SOLA: Educating Afghanistan’s Girls


SOLA’s resilient and intelligent students in class By: SOLA Afganistan

Meghan Carr, Staff Writer

Afghanistan’s recent fall to the Taliban following the U.S. decision to end the country’s longest war has reared the nation in a deep state of crisis. One major casualty has been the deprivation of rights and equitable access to education of Afghan girls. The Taliban has closed girls’ schools after sixth grade and most recently stopped women from attending university, barring girls from gaining education beyond grade-school. 

In the depth of the darkness however, there is light in the form of hope: SOLA, which is the Afghan word for hope and formally known as the School of Leadership Afghanistan. Shabana Basij-Rasikh, a young Afghan woman with the dream of providing education despite prohibition, a power she knows firsthand, created the school as a student herself. Shabana was six years old in 1996 when Afghanistan fell under the rule of the Taliban for the first time. Fortunately, her parents refused to keep her at home and instead dressed her up as a boy to send her to a secret school. Then, when the Taliban rule collapsed with the U.S. invasion in 2001, Shabana was able to go to a real school and later won a State Department program that sent her to study abroad in Wisconsin. She recalls, What struck me the most, was living in a society for the first time in my life where girls had no concerns whatsoever that their freedom to attend school could be taken away from them any time, which is something that every single Afghan girl who’s lucky enough to go to school lives with, and you can’t blame them, can you?”  

As a student later at Middlebury College, motivated by a desire to educate other Afghan girls beyond the constricts of the country’s religious sects and regions, Shabana created SOLA in Kabul. It soon expanded to a 6-12 grade girls boarding school, the only one of its kind in Afghanistan, that was funded by a U.S. nonprofit. The school teaches the Quran as it believes that for their girls to lead Afghanistan, they must also be great, educated Muslims.

SOLA soon faced pressure to close and succumb to Taliban rule in 2021 with the Taliban Resurgence. Shabana said, “I knew then that it was a matter of time before it was going to be irresponsible of me to run an all-girls boarding school in Kabul.” So, she took a daring and inventive approach and moved SOLA and its students abroad for a semester while the withdrawal went into effect to Rwanda, a country who warmly accepted them. Today, SOLA is still in session in Rwanda, and its students have not seen their families back in Afghanistan for over a year. Shabana still remains hopeful and comments, “Our students, our girls have been consistently and remarkably focused. It is beyond inspiring to see these young girls who know they have no idea when they are going to be able to reunite with their families.” You can donate to SOLA here. Junior Liz Schembri comments, “I think the work SOLA is doing is crucial to providing Afghanistan with educated female citizens.” Junior Maeve Moynihan says, “SOLA’s dedication to the girls of Afghanistan is unparalleled. The girls’ strength is truly extraordinary”