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Education

Against All Odds, This Afghan Girl Finishes Her Education Despite Child Marriage

Yalda's Education & Engagement from Principle Pictures on Vimeo.

This article was contributed by Beth Murphy, the Director of Films at The GroundTruth Project and founder of Principle Pictures. Her film “What Tomorrow Brings”, a recipient of the Gucci Tribeca Documentary Fund, featuring Yalda and the girls’ school airs on PBS’s POV series October 31st.​


KABUL, AFGHANISTAN —  I met Yalda in 2009.  She was 10-years-old and it was the first day of school —  the first day of school in her whole life. She had no memory of the Taliban, but for as long as she could remember there were foreign forces in her backyard making sure they didn’t come back.  

Yalda heard the soldiers speaking English and wanted to be able to talk with them.  As she imagined her future, she saw herself as a translator —  the one who could make sense of all the strange sounds coming from their lips.

Over the next 6 years, Yalda immersed herself in her studies. She was one of the lucky ones in her village to get into the Zabuli Education Center —  the only girls’ school around and the only free private school in the country.  Opened in 2008, her school quickly became one of the most elite schools in Afghanistan —  both because of its academic standards and because of students like Yalda who exceeded them.  

As the years passed, Yalda had many suitors.  But when she resisted, her parents didn’t pressure her. Until 9th grade.  Three times, her mother’s cousin—a quiet man in his early twenties who owned a small shop next to the school—came to propose. Yalda resisted. But her parents insisted.  Would she be able to graduate from high school? No one – not Yalda, not her friends, not her teachers, not the school principal – thought so.  

Desperate to finish her senior year that was still two years away, Yalda asked school founder Razia Jan if she could skip ahead.  With special approval from the Ministry of Education, Yalda and her classmates studied advanced material during their winter break and took a series of exams. Yalda and 6 friends passed those exams to become the Class of 2015 – the first graduating class in the history of the school.

Now, 2 years married, Yalda is making plans to go to college.