. He didn’t have a job. Or a car. Or an apartment. Or a winter coat. But he had his family. ,,,

“After a harrowing escape and a grueling journey halfway around the world, Noori and his fellow Afghans quickly found that life in Lowell is no Hollywood movie.

“ ‘We thought that in America all the facilities of life were going to be provided for you,’ he said. ‘It’s true that it has, if you work [for it].’

“Noori and several hundred other Afghan refugees who have been resettled in Lowell have set about doing what they could not in their own country. They’re building lives in peace while forging a united community that is, slowly, bridging the divides of language and creed that have riven Afghanistan for decades.

“ ‘The United States of America did not build a nation in Afghanistan, and now the Afghans who are here are trying to build a new nation here in the United States,’ said Jeff Thielman, president of the International Institute of New England, which resettled many of the Afghans.

“And in the past year, Noori has gone from being just another Afghan in the crowd to a community leader, always eager to help his compatriots even as he navigates his own obstacles in the new country he’s proud to now call home. …

“Getting his license at the end of March was a huge relief. It felt like a hard-earned victory after the family’s first few months in Lowell, which had been difficult at times.

“Noori was lucky that the Lowell Community Health Center hired him days after he arrived as a Dari and Pashto language interpreter for their influx of new Afghan patients. But rent, Wi-Fi, and heat were expensive. They also desperately missed their families back in Afghanistan.

“ ‘Whenever I’m talking to my mom, she was crying because we are away from her, so this is the hardest part,’ Samya said, with her husband interpreting from Pashto.

“[Samya’s] and Noori’s fathers are out of work and their families struggle to find enough to eat amid Afghanistan’s worsening humanitarian crisis. Noori sends back $200 to $400 a month.

“Worse still, as Noori would acknowledge many months later, the family was feeling trapped and helpless in a tiny apartment. Fortunately for Noori and the other 275 refugees who eventually settled in Lowell, there was a group of Afghans who had arrived in the area years earlier and who offered support and guidance. The group’s de facto leader, named Mohammad Bilal, is another former military interpreter, who arrived in 2014.

“Among the first things Bilal and the others did was establish a WhatsApp group for the new arrivals.

“ ‘We will just call to the community if there is someone available, just please help this family. … They were going to get [the refugees] food, they were there to get them to the hospital,’ Bilal said. ‘Whatever their need was, we were helping them.’

“Noori had an extra advantage: Major White [who helped him escape] was still looking out for him. White knew Noori needed a car, so he set up a GoFundMe page that raised $14,000 and bought Noori a used Ford Focus. …

“By May, doing checkups with every new Afghan, [Dr. Rob] Marlin and Noori were the clinic’s dynamic duo. Marlin brings the medical knowledge and Noori the linguistic and cultural savoir-faire. Each patient reveals aspects of Afghan life in Lowell. …

“Before one checkup, Noori pointed out to Marlin that a man’s name indicated he is a member of the persecuted Hazara ethnic group. That prompted Marlin to probe deeper about the man’s roommates and whether he feels safe.

“ ‘He will often find out something that I didn’t ask about, that I hadn’t thought about,’ Marlin said.”

Read more about the Marine who aided the family’s spine-tingling escape and about their new life, here.

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Photo: BBC.
“If you are brave no-one can stop you,” says one girl in the class.

We know we can never completely eliminate rats. Or crime. Or intolerance.

But there are good things that have the same resilience. For example, the determination of young people who have been deprived of education and who — against all odds — persist in learning. Let’s look into the secret girls schools in today’s Afghanistan.

Sudarsan Raghavan has the story at the Washington Post.

“On a quiet residential street, teenage girls with school bags swiftly entered a large green gate. They were dressed in traditional garb, their faces covered, and many were holding copies of the Quran, Islam’s holy book. It was for their own protection.

“The house is a secret school for Afghan girls who are barred by the Taliban from getting an education. If agents raid the house, the girls will pull out their Qurans and pretend they are in a madrassa, or Islamic school, which the country’s new rulers still allow girls to attend.

“ ‘The Taliban are floating around in this area,’ said Marina, 16, a 10th-grader. ‘So, I always carry a Quran in the open. My other books are hidden in my bag.’

“More than a year after seizing power in Afghanistan, the Taliban still refuses to allow girls to attend secondary school, from grades seven to 12. The ban, as well as other hard-line edicts restricting women’s lives, have triggered global outrage and widespread protests by Afghan women.

“But a more subtle form of defiance is also happening. Underground schools for girls have formed in the capital and other Afghan cities, hidden away in houses and apartments, despite the immense threat to students and teachers. For the girls and their families, it is worth the risk. …

“The Taliban has said repeatedly that secondary schools for girls will reopen when there is an appropriate ‘Islamic environment.’ But the group has provided no criteria for what constitutes such an environment.

“When the Taliban first seized power in 1996, it closed schools for all girls —then too, underground schools were formed to fill the void —banned women from working and forced them to wear head-to-toe coverings known as burqas whenever they ventured outside the home.

“The group has been less draconian this time around, and the issue of education has revealed divisions among the Taliban’s leaders and religious scholars. In some areas, local Taliban officials have allowed girls above sixth grade to attend school, bowing to pressure from community leaders.

“[In October], the Taliban’s deputy foreign minister, Sher Mohammad Abbas Stanikzai, made a rare public appeal urging that all secondary schools for girls be reopened, adding that ‘the delay is increasing the gap between [the government] and the nation.’ …

“Abdulhaq Hammad, a top Taliban official in the Ministry of Information and Culture, insisted that ’90 percent of Taliban members are against the closure of the schools.’ But convincing the remaining 10 percent is a delicate process. …

“Five months ago, a woman named Ayesha launched a collective of 45 underground schools around the capital. …

She was motivated in part by her bad marriage, she said: ‘Women should not be dependent on men. Education is the only way out of our difficulties.’

“But within a month, her funds dwindled. Many of the schools closed. Others were shut down out of fear. Only 10 are active today, and Ayesha is struggling to find donors to support them. The girls in her schools come from the poorest families; with the Afghan economy collapsing, most can’t pay tuition or even buy textbooks.

“Worse, she fears the Taliban will come for her. The group’s intelligence agency has summoned her three times, she said, forcing her into hiding. …

“The girls recited a few verses from the Quran. Then class got underway. ‘Today’s lesson is on pages 37, 38 and 39,’ Masouda said, opening a biology textbook. ‘It’s about the types of plants and vegetables. … If someone doesn’t have a book, please take notes.’ …

“ ‘Who would like to come up and explain this?’

“Angila raised her hand. She stood and recited the lesson in a clear, authoritative voice. Biology was her favorite subject, she explained after the class was over.

“ ‘I want to be a physician,’ said Angila, who wore a head-to-toe black gown and a lime-green headscarf. … She was well on her way, part of a generation of girls and women that started attending school during the American occupation. When the Taliban regained power and ordered teenage girls to stay home, Angila was devastated.

” ‘I watched the boys go to school, but I couldn’t,’ she recalled. ‘My heart was broken.’ …

“Three months ago, she stopped classes for 25 days after the Taliban arrested a teacher working in another underground school. If Taliban agents enter Masouda’s school, the girls know to open the cupboard and grab the Qurans.

“Then Masouda will ask Marina, who has memorized the Quran, to come forward.

“ ‘If they come, she will take over the class, and I will pretend to be a student,’ Masouda said.

“Marina, dressed in a traditional purple gown and a black headscarf, said that she’s attending the class ‘to gain courage.’ She wants to become a pilot for Kam Air, an Afghan carrier, because ‘there’s very little representation of women in the aviation sector.’

These girls remind me of Shagufa, who continues to tell everyone about the power of believing in yourself. She, too, was an underage bride of an abusive man. Poor families rely on the bride price.

More at the Post, here. If you don’t have a subscription to the Post, the BBC also has a story about the school, here.

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Altruistic Granola

Photo: Maliss Coletta.
Afghan refugees enjoy a meal with the team at the granola nonprofit Beautiful Day RI in Providence.

In around 2015, I was writing blog posts for Anne Dombrokski at what was first called the Providence Granola Project and later Beautiful Day, a granola company with a mission to help acclimate refugees to American workplace norms and launch them into jobs. Anne died in a freak biking accident (despite a helmet) in 2016, but Beautiful Day remembers and honors her with the Granola for Good award.

Since Anne’s time, Beautiful Day has expanded its mission a little every year, and you can follow it by signing up for newsletters.

Here’s a recent example: “Since last fall when Afghans started arriving in Rhode Island, Beautiful Day has been reaching out in many ways. We contributed granola bars, hummus and messages of welcome to food baskets delivered weekly by the local food bank. We collected wool rugs to give to Afghan families to help them feel more at home. And we began welcoming Afghans into both our youth and adult job training programs. It’s critical to our mission to support the Afghan community, and we were always looking for chances to connect.

“A new opportunity arose two weeks ago when we partnered with the Refugee Dream Center (RDC) to host a group of Afghan women and their families at our kitchen. The Afghan women’s group had been meeting at RDC for several months and done a number of things together. But without access to a kitchen, they weren’t able to cook. And that’s where we could help. With our beautiful, newly renovated kitchen, we could offer the group the perfect place to cook up a storm! So we invited them to come and prepare a typical Afghan meal and share it with us in our space.

“People began arriving mid-afternoon and soon we had a crowd of over forty people, which included Afghan women, men and children as well as volunteers and staff from both Beautiful Day and RDC. The menu consisted of goat meat with vegetables over rice along with homemade Afghan bread. There was also a salad of fresh greens, picked straight from the overflowing garden boxes on our patio.

“Our time together might best be described as organized chaos. While we entertained the kids with games and puzzles on rugs spread out on our classroom floor, the adults took over the kitchen. The goat meat had to be marinated and tenderized, the dough kneaded and baked, and the rice boiled and seasoned. People broke into spontaneous groups and set to work.

“It took about three hours to prepare the meal and our space bustled with happy talk and laughter.

It’s amazing how well you can communicate even if you don’t share a common language! 

“And when the food was ready, everyone settled down on the rugs to enjoy the meal together. Afghans typically eat with their fingers sitting on rugs on the floor and we had prepared the space ahead of time. All the cooking and preparation led to hearty appetites and it was a happy, hungry crowd that enjoyed a delicious meal together. …

“As people were leaving, one Afghan woman said, ‘This felt just like home.’ It doesn’t get any better than that.”

Also in the latest Beautiful Day newsletter, we learn some good news on college scholarships.

“In July, we received a grant through the Beneficent Congregational Church Scholarship Endowments (specifically, the Lucinda Maxfield and Andrew Ferko Endowments) to provide college scholarships to our refugee youth. Three of our young people have been able to take advantage of this generous gift.

“Marvens, originally from Haiti, has a full-year scholarship to study at URI. This summer, he lived on campus as part of the Talent Development Program, an enrichment program designed to prepare first-generation college students for success. He’s now enrolled there as a freshman and will be studying computer science.

“Rama, originally from Syria, has a scholarship to Johnson & Wales University. For the fall semester, she will be enrolled in an English immersion program and next semester, she’ll attend regular classes. She hopes to complete the prerequisites needed to study neuroscience at URI.

“Our third scholarship recipient is Dahaba, originally from Eritrea and a member of a previous Refugee Youth Program cohort. She attended Holy Cross University last year and thanks to this endowment award, has started her sophomore year there debt-free. She’s majoring in mathematics.”

Other Beautiful Day news, here.

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Photo: UNHCR
Shukria Rezaei, an Afghan Hazara refugee in the UK, with Kate Clanchy, writer-in-residence at Shukria’s school.

Years ago, my husband’s company ordered his department to move to Dallas from upstate New York. We decided not to go, which was a big no-no in the corporate world at that time. Other wives got a laugh when I said, “I don’t transplant well.” That’s probably true of many people who get used to their place. When I think of the thousands of migrants leaving home now, I know they are not doing it just for fun but because there is no other choice. Most people love their home.

The young Afghan refugee in this story longs to go home someday. In the meantime, she is learning all she can, including how to write poetry in a new language.

Caroline Brothers reports for the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) that a few years ago “no one, not her family, her teachers, nor any of her 900 schoolmates, was more surprised than Shukria Rezaei herself, when she was judged the best poet in her year. A shy, 15-year-old Afghan girl, who was still grappling with an adopted language.

“Oxford Spires Academy, a secondary school whose catchment area includes deprived localities, had just run a poetry competition to discover what talent might lie hidden in a student body speaking 54 different languages.

“ ‘Everyone was shocked, even myself,’ said Rezaei, now 20 and a scholarship student at the University of London, recalling the moment when Kate Clanchy, the school’s writer-in-residence and the competition’s judge, announced Rezaei had won first prize.

“Less than a year before, Rezaei and her mother – Hazara refugees – had arrived in Oxford from Quetta, Pakistan, which hosts a large population of displaced Afghans. The two were reunited in 2011 with Rezaei’s father, who had been granted asylum in the UK, after a three-year separation.

“Rezaei, for her part, was still struggling to master a language whose barest bones she had learnt at Afghan primary school and refugee school in Pakistan. As a child in the Afghan province of Ghazni, she awoke to the tap-tap of sheep trooping past on their way to the fields; a few hours later, she would set off through the mountains with a dozen other girls.

“ ‘School was two mountains away, and it snowed a lot,’ Rezaei told UNHCR, the UN Refugee Agency. ‘We went on a rocky mountain path and it took an hour and a half.’ …

“In England, in the thick purple jumper of a strange school uniform, she was struggling to keep up.

“ ‘I could only understand what was written down,’ Rezaei said of her first year. She survived, she said, by reading rather than speaking, copying everything she saw on the blackboard: ‘I just did as much as I could.’

“With the poetry prize, however, things shifted. From feeling invisible, Rezaei suddenly had an identity within the school. Clanchy, meanwhile, invited her to join a poetry group she had formed on a hunch that the quiet foreign girls at Oxford Spires might in fact have something to say.

” ‘At the beginning, I couldn’t talk,’ said Rezaei. But seated among 15 or 20 aspiring poets, she began to express herself. …

“Since then, Rezaei has had work published in Oxford Poetry, the emblematic literary journal that has showcased many of the country’s greats. She will be included in an anthology, England, to be published by Picador in June; one of her poems, ‘Homesick,’ has already been translated into German. …

“Like many children of refugees, Rezaei is acutely aware of how much hope her parents have invested in her. Even in the bleakest moments, amid profound dislocation, giving up was never an option, either for them or for her. …

“Rezaei is finding her feet in London, another major adjustment after Quetta and Oxford. Having won a scholarship to Goldsmiths College, she is studying politics, philosophy and economics, which she hopes to convert into a law degree.

“She still misses aspects of her Afghan childhood, but for now her hopes are firmly focused on England. She recently passed her driving test, and is exploring the creative writing scene.

“ ‘Afghanistan is still dear to my heart,’ she said, ‘but I have a lot more to achieve here before I go back.’ ”

Here is one poem.

I want a poem
with the texture of a colander
on the pastry

A verse
of pastry so rich
it leaves gleam on your fingertips

A poem
that stings like the splash of boiling oil
as you drop the pastry in …

I’d really like to copy the whole lovely thing, but you better click through to read it.

Hat tip: Beautiful Day on Instagram.

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Photo: Rosa Furneaux
Haroon Ebrat reaches for his notepad, where he has written down audience requests. The entrepreneurial immigrant runs Afghan Theatre TV, a Farsi-language variety show, out of his garage in suburban California.

I’m impressed how this immigrant from Afghanistan took it on himself to keep his culture alive by broadcasting a variety show from his garage. Many viewers have responded with gratitude.

Jeremy Lybarger writes at Pacific Standard, “Afghan Theatre TV operates out of a soundproof garage 40 miles east of San Francisco. … It’s an unexpected setting for a studio whose Farsi-language variety shows stream online 24 hours a day to more than a million viewers a month, according to the station. But much about Afghan Theatre TV is unexpected, starting with its credo that politics and show business don’t mix. …

” ‘We entertain,’ says Haroon Ebrat, the network’s 66-year-old founding impresario and star. On most afternoons for the last six years, he’s shuffled out to his garage in house slippers to host the live call-in shows that have made him famous, or at least recognizable to the Muslims who mob him, groupie-like, in restaurants, supermarkets, and parking lots across the Bay Area. The calls — 500 an hour, Ebrat says — come from all over: Canada, Germany, Russia, Australia, and many of the dozens of other countries that make up the Afghan diaspora. …

“Afghanistan has been in a quasi-permanent state of war for over three decades, historically exporting more refugees per year than any nation besides Syria. Most Afghans decamp to neighboring Iran or Pakistan, but approximately 124,000 live in America. …

” ‘He has preserved the culture of Afghanistan,’ says Ebrat’s 36-year-old daughter Shabnam, who hosts a call-in show of her own, often accompanied by a local psychic who counsels callers about work and love. Such preservation has come at a cost, both literal and cultural.

“Afghan Theatre TV is a family business, as are many of the more than 3,000 ethnic media outlets. … In between these segments of original programming, the station airs Afghan music videos and concert footage, and on some nights local musicians perform traditional songs like a live house band (hence the soundproofing). Ebrat, a prolific filmmaker, also screens the movies he’s made, which are ultra-low-budget mash-ups of comedy, action, and music starring him and his family.

“The station boasts a handful of Bay Area advertisers — kebab shops, halal supermarkets, Muslim-owned tax services — but Ebrat relies on his children to keep the lights on. (Shabnam is a real estate agent; [older brother] Burhan works with cars.) …

“Ethnic media, produced by and for immigrants, faces unique challenges. The relatively small niche audiences, for example, can discourage advertisers. … Even large outlets struggle to survive. Channel 18, a multilingual network that broadcast out of Los Angeles for more than 40 years, filed for bankruptcy in 2012 before finally shuttering its international format in 2017. …

“Part [the] experience includes reckoning with cultural disagreements within the same family. Shabnam Ebrat has become a target for older or more traditional Muslims who see her appearance — dyed-blond hair and make-up — as an affront to God. She doesn’t wear a hijab either. On Instagram, where her selfies reach about 23,000 followers, commenters debate whether or not she’s going to hell for posing in miniskirts and bikinis. …

“There’s the added stigma of being outspoken in a society that, to many Western onlookers, muzzles women. In Afghanistan, some women have no public identity of their own. They’re referred to simply as the wife of, daughter of, or sister of. …

“Overall, though, politics are absent from Afghan Theatre TV, where the maxim is that entertainment brings people together and politics drive a wedge. Haroon is more interested in the zombie horror movie he has in production than he is in discussing the White House. His only stated political aspiration, however vague, is to restore peace in Afghanistan.” More.

Seems like a good idea to stick to entertainment. One thing I’ve noticed while working with Afghan refugees, whether their first language is Farsi or Dari, is that individuals are, well, individualistic. Like groups everywhere, Afghans may have attitudes that diverge a good bit.

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Photo: Only a Game
Golf was the entree to a freer world for this Afghan girl.

We hear a lot of stories about disadvantaged kids who rise above their circumstances by becoming stars — at sports, say, or ballet.

But sometimes the reason those pursuits mark a turning point is simply that they open up a different world. They show the kid that there are different worlds. The kids don’t have to become stars to benefit.

Here is a story about an Afghan girl whose path to breaking free involved golf. Martin Kessler tells the story at the radio show Only a Game.

“Before it was her turn to take the shot that could change her life, Shagufa Habibi remembers being uncomfortably warm.

“Shagufa and 11 of her teammates were standing on a soccer pitch in Herat, Afghanistan. Herat doesn’t have a golf course, so this soccer pitch was the best her team could do. It was a summer afternoon — the hottest part of the day in a city where temperatures can exceed 100 degrees. It was the only time locals would let the women have the field.

“Shagufa wore a long black dress and a head scarf. She carried a wooden club.

“Each of the women had one chance to hit a ball at a target at the other end of the field. Whoever got closest would get to attend a golf tournament in Bangladesh.”

Shagufa amazed herself. Her shot was the best.

“Shagufa Habibi was born in 1995, the youngest child in a large family. Her parents are illiterate. Her dad made his living selling dried fruit — until his hand was mangled in a terrorist attack at a local mosque. …

“When Shagufa was a young girl, the Taliban controlled Afghanistan. Girls couldn’t go to school, so Shagufa and her seven sisters stayed home. Shagufa was allowed outside just once a day, to help her mom buy food. …

“In 2001, the Taliban lost control of the government, and schools opened for girls. Shagufa’s friends started attending. But Shagufa’s father wouldn’t have it – he believed women belonged at home.

“So Shagufa and her sisters devised a plan. After their father left the house in the morning, they would sneak off to school.”

Over the next few years, there were conflicts with Shagufa’s conservative father, an unwanted marriage to an older man, separation, depression, and a decision to embrace sports at school. Sports were so freeing.

” ‘I was forgetting everything,’ Shagufa says. ‘I’m just free. And this ball was giving me more motivation for my future to be so optimistic.’

When Shagufa went to that golf tournament, she was “amazed by what she saw in Bangladesh. Girls weren’t wearing long dresses or scarves. She says women looked so free.

“On the final day of the trip, the Afghan embassy hosted their players for a lunch. The conversation turned to education. Shagufa had a question – but she wasn’t sure she should speak up.

” ‘Should I ask them or not, should I ask them or not?’ Shagufa remembers thinking. ‘Then I said, “Would you tell me, please: how is the education in Bangladesh? And is it possible for me, somehow, I come and do my education?” ‘ ”

Read what happened next at WBUR’s Only a Game, here.

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Superheroes are coming in all shapes and sizes these days. Here’s an Afghan wheelchair-bound superhero created by a teen born in Afghanistan. Once an admirer of anti-Taliban warlords, he found Gandhi and Mandela a revelation and wants kids to know about nonviolent superpower.

Cristina Quinn reports at Public Radio International, “Mohammad Sayed is unstoppable. At the age of 19, he is already an inventor and entrepreneur. One half of his business, called RimPower, is providing assistive technologies. The other half is a comic book series centered around the hero Wheelchair Man.

” ‘My goal is to help people in wheelchair[s] both psychologically and physically,’ he says. ‘A world where every wheelchair user is empowered rather than disabled.’

“Sayed, who goes by ‘Mo,’ knows firsthand what that’s all about. At age 5, he suffered a traumatic spinal cord injury when his home in Afghanistan was bombed. …

“He spent seven years in a trauma hospital because he had nowhere else to go. To survive, he became a hustler, wheeling around the ward working odd jobs — repairing staffers’ cellphones and taking pictures for photo IDs. He even taught himself English by listening to the BBC — and charged for translation. …

“He never gave up. Even when the hospital staff eventually had to evacuate, leaving him alone with just a few guards. …

“His luck would change six months later, when Maria Pia-Sanchez, an American nurse working in Afghanistan, came looking for him. A doctor who knew Sayed asked her to check on him.

“ ‘So we stopped by the hospital where he had been living to see if anyone was there and if they knew where he was,’ Pia-Sanchez says. … Even though Sayed was so young, Pia-Sanchez says he was entrusted with many things in the hospital that the older staff were not. …

“ ‘Even though that life has ended for me, you know, you will never feel certain,’ the teenager says. ‘These are the kinds of things that stay with you. But what defines us as humans is that some of us don’t give in.’

“His idea of not giving in started to shift when he learned about Mahatma Gandhi. That was his introduction to using non-violence as a weapon, and the whole concept blew his mind.

“ ‘Before learning about Gandhi, my role models were warlords,’ Sayed says. …

“Those warlords were replaced with Gandhi, Martin Luther King, Jr., and Nelson Mandela. But in the pantheon of heroes, there was still a piece missing. And it wasn’t until Sayed attended Comic-Con in Boston a couple years ago that everything came into full focus. …

“ ‘At Boston Comic-Con, I was like, why is there nobody representing the wheelchair community? Why isn’t there a wheelchair superhero wheeling around here?”

“So he set out to make Wheelchair Man, an Afghan-American superhero who, upon making eye contact, shows a would-be criminal the consequences of his actions before he commits them. That’s his power.”

More here.

Illustration: Mohammad Sayed
Afghan wheelchair-bound superhero created by Mohammad Sayed.

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