Learning is a Treasure

Kara Lozier
Posted July 3, 2017 from États-unis
Freshta's home
The entrance to Freshta's home is the large cave opening on the right. The smaller structure encloses another cave which is used as a guestroom and Freshta's classroom. (Photo courtesy of Shoaib Mehryar)
Freshta near her mini library
Freshta near her mini library: Freshta agreed to host a mini library in her home to share with children in her village and nearby communities. The books and bookcase were purchased with donations from sponsors in the ROYA Mentorship Program and organized by ROYA mentor, Masooma Maqsoodi. (Photo courtesy of Shoaib Mehryar) (1/5)

When I asked 18-year-old Freshta Ahmadi what her favorite quote was, she shared a Chinese proverb with me. “Learning is a treasure that will follow its owner everywhere.” The quote is a perfect reflection of who she is. If learning is a treasure, then Freshta is rich. She is hungry for knowledge and struggles to claim it and share it with every opportunity available.

In spite of unimaginable obstacles, Freshta is a bold and determined young woman who shines with self-confidence. She lives with her family of nine in a cave that was carved 1500 years ago in the sandstone cliffs of Bamyan, Afghanistan – a valley in the Hindu Kush mountain region which lies on the Silk Road. The caves were originally carved and used by monks between the 2nd and 7th centuries when Bamyan was a Buddhist religious site. Ten feet inside her family’s large cave opening, an exterior wall has been built with rocks, mud, and pieces of plastic creating a kind of portico before the entrance to one of their three rooms. Two of Freshta’s dust-covered, rosy-cheeked brothers stand in the weathered, wooden doorframe. A rusty tin stovepipe protrudes from the wall and black smoky residue has stained the cave overhang and the upper part of their outside wall.

Bamyan is most famous for the giant Buddha statues that were hewn directly from these cliffs in the early 6th century. The two statues, known locally as "Solsol" and "Shahmama," measured 175 and 115 feet and were the tallest standing Buddha statues in the world until they were blown up by the Taliban in March of 2001. Freshta’s home is situated on these same cliffs that are dotted with caves in a village called Jograkhel which lies to the East of the remains of the two giant statues.

I learned about Freshta a little over a year ago when I was beginning a sponsorship program for needy and motivated Afghan youth. Having worked with young Afghans for the past ten years, I knew that English, computer skills, and internet access were game changers for young people in the country. After a visit to Afghanistan in the winter of 2016, I realized that acquiring these skills was out of reach for the impoverished youth who needed it most. I began the ROYA Mentorship Program, an initiative of Resources of Young Afghans (ROYA means ‘dream’ in Dari), to match needy high school students in the remote province of Bamyan with sponsors who would pay for their English classes and weekly internet access.

In a country like Afghanistan, it is nearly impossible to break the cycle of poverty in families. The education system is very weak. Child labor is high. There are virtually no social services. The illiteracy rate is among the highest in the world and the country suffers from the devastating effects of four decades of war and insecurity. Freshta lost her mother when she and her sister were toddlers. Her mother likely died of an easily treatable illness because there were no hospitals nearby to treat her. Freshta’s father remarried, had five more children and supports the family as a day laborer earning less than $45 a month while being jobless for most of the winter. Like 60% of the population, her father is illiterate.

It’s a miracle that Freshta has found so much success in her challenging life. She is positive and hopeful about her future. She credits her attentive father as the role model for her kindness and goodness but admits that she was her own role model in terms of her education, talents, and abilities. She knows that education, hard work, studying well, self-confidence and honesty are the keys that unlock the future she has planned. She is determined to study abroad, become a doctor and return to Afghanistan. She also believes that being courageous, helping other people, avoiding jealousy and having great patience in face of problems have helped her to be where she is today.

Freshta was recommended to me by the young man who coordinates the ROYA Mentorship Program in Bamyan, an English teacher and the founder of Pioneer Educational Center where ROYA students study. He knew she was active and talented and didn’t have the funds to continue her English classes. Freshta has been passionate about learning English ever since she attended a free, three-month course six years ago and had the highest score in the class. Unable to pay the fees after the free course ended, she held onto her goal of learning the language until 2016 when she managed to pay for one semester at Pioneer Educational Center. She wasn’t able to continue and, fortunately, that’s when our program began. In the year that she has been studying with the help of a ROYA sponsor, her skills have improved dramatically. People who have never met her are impressed with her abilities. Today she says, “I love studying English. It’s an international language. English is the key of science. English is the language of the computer.”

In her quest to seek and claim her treasures, Freshta emerges from the heart of the mountains each morning, climbs down a rocky and dusty path and walks one hour to attend school where she holds the second position in her 12th grade class. After returning home at lunch, she walks another thirty minutes to attend her private English class where she has held the first position every semester for the past year. Since she was 13 years old, she spends two hours a day running a school for young children in her home. She teaches them reading, writing, and math.

Freshta’s family lives in three rooms with no electricity and no running water. Two of Freshta’s young brothers have to walk one hour each way, twice a day, to get water from a spring for cooking, drinking, and bathing. The family has to carry their dirty dishes to the spring to be washed. They cook their food and boil water over a wood fire. The rooms are usually unheated in the winter even though Bamyan is a high-altitude region with bitterly cold winters. Freshta claims that temperatures in the cave are somewhat regulated and that her father is completely jobless in the winter and unable to buy enough firewood.

I asked Freshta what her advice is for other young people who struggle with poverty, lack of services, and uneducated families. She said, “They have to struggle in the way of education. Education is the most powerful weapon we can use to change the world. The importance of education cannot be stated enough. It’s a self-enlightenment process. Education helps us to become a knowledgeable person. Education gives us self-confidence and makes us self-aware. Each of us is good at something and we need to discover ourselves and use our talents to improve our future.”

How to Get Involved

ROYA - Resources of Young Afghans developed the ROYA Mentorship Program in June 2016 and now supports over 100 impoverished youth in Kabul and Bamyan, Afghanistan. Sponsors pay $12 a month to help a young person take English classes, learn computer skills and have weekly internet access. Students communicate with their sponsors via email. We are expanding to other provinces and are always in need of new sponsors. For more information you can message me here or email royaowc@gmail.com

Resources of Young Afghans

Transforming the dreams of today into the solutions for tomorrow

This post was submitted in response to How We Resist.

Comments 19

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  • jlanghus
    Jul 04, 2017
    Jul 04, 2017

    Hi Kara. Thanks for sharing your beautifully written article about Freshta's life, her mission, your mission, as well as your organization that you started. Freshta's story is certainly inspiring. Do you have a website or FB to follow and learn more about your program? Good luck with your campaign and organization. I hope you keep us posted on your progress.

  • Kara Lozier
    Jul 06, 2017
    Jul 06, 2017

    Thank you, Jill. We have a volunteer trying to help us with a website and will create a Facebook page soon. We grew so fast in this past year, we didn't have time to do those things. I will let you know when they are ready.

  • jlanghus
    Jul 06, 2017
    Jul 06, 2017

    You're welcome. Looking forward to seeing some updates soon and to finding out your website and FB page. Much continued success to you...

  • Sophie Ngassa
    Jul 05, 2017
    Jul 05, 2017

    Hello Kara, your story is very interesting. It made me remember my favorite quote" Knowledge is better than silver and gold".You did a great job by sharing Freshta's story. I pray that she finds help.

  • Kara Lozier
    Jul 06, 2017
    Jul 06, 2017

    Thank you, Sophie. Freshta wrote to me and her sponsor today and said, "I can't believe how much my life is being changed. It is very kind of you helping and supporting me in the best possible way." So please don't worry about her. She's being helped in a life-changing way. We hope to help more young people like her.

  • Sophie Ngassa
    Jul 06, 2017
    Jul 06, 2017

    Hello Kara, nice to hear this.

  • Chelsea Maricle
    Jul 10, 2017
    Jul 10, 2017

    Dear Kara!!! How absolutely wonderful to see your name appear in my story feed! I've thought of you often and it's so awesome to learn of the amazing work you've been up to recently. Have you been able to show World Pulse to Freshta? Given her interest in computer and English skills, it would be wonderful to have her join us!

    Hugs,

    Chelsea ~ World Pulse Live 2013 Event Manager :)

  • Kara Lozier
    Jul 11, 2017
    Jul 11, 2017

    Nice to see/hear from you, Chelsea! We'll be introducing all the students to World Pulse as soon as their English and computer skills improve a little more. But this was exactly what I had in mind by helping these motivated young people to have access to the whole world with those two skills. Freshta will cherish the opportunity. Watch for her :) 

  • mae me
    Jul 10, 2017
    Jul 10, 2017

    Hi Kara. Your article reminds me of young women desiring to finish education to have a better future in life.

  • Kara Lozier
    Jul 11, 2017
    Jul 11, 2017

    Absolutely, Maeann. We hope it will prevent early marriages, delay pregnancies, break the cycle of poverty and many other things. We see some great leadership qualities in our participants. The sky is the limit for them!

  • mae me
    Jul 12, 2017
    Jul 12, 2017

    I hope and agree too.

  • Jensine Larsen
    Jul 11, 2017
    Jul 11, 2017

    Kara - what a joy to hear your voice and to learn about Freshta.  We look forward to embracing her on World Pulse one day when she is ready!  

    Hope to see YOU one day soon!

  • Kara Lozier
    Jul 13, 2017
    Jul 13, 2017

    Thanks Jensine! It's great to hear from you. Freshta will be a great addition to World Pulse. She reminds me a lot of Beatrice :) Given a global platform, there's no limit to what this young woman can and will achieve. Stay tuned :D

  • Dr. Romie Mushtaq
    Jul 13, 2017
    Jul 13, 2017

    Dear Kara,

    I want to thank you for sharing the story of the impact ROYA has had on a dedicated young woman Freshta.  Her dedication to continue her education is an inspiration to me.  Please let her know a fellow sister who is a Doctor is now praying for her success.

    In Islam, seeking knowledge is the way of God.  She is on a God led path and may it continue to be filled with more ease for her.  

    One of the distinctive features of Islam is its emphasis on knowledge. The Holy Qur’an and the Islamic Tradition (Sunnah) invite Muslims to seek and acquire knowledge and wisdom.  

    The first few verses of Holy Qur’an that were revealed to our Holy Prophet Mohammed (ﷺ-Sallallaho Alaihi Wa’Sallam):

    “Read in the name of your Lord who created” “Created man, out of a (mere) clot of congealed blood” “Read, and your Lord is the most Generous” “Who taught by the pen” “Taught man that which he knew not.” (Holy Qur’an 96:1-5)

     Unfortunately, in many societies such as in Afghanistan, the resources are not available, especially for women.  I thank ROYA for creating the vehicle to help young women like Freshta. 

  • Kara Lozier
    Jul 14, 2017
    Jul 14, 2017

    Thank you for your inspiring message, Dr. Romie. Freshta will love to hear your words of praise and encouragement. In Afghanistan, the say "Danesh beju" which means "seek knowledge" -the full expression is "seek knowledge from the cradle to the grave." Unfortunately, with four decades of war, a very weak educational system, and extreme poverty, this is not always an easy thing to do in Afghanistan. But it seems that nothing will stop Freshta on her quest.

  • Julie Zenterra
    Jul 13, 2017
    Jul 13, 2017

    I am always humbled by the stories of people who do so much, even in the face of grave challenges, and Freshta's story reflects this beautifully. I'm inspired by her commitment to education -- the single best investment any of us will ever make -- and to celebrating the joys of learning. Reading and learning how to use computers, where these are available, are wonderful ways to enhance our lives, and can be the source for endless knowledge and enjoyment. Keep up your dedication, Freshta, even when you must struggle -- you are on the path to life long learning, which will sustain and support you all of your days! 

  • Kara Lozier
    Jul 14, 2017
    Jul 14, 2017

    Thank you, Julie. You're right. And Freshta is definitely on the right path. It seems that no obstacle is too big for her and now she has a global network or support to provide a net to fall back on or a push to keep going. We're all cheering for her.

  • Ankur Naik
    Jul 13, 2017
    Jul 13, 2017

    Hi Kara,

    Your post really illustrates the importance of increasing educational opportunities for girls everywhere. It is inspiring to read about Freshta's determination for pursuing these opportunities despite the challenges she faces everyday. I love her enthusiasm for teaching other girls so that her knowledge and skills are immediately creating a positive impact in her community. Thank you for helping make it possible for her to continue her efforts!

  • Kara Lozier
    Jul 14, 2017
    Jul 14, 2017

    I appreciate your kind words, Ankur. I remember you from my trip to World Pulse's 10th anniversary live event in Portland. Glad to see you're still a member of the growing team / family. Freshta has been paying her knowledge forward for as long as she's been gaining it. Although it's sad in one respect, I love how she says "I am my own role model."