Coal miner’s daughter aims to become Afghan president

Shamsia Alizada, 17, came in first place on national university entrance exam.

Shamsia Alizada. (photo credit: ANGELA FARHANG)
Shamsia Alizada.
(photo credit: ANGELA FARHANG)
Shamsia Alizada, 17, the daughter of an Afghan coal miner, has secured the first position in the 2020 nationwide university entrance examination, in a country where fewer than 30% of women are literate.
Alizada, a graduate of Asif Mayeel High School in Kabul, narrowly escaped a suicide bombing at the Mawoud Academy educational center in the city’s Dasht-e-Barchi area in August 2018, when at least 40 students were killed. The youngsters were attending preparatory classes for the university entrance test.
ISIS claimed responsibility for the bombing.
Two years later, Alizada has earned the highest score among the nearly 200,000 students taking the exam. She will now pursue studies at Kabul Medical University.
Ross Wilson, the US chargé d’affairs in Kabul, offered enthusiastic congratulations to the young woman via Twitter, adding, “Your brilliance and grit are undeniable, just as your accomplishments underscore how much progress Afghanistan has made over two decades. Women’s education, inclusion and representation are essential to peace.”
On Wednesday, Education Minister Rangina Hamidi awarded a certificate to Alizada for her success, at a ceremony held at the ministry in Kabul.
Alizada is a Hazara, a Persian-speaking, Shia Muslim ethnic group that makes up about 9% of the Afghan population. They have been oppressed historically, and continuously targeted by the various Sunni terrorist groups in the country.
She is a “child of war,” a member of a generation that has spent their entire lives amid suicide bombings.
Alizada told The Media Line in an exclusive interview that she was born in Jaghori, in Ghazni Province, in 2003. Her family moved to Herat, the country’s third-largest city, where she grew up and studied through 10th grade.
“In 2017, due to the deteriorating law and order situation in Jaghori, instead of returning to their hometown, my parents decided to live in Kabul,” she said.
Alizada has two brothers, one older and one younger. Her mother is a housewife. Her father, Nasim Alizada, a coal miner, works in a remote mine in the Dara-I-Suf district of Samangan Province.
After graduating from high school in 2018, she “was admitted to a private tuition academy to prepare for the university entrance test,” she told The Media Line.
She will “never forget the day when a suicide bomber blew himself up at the tuition academy; at least 40 innocent boys and girls were killed in the explosion. Luckily, I escaped,” Alizada said. “One of my close friends, Rahila, was supposed to score high on the exam, but unfortunately, she lost her life in the blast.
“It was a very bad day in all our lives, and I hope that it will never happen again,” she continued. “The memory of the deaths of my peers in a great tragedy will remain with me throughout my life,” she added.
“I left the tutorial academy after the deadly blast, but our teachers worked hard and reestablished the academy. They called on me to rejoin the class so I did,” Alizada said.
“I am well aware of my family’s financial position and their hardships, which made me feel more responsible. As a consequence, I worked hard and did my best to respond to their efforts,” she said. “Due to our financial crisis, I could not pursue several advanced study programs because they were expensive, but I did not give up and took up alternative studies. My teachers also supported me a lot.”
Responding to a question from The Media Line, Alizada said she is “interested in reading research-based books. I also enjoy walking with my classmates and exercising at home.
“I was in ninth grade when I decided to become a doctor. One of the attractions of becoming a doctor is that they save lives, regardless of caste, religion and color.”
Alizada also said, “Due to the COVID-19 crisis, the national entrance test was delayed several times.”
She concentrated on test preparation; she did not watch television for an entire year. She “slept only four hours a day and spent the other 20 hours studying and preparing for the entrance exam.”
Alizada joyfully told The Media Line, “The results were announced in a special live telecast on Afghan national television. On that day, I was in my room. My mom shouted and told me that I secured the highest position in the entrance examination. I rushed into the room and saw my picture flashing on the TV screen. … I broke into tears and my mother hugged me.”
Expressing another goal, Alizada told The Media Line, “I want to prepare myself to become the president of Afghanistan.
“Besides being a doctor, I am also interested in politics, because I think that until unless you have full authority and power, you cannot serve your people properly. So I have to prepare to become the first woman president of Afghanistan, just like [Pakistan’s] Benazir Bhutto was elected as the first woman prime minister in the Islamic world [in 1988],” she added.
Alizada said she has “not yet been assisted by any US aid agency, but it would be great if I am provided with any scholarship to get higher education from the US or any other Western country so that, after completion of the study, I would serve my country and community in a better way.”
Alizada’s father told The Media Line that he works in a coal mine in Samangan Province, about 140 miles north of the capital Kabul.
“I am very happy with the wonderful success of my daughter,” Nasim Alizada added.
“To fulfill her dream, we left our native city Jaghori and moved to Kabul. No doubt I am a laborer, but I am well aware of the importance of educating girls and I am doing my level best to fulfill her ambitions,” he said.
Jaghori, a predominantly Hazara Shia district, was one of the safest areas in Ghazni Province, but in 2017-2018 inter-communal fighting broke out between local Taliban-backed Sunni Pashtun fighters and pro-government Shia militiamen, which resulted in the killing of hundreds of people, while more than 5,000 families fled their homes.
Freshta Farhang, a prominent, Kabul-based, female rights activist, writer and political analyst, told The Media Line that “Shamsia Alizada is the change that the people of this war-torn country wish to see as the face of today’s Afghanistan.
“She is the sweetest fruit of the hard work of those brave activists who are struggling to bring partial change in the mind of so-called superior authorities,” Farhang added.
She termed Alizada the “Malala” of Afghanistan.
“Shamsia’s success has proved the talent of the women of our country. There is so much potential in Afghan teenagers, which makes us more hopeful about the country’s future,” Farhang carried on. “Shamsia is one of the talented and inspiring Afghans who could have a global impact if and when she gets the chance.”
By contrast, Marzia Alizada, a Hazara activist, told The Media Line from an undisclosed location, “As a female Shia Hazara, I have seen and carried out multiple studies demonstrating that Shias’ education rights are being denied in a discriminatory manner and education resources are not distributed equally.
“The Hazara Shia community faces the worst ethnic discrimination within the country’s borders,” she said. “Hazaras have been targeted with no reason with various excuses, and due to delayed justice, which should have been exercised at the time, rights were denied and the genocide continues to the present day.
“We are hopeful that a day will come soon when peace, interfaith harmony and justice will prevail in our society, and this will only happen through education, which is a blessing,” she continued.
“Young, promising people like Shamsia should be sent to the Doha intra-Afghan talks [between the government and the Taliban], to represent the real face of Afghan youth, the generation brought up amid suicide bombings, violence and genocide culture,” Marzia Alizada said.
Attique Lotan, a Kabul-based minority rights activist, told The Media Line that “Afghanistan is facing an uncertain future due to the complexity of the negotiations in Doha.
“Shamsia has achieved a big win, but her future as a Hazara woman may face serious challenges. Her generation struggles a lot to receive their education, given social obstacles and the poor security against religious and political conflicts,” he continued.
“The demand for justice for the Hazara genocide of the past is nonnegotiable among this community. A repeat of such a violent history can only be prevented by the Afghan state and international entities’ insistence on the delivery of justice,” Lotan said.
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