Shabana Basij-Rasikh: From Secretly Attending School to Starting Her Own

Fab Female Friday

Imagine if going to school meant disguising yourself as a boy, taking a different route each day and covering your books with grocery bags. For Shabana Basij-Rasikh, this was her reality, each and every day. Growing up in a Taliban-ruled Afghanistan where girls were banned from attending school, Shabana’s only option was to go to school in secret. Shabana was considered one of the lucky ones in the country — her parents supported and prioritized her and her sister’s education despite the fatal consequences of doing so.

When she was 15, Shabana moved to the U.S. to finish up high school through the State Department’s Youth Exchange program. She went on to attend Middlebury College, graduating Magna Cum Laude in International Studies and Women & Gender Studies in 2011. While in college, Shabana started SOLA- “School of Leadership Afghanistan”, a non-profit aimed at providing leadership training and job opportunities to young Afghan women.  When she graduated, she returned to Kabul and transformed her non-profit into the first boarding school exclusively for girls in Afghanistan.

Shabana has high hopes for SOLA and the impact that it can have on the future of Afghanistan. SOLA is open to all ethnic groups, religious sects and tribes, making it one of the most diverse educational institutions in Afghanistan. It provides college prep courses for girls ages 11 to 19 and helps graduates enter universities worldwide and then return to Afghanistan to take on substantive careers.

Often, these women are the first to enter their fields.

Shabana has centered the school on a philosophy that “looks at every single student as the future leader of the country” and firmly believes that educating girls may be the key to break cycles of poverty and conflict that the country has endured for decades. So far, SOLA has helped girls across Afghanistan receive more than $7.7 million in scholarships for education.

“I was very lucky to grow up in a family where education was prized and daughters were treasured”

Shabana has become a global voice on the power of girls’ education, and reiterates the need for both men and women to support education for the daughters of the world. She is a global advocate for Girl Up’s partner Girl Rising, a 2014 National Geographic Emerging Explorer and one of CNN’s Leading Women of 2014, and continues to be a source of inspiration for girls around the world who are fighting for an education. She attributes her own passion for education to the willingness of her parents to risk everything they have for her and her sister’s education.  In her TedX talk from Nov. 2012, she says “I was very lucky to grow up in a family where education was prized and daughters were treasured” and mentions how her father would always tell her that everything can be taken away from a person, except the education they have received.

Shabana is a reminder of the power that education holds, not only to change one person’s life, but a whole country’s future. Despite the obstacles that were put in her way, Shabana found a way to turn her own experience into a turning point for girls living in Afghanistan. She will continue to change the future for hundreds of girls in Afghanistan and inspire change to make sure more and more girls have the opportunity to be leaders of the world.