Zala’s Story

Zala was only a young girl, inching her way toward womanhood when that dreadful knock resounded in their home 6 years ago. That single knock on the door of their peaceful home was like the warning call of a cruel and merciless marathon. It was the day that everything her family had ever hoped for came crumbling down. There was no peace in store for Afghanistan – only war, blood, and endless years of tears.

As I sat across Zala and asked her to tell me her story, I immediately sensed that something the world is not worthy of hearing was making its way to my ears – and I was right.  6 years ago, her brother was brutally tortured and crucified by the Taliban for being a translator for an American soldier. That knock on the door was what brought in the lifeless body of her 18-year-old brother – a boy who had lost his life to earn some extra money for his family. This traumatic event caused young Zala’s mother to go into a frenzy of depression, self-harm, and several kinds of mental health disorders. But Zala did not give up on her dreams, she wanted to study, to become someone important, someone who could help her family since her brother no longer could. Even though Zala’s father opposed education for girls, she decided to enroll in Kabul University, which exposed her to an event no human being should ever have to witness.

On November 2020, 4 radical men stormed the campus and set off a bomb that killed 23 people, all of whom were killed right before Zala’s eyes. The horror of this event still haunts her memories to this day. “It was not easy, because when I wanted to escape, they pointed a gun at me. But I tried my best to escape” said Zala as she bravely told the rest of her story.

After the Taliban invaded Afghanistan, Zala’s home was invaded by several soldiers who took her father captive for working as a driver for the government. She still remembers the sound of her mother crying for mercy, her father begging “I have children. Leave me alone!”, and herself drenched in fear as she hid with her sisters so that the Taliban would not take them for their own pleasure. After 2 months of not knowing what had happened to her 70 year-old father, Zala’s family was shattered with the news that the Taliban had tortured, starved, and killed her father in cold-blood.

As Zala’s tears began to flow and I noticed that the memories of her past were becoming too difficult to recall, I asked her to think about the time she got in contact with the people who helped her escape. This was what she said, “I got in contact with a man in Cyprus and began to hope of a way out. But I was afraid of coming because I didn’t know that he worked with an organization. But then I was added to a WhatsApp group by a friend and found out that an organization was rescuing several girls like me. I was relieved because I was afraid of trusting a man. We are used to them being abusive.” Ever since that moment, Zala has been on a journey towards freedom, hope, and a better future. After many difficulties and obstacles Zala was able to come to the island of Cyprus and continue where she left off in Kabul University. Her heart aches for her mother and two sisters that are still hiding in Afghanistan today; but she is hoping to provide them with a better future by studying harder than everyone and working harder than anyone else around her.

I asked Zala if she is satisfied with the At Risk Women program, this was her response: “I am very thankful for this program, they have provided all that I need”. Zala is now living in a peaceful country, feels safe, has made new friends, and is hopeful of something good for the first time in a long time. These are her words to all those who have helped her come to the place she is in today, “Being a woman in Afghanistan is not easy. There are so many challenges, there are no opportunities for us. I want to study, and those who have given me this opportunity I am so thankful. I will do my best to deserve all that you have given me.”

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