When Fahim answers the video call from Kabul, his long beard, which covers much of his face, is a shocking shift from his usual clean-cut look, and symbolic of how dramatically his life has changed. He explains that since the Taliban have come to power, men must grow their beards and are ‘encouraged’ to wear a turban. Many of his friends even refuse to trim the edges of their beards for fear of retribution. Fear and worry are dominant above all other emotions now and keep Fahim boarded up inside most days. Fahim says that while he stays inside, the men, women, and children who used to crowd the streets of Afghanistan with the average business of their everyday lives have now been replaced by overwhelming tragedy and economic devastation. Women in burkas beg for bread, children plead for work and food, and once busy shops are boarded up. The sights of the streets are so saddening, Fahim states, that he often buys bread for women and children, even though he struggles to buy enough food for himself and his two younger siblings. During a time when his beloved nation seems to be crumbling around him, Fahim turns to education.
Fahim is a junior at the American University of Afghanistan and continues his classes remotely because AUAF planted a seed in him that remains firmly rooted. He understands the severe risk this brave decision involves. Fahim’s unwavering dedication to academics is due in part to his mother, who he says has always been his biggest supporter when it comes to pursuing an education. She felt the knowledge he and his sister needed was not available in Afghanistan and encouraged them to pursue an international education. However, when he and his sister found AUAF, they realized they could receive the kind of education they craved while remaining in their home country. His mother’s hope for her children is to gain wisdom and inspire the next generation of Afghans.
Since that fateful day in August 2021, Fahim has been forced to sacrifice most of what he holds close. One of these sacrifices has been applying the skills learned at AUAF to an innovative business he had planned to open and operate in Afghanistan. Fahim has long been interested in Afghanistan’s dry food industry, and when he noticed that most of Badghis’ pistachios go to waste, he saw a business opportunity that would not only benefit farmers but also reduce waste and help Afghan buyers.
Two years ago, he even made a trip to Badghis to speak with some of the province’s pistachio farmers and gain a better understanding of why there is so much waste in the industry. After connecting with buyers, sellers, and farmers around the nation, Fahim, in short, planned to connect buyers outside of the province to the many farmers inside the province. However, with the lucrative pistachio market now captured, his business dreams have come to a screeching halt. For Fahim, one of the most difficult parts of his new reality is the inability to plan for his future. He has no idea what is in store for tomorrow or where he will be a week from now. “All I can do is sit and wait.”
When talking with AUAF students and alumni, they all share something that is quite unique for many Afghan students: a powerful voice that refuses to be silenced. AUAF is unlike any other university in Afghanistan because it encourages students, both men and women, to speak their minds freely and indulge in their academic interests and passions, whatever they may be. This kind of empowerment cannot be unlearned, and the freedoms enjoyed will not be taken away without a fight. Every day, AUAF students in Afghanistan, like Fahim, will wake up and make the bold decision to continue their education.