WLOT & Shawnigan Lake School Press Release May 24th, 2022

Shawnigan Lake School and Women Leaders of Tomorrow are delighted to welcome a young leader from Afghanistan to Canada.

Marina arrived safely in Vancouver last week following a courageous journey on her own to Islamabad in Pakistan, where she spent an extended stay of three months waiting for the necessary paperwork to come through. The entire process took nine months. Earlier this week, she reached her final destination at Shawnigan Lake School, a boarding school on Vancouver Island, where she will complete her high school education.

Until recently, Marina was a student of Marefat High School, a school in Afghanistan whose founder, Aziz Royesh, envisioned a modern school that valued gender equality and emphasized math, sciences, and student leadership.

When the Taliban took over the government in August 2021, they immediately banned girls’ education above Grade 6. Marefat High School was closed, forcing Marina and her schoolmates to stay home. Marina was prevented from accessing education, but she didn’t give up. She contacted the founder and Executive Director of Women Leaders of Tomorrow (WLOT), Friba Rezayee, and asked for help to leave Afghanistan so that she could pursue her education.

At the time, Marina was an English student of WLOT. One of the many services this Vancouver-based non-profit organization provides is English language training programs for young women in Afghanistan. Volunteer teachers and tutors from across Canada connect with language learners online. Thanks to WLOT, Marina studied English for nine months with an English teacher and mentor from Newfoundland before arriving in Canada.

Ms. Rezayee recalls a conversation with Marina shortly after the Taliban takeover. “I was devastated when I witnessed my country fall into the hands of the Taliban,” she shares. “I watched it live at 3:30 a.m. PST in my apartment in Vancouver. And I could hardly speak over the phone, but I still needed to call Marina to check that she was okay.”

Marina was very composed. When Ms. Rezayee asked how she was so calm, Marina responded, “I am calm because I am planning to become the first female president of Afghanistan so that I can help to fix this turmoil.”

“The reason that our country fell to a group of armed men is because it is run by uneducated leaders,” she continued over the phone. “You must invest in the youth of Afghanistan if you want to rebuild our country.”

Marina openly shares that she intends to “fight the Taliban with knowledge and education.” She is very excited to start that process through this new journey in Canada, where she will complete her high school education and pursue post-secondary studies.

Ms. Rezayee says that she is grateful to those in Canada who listen to the Afghan girls’ concerns about their education and to Shawnigan Lake School for providing Marina with the opportunity to complete her Grade 11 and 12 years. Marina will now have the chance to become the leader she wants to become.

Earlier this year, Shawnigan Lake School was able to work with the United World College network to help two Afghan girls get through the Taliban checkpoints in Kabul Airport and onto one of the last evacuation flights. They flew to Canada via Germany and settled in Toronto, where they are attending a local public school.

Ms. Rezayee and WLOT contacted Shawnigan Lake School to see if it could help Marina. The Head of School, Richard “Larry” Lamont, and the School were pleased to offer her a full scholarship and are honoured to welcome her as the newest member of their community.

“I am certain it is not the impact that we will have on her but the impact she will have on us – as she introduces us to her culture, her stories and her world,” said Mr. Lamont. “She has demonstrated incredible courage to come here to the other side of the world to continue her education.”

Marina receives an Impact Scholarship offered by Shawnigan Lake School – created to support students from conflict and post-conflict areas. She will be joined over the summer by two students from Ukraine who are leaving the upheaval in their country. Shawnigan Lake School has a strong tradition of taking students from Nepal, a post-conflict country, and has experienced the lasting impact the diversity of these scholars has had on the students and staff at the School over the years.

The School hopes that other schools will be motivated to help so that other girls like Marina can be equipped and empowered as tomorrow’s change leaders.

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