"My heart aches for my family"
By: Jacqui Bealing
Last updated: Friday, 8 October 2021
University of Sussex Chevening Scholar Hadia faced the most difficult decision of her life when she left Afghanistan.
Hadia had been looking forward to her first term at Sussex as a Chevening Scholar. But now, while she is trying to focus on her MA in Social Development, her mind constantly returns to worrying about her loved ones in Kabul.
“I am thankful for the UK government and people for saving my dreams and my life,” she says. “Meanwhile, I can’t keep calm thinking about my country and my people.
“My heart aches for my family, who are still in Afghanistan. They are in a distressing situation and under serious threat for their affiliation with the international community, the Afghan Government and for being Shia Muslims from Qizilbash Minority Ethnicity Group.”
Hadia, 28, was living in Kabul with her mother, a sister and three brothers when the Taliban took control of Afghanistan in August of this year. Sadly, she lost her father to Covid-19 in 2020.
Her mother, who worked for 18 years with the Afghan government in monitoring projects for women implemented by the Ministry of Agriculture of Afghanistan, cannot return to work now. Hadia is concerned about her two adult brothers, aged 20 and 30, who have mental disabilities, and she is fearful of what may happen to them when they don’t have a breadwinner. Her youngest brother, aged 14, and sister, who is in her last semester of her undergraduate degree in physical education, are also vulnerable.
She says: “My heart bleeds for my sister and all other young women who were trying so hard to get educated and contribute to their communities, but are now forced to stay home. I cannot imagine how difficult it is for them to live in their own country with no identity and where they are not being allowed to go back to their universities.”
She continues: “I can’t hold back my tears thinking about the future of all those boys, like my own little brother, who wanted to try the taste of peace but was shocked tasting takeover of his country. I can’t feel worse than how I feel now about people with disabilities, including my own two brothers, who can’t understand what happened when suddenly their mum is not taking them out anymore.”
“I went through a lot of hardships to become who I am”
Hadia holds two undergraduate degrees - one in business administration and another in political science and public administration - from the American University of Afghanistan (AUAF). When she applied to study at Sussex, she was working with United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) in Kabul to contribute to sustainable development goals and to protect the rights of Populations of Concern (PoCs), especially women and children.
“I worked very hard to get a Chevening Scholarship at the University of Sussex because it’s a leading university and I believe it will bring me closer to my future goals” she says. “As an Afghan girl, I, like many other girls, went through a lot of hardships to become who I am now. The cultural barriers that didn’t allow women to get educated and be an active member of the community made me struggle harder than men.”
Her ambition was to go back and use her knowledge and skills to rebuild the country. “I wanted to contribute to making Afghanistan a better place for refugees and returnees and make opportunities for voluntarily repatriation. I aimed to motivate people - the assets of my country - to come back and work for making a positive change.” But she says the collapse of Kabul will make it challenging for her to continue with her plans.
She still feels shaken by the chaos and fear that spread through the city the night the Afghan government fell. “People were panicked and traumatized,” she says. “Everyone was thinking about how to find a way to leave the country or to move to a safer place. Kabul was like a dead city. I couldn’t hear the usual noises of children playing on the street anymore.”
She was also aware of rumors that the Taliban were entering houses to search for girls and women, and she was scared every time she heard voices of men in her block of apartments.
“My mum gave me strength and courage”
When she received news from the British Embassy that she would be evacuated to the UK, Hadia had to make the most difficult decision of her life.
“I couldn’t find a reason to choose the Chevening Scholarship over leaving my family,” she says. “I didn’t want to chase my goals anymore. But my mum has always supported me and gave me the strength and courage to make a good decision.
“She told me that by staying in Kabul, I would not be able to do anything. Here in the UK, I will not be only able to support my people but also be able to financially support my family to survive until they find a way to get out of Afghanistan for safety.”
When Hadia finally made the decision to go to Kabul airport, she witnessed scary scenes as thousands of others were also trying to leave. “My heart skips a beat whenever I think about it.” she says “I will never forget the scene that one of my fellow scholar’s baby girl was about to die due to lack of oxygen after spending almost 24 hours in the crowd and I was helplessly watching. In the other corner, I saw an old man faint and his daughters screaming for help. Every second I was tempted to leave the airport and return home, but there was no way out of the crowd.”
Eventually she was through the gate and on her way to Sussex, with almost no personal possessions. “All I had was my achievements in one hand and my life in the other. I couldn’t carry all those things that I loved; photographs of my late dad, gifts from my friends, most of my certificates and my PC full of memories. I am not sure if I will be fortunate to see my family again.”
While she is learning to adapt to her new environment at Sussex, she wishes the circumstances had been different.
“I don’t want to give up on my achievements, not only because I worked hard for it, but for what my parents went through to raise us educated.” Despite the situation, Hadia has hope. “Girls of today are not those of 20 years ago. I am sure this time women and girls of my country will help make the country rise from the ashes. We all want to pay back and heal pains that were caused by people who were thirsty for power.
“For the time being, what I can do is to pray for a better future and ask my friends to keep us in their thoughts.”
Hadia (whose name we have changed here for the safety of her and her family) is one of nine Afghan students at Sussex. Earlier this term the University launched a fundraising appeal to provide vital support for Afghan students and their families affected by the fall of the Afghan government. Please click here to give whatever you can afford to support these students as they try to rebuild their lives.