The remarkable story of a young Afghani girl is our challenger this week.
How is your relationship with science?
Maybe you dreaded doing maths homework after class and day-dreamed during the complex explanation string theory in high school.
Or maybe you did love science. Because it filled you with purpose, a passion that could unravel the mystery of the universe built around you.
Imagine being 11 years old, going to school every day in a country that has been under conflict and terror your whole life, and you have the privilege of attending school, and this precious gift gets taken away from you.
This is Sultana’s story.
Just at 11 years old, Sultana was an average kid living in the Taliban section of Afghanistan, attending school and following her passion for science subjects.
Unfortunately, Sultana was forced to end her education after receiving many death-treats from a group of men, who made her father withdraw his daughter from studying, otherwise they would have thrown acid on her face.
This could be the moment for many. Surrendering and accepting that nothing could be actually done.
Well, not for Sultana.
As soon as her father connected the house to the internet, Sultana was open to a different type of education.
‘I am unstoppable’ she said in impeccable English, talking to the New York Times.
And she is. By surrounding herself with English books and inhaling the dictionary and international newspapers, at only 13 years old she mastered the language by herself, stepping into another world of education.
Pursuing her interest in astrophysics, she enrolled in online educational courses like Khan Academy, Coursera and EdX, which allowed her to continue her education, providing her course work and homework that could just challenge from the house she had found herself to be prisoner in.
She wakes up at 5AM and immerses herself in calculus work, interrupted by some fun activities, like studying ‘the string theory’, or reading philosophy. Her drive and commitment brought her to Skype with Lawrence Krauss, the astrophysicist who wrote a book that she was passionate about, and which had set into motion her love for the subject.
Since her Skype call with Dr. Krauss and connecting with a language exchange student from University of Iowa, Sultana’s story is spreading all over the world, following the footsteps of Malala’s remarkable fight for equal education for girls all over the world.
Her perseverance and drive to gain herself the education that she deserves is astonishing, not to mention inspiring for girls like her, who just want to be able to study.
Her dream is to study at an American university.
Having educated herself online, she didn’t have access to high school transcripts, so the only viable option was to take the SAT test to get into an American college. Except the closest SAT centre to her was in Pakistan, a dangerous 20 hour trip to Karachi.
But guess what?
She took the risk and went with a male relative to sit the test. She was ready for it, but her passport wasn’t, so her family had to smuggle her passport through the border, beg the admission board to take her off the waiting list, and she took the test.
How did she go?
She scored a SAT score higher than the US national level. All through studying by herself. In another language. That she studied by herself.
Incredible stuff, but this is where it got even more complicated.
Thankfully to a gofundme page that was put up for her university fees and funded by relatives and individual sponsors, Sultana was able to prove that she had financial stability.
Even though she had all the items on the long list of documents necessary to be admitted into an American university, the embassy refused her entry without even looking at her during an interview, all because she had cousins in Canada, so ‘she could have escaped there’.
Sultana’s story is uniquely empowering. A young Afghani girl fighting for her own education and taking her destiny into her hands can only leave un in awe and wish for the best.
Thanks to a her GoFund page that went viral and the help of Senators and professors who stood up for her, Sultana was able to get into a community college that would allow her to transfer to a higher university in the following year.
However, her visa situation is still preventing her from gaining the education that she needs and deserves.
Sultana will have another appointment with the embassy this week, so let’s keep her in our thoughts and pray that she will be granted the opportunity that every kid needs to ignite their true potential: education.
A social media campaign that was meant to raise awareness on her remarkable story was cancelled to protect her identity and her life, given that she is still in Afghanistan and at risk of being attacked, if Talibani had found out.
Sultana’s story shines a light on the struggle that 62 millions of girls face all over the world today. Education still carries a shame and remains a taboo among certain countries like the Afghanistan where Malala and Sultana found the light of education in the face of life-threatening challenges.
You can read more about Sultana’s story on this article and her website.