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Educational advocate shares story at Stephens

October 24, 2013

The head of a girls' boarding school in Afghanistan urged Mid-Missourians last night to use their education and advantages to help those less privileged.

“You don’t have to wait until you’re out of college,” Shabana Basij-Rasikh said. “You just have to have the passion for it and follow that no matter what.”

The Missouri Military Academy co-sponsored the event, which drew more than 200 attendees, including 100 MMA students who joined Stephens students, faculty and community members in the Kimball Ballroom for Basij-Rasikh’s special presentation. She’s in the area this week visiting a cousin, who is a student at the academy, and speaking at Washington University in St. Louis.

Basij-Rasikh followed her passion while still at Middlebury College in 2008. Knowing the lackluster literacy rates of women in her country, she founded the School of Leadership, Afghanistan, a boarding school. She became head of the school after graduating in 2011. SOLA supplements the three- to four-hours of public education girls currently receive, but unlike public school, studies at SOLA focus on teaching young women critical thinking skills. The ultimate goal, Basij-Rasikh said, is to educate the students well enough that they earn scholarships to study at boarding schools or colleges outside of Afghanistan.

Basij-Rasikh wasn’t allowed to attend public school until 2002. Prior to that, under the Taliban regime, she had to attend a secret school in the home of a private individual. Men would stand guard outside of the school, and she and her young classmates were acutely aware they were risking the lives of teachers, families and themselves by attending. At one point, Basij-Rasikh said, she became so frustrated she told her parents her schooling wasn’t worth the risk.

“And they told me: 'You can lose everything in your life. You can be forced to leave your house. Your money can be stolen from you. Every possession you have can be taken one way or another. The one thing that can never be taken from you is your education.'”

Basij-Rasikh with Annette Digby and MMA President Charles McGeorge

Although conditions have improved, it’s still dangerous for families who want their daughters to receive high levels of education in Afghanistan, Basij-Rasikh said. The father of one of her boarding school students survived a bombing attempt only to receive a message that he would die if he continued to educate his daughter. The man responded: “Kill me now if you wish, but I will not stop my daughter from being educated.”

Stephens, which has been educating women since 1833, was thrilled to partner with MMA to host Basij-Rasikh on campus, said Annette Digby, vice president of academic affairs.

“At Stephens, we are committed to educating and preparing women to be leaders,” she said, “not only empowered leaders, but leaders who empower others.”

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