The Lost Generation

Afghan Knowledge Blackout

When the Taliban seized control of Afghanistan in 2021, after years of conflict and instability, the country was turned upside down again. The catastrophic experience is difficult to imagine, yet the loss of access to education and freedom to express beliefs and pursue dreams strikes at the heart of our own experience, of what it means to truly live.  

The Knowledge Blackout

Before the takeover, many efforts over the last two decades had contributed to expanding education opportunities, especially amongst Afghan women who have historically been excluded from the system. However, the walls of freedom have caved in, the restrictions have gone up, and the precious advances in human rights have disappeared.  

The drastic shift in control over Afghanistan, has changed the atmosphere in such a way that it can scarcely be compared to what came before. Looking back hundreds of years, this is unrecognizable from Afghanistan’s strategic role in shaping civilization, through sharing of culture and ideas on the Silk Road between east and west.

The contrast between the ‘knowledge blackout’ under the Taliban, and both the recent and ancient past in Afghanistan is shocking. This sobering reality was captured in a video of Zainab Alizai as she bid farewell to her teachers, peers, and her hope of becoming minister of education, on the last day of school in Afghanistan.

Few countries share the same level of repression that students experienced in the days immediately after control shifted. So many of the stories Shai Fund heard from university students expressed a shared experience of utter despair, having to abandon their dorms, their dreams and hiding from daylight that might expose them to menacing terror, until someone could help them escape.

Shai Fund Intervention  

After the collapse, the Shai Fund team immediately mobilised to coordinate escapes for thousands of vulnerable Afghans, especially for Christians and women. Amongst those who were assisted, 28 were university students were miraculously relocated out of the country under full scholarships, where they can continue their studies in peace.  

Each of these girls experienced the most harrowing experience of terror and trauma before they could escape; many of them witnessed the brutality of the Taliban first hand through the death of family members and friends. Robbed of hopes for the future, those who were silent became vocal advocates for the centrality of basic human freedoms denied by the regime.  

One of the courageous students Shai Fund relocated is Azada, who has become a fierce advocate for freedom and justice. Having witnessed the horrors of the Taliban first hand, in the brutal killing of her friend and her uncle, she became more vocal, taking her voice to social media and street protests, to raise the banner of justice in Afghanistan.  

When the Taliban tightened their grip, she found herself fleeing for her life, hiding in different houses for months, before Shai Fund could finally relocate her to a safe country. Now a far cry from living in the shadow of terror, she enjoys a new freedom, to walk streets without ‘the fear of being beaten for waring a normal shirt’. In her gratitude for the difference this has made to her life and future, she told the team:  

“I am very grateful and very thankful for all the people who are helping us. We were facing a different environment, but when I see the kindness of the people here, I think are we on one planet or is Afghanistan on another planet? Here people are kind and are helping without any expectations. Now I know what a family is supposed to be like.”

Joshua Bellingham, Shai Fund Staff Writer

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