(AFGHANISTAN) — More than 600 Afghan women and girls refuse to bow down to the Taliban’s ban on education. Run by 25-year-old Parasto, a non-registered NGO called SRAK allows students to take their studies underground in a secret network of schools.
The brutal crackdown on girls’ education in Afghanistan began shortly after the Taliban returned to power in 2021. First, the authoritarian group forbade female students from attending high school. More restrictions followed in December, when the Taliban banned women from attending university and even elementary school.
The bans sparked widespread condemnation from Western governments and human rights groups across the world.
ABC News Live takes an inside look at what life is like for the Afghan woman trying to educate the country’s girls, who have been banned by the Taliban from attending school. The story streams Wednesday, March 8, at 7:30 p.m. on ABCNews.com.
“The fall of Kabul was not an easy thing for us young generation especially, who were educated and they had their dreams, that now it was all vanished,” Parasto said. (ABC News agreed not to use Parasto’s last name due to safety concerns).
“I saw [on TV] that there were girls coming out of schools and they were crying and they had been asked to go back to their houses. It was shattered. It was devastating,” Parasto told ABC News.
Parasto said she couldn’t just sit and watch what was happening, so she founded an underground network of schools for Afghan girls to continue their studies in secret. She enlisted friends to become teachers; their ranks increased when female students were banned from universities.
One student, an aspiring engineer, told ABC News she wants to learn and make progress so her family will be proud. A 16-year-old student said that going to the school makes her happy and she wishes she could spend more time there.
“I think we have been a little bit successful in bringing back the shine in the eyes of the students here,” Parasto said.
But in the eyes of the Taliban, the underground schools are illegal, and teachers and students face the immense risk of being found. A school operating inside someone’s home was nearly discovered when Taliban authorities approached the homeowner and said they had heard there was a secret school there, Parasto said.
“[The homeowner] told him that, ‘I am not aware of what is going on here. Just some girls are good at gathering together, and they are learning religious studies only,’” Parasto said.
None of the teachers or students were at the secret school at the time, Parasto said.
“When I come here, I do have fears. I feel like if I bow down before my fears, I would believe I am dead,” one teacher told ABC News.
Parasto says that after the Taliban began searching homes, they had to close the schools for some time. She says that the idea of stopping the work is even more dire than the risk of being exposed.
“If I stop this work, many of the girls will be forced to get married. Many of them will be dead while they are delivering a baby in a rural area where they do not have access to any clinic. We had three students that wanted to commit suicide,” Parasto said.
Parasto said her young students have become her motivation. In turn, the girls “see the teachers as their family members” and fellow students as “sisters.”
“With the closing of schools and universities, we lost our hopes too,” the 16-year-old student said. “I wanted to die at that time. There were no wishes left in my heart.”
Parasto said that there have been several raids in schools they operate in over the years, and one since ABC News filmed the story. No teachers or students were there when the raids took place. She also said that there is no certainty the underground schools will continue to run, because of limited resources. Many of the schools don’t have electricity to keep the students warm during lessons; several teachers work without pay.
More information about Parasto’s mission and how the underground schools are run can be found at srak.org.
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