Marina studies in the Shawnigan Lake School library.PHOTOS BY TAYLOR ROADES/THE GLOBE AND MAIL

Like most Afghan teenage girls and young women, Marina Musleh was robbed of her education after Kabul fell to the Taliban last August.

But the high-school student didn’t have time to worry or grieve. To reach her goal of becoming the first woman president of Afghanistan, the 18-year-old knew she needed an education outside of her country.

That became a reality last month when Ms. Musleh earned a full scholarship to Shawnigan Lake School – a boarding institution on Vancouver Island, where she will finish Grade 11 and graduate next year.

“I can help other Afghan women, the next generation,” she said about what the accomplishment will enable her to do.

“I want my country to have all freedoms, an opportunity for everyone.”

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Ms. Musleh is in the middle of two friends, Bahara and Fatima, at Marefat High School in Kabul.COURTESY OF MARINA MUSLEH

Ms. Musleh previously attended Marefat High School, an internationally recognized institution on the outskirts of Kabul that championed freedom, democracy, and the rights of women and girls. However, when the Taliban took over the government, they immediately banned girls’ education past Grade 6.

At the time, Ms. Musleh was taking an exam on her last day of school. On her way home, she saw a chaotic scene: Taliban soldiers appeared in the city with arms in hand, business owners were scrambling to close their stores and many residents were rushing towards the airport.

She was wearing her school uniform and as a result, she said, she attracted the Taliban’s stares. She was thinking: “They can kill me without reason, they can come to my house tomorrow and kill my family without reason.”

But while she felt vulnerable in her uniform, Ms. Musleh was not afraid of them, she stressed.

She had no intention of giving up on her education. She soon reached out to Women Leaders of Tomorrow, or WLOT, a Vancouver-based non-profit that empowers Afghan women and girls through sports and education – asking for its help to leave her country.

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Ms. Musleh works on a multi-media art piece during art class.

Ms. Musleh had already been receiving online English-language training from WLOT. A volunteer with the group had been teaching her for nine months prior to her arrival in Canada.

Women and girls have the right to education and equality – in Afghanistan and around the world

Friba Rezayee, WLOT founder and executive director, vividly remembers the call she had with Ms. Musleh shortly after the Taliban takeover.

The teenager made a plea, asking her to invest in Afghan youth and help them to receive education.

“There will be a time for the Taliban that they will be defeated, and it be us, it will be the youth of Afghanistan,” Ms. Rezayee recalled Ms. Musleh saying.

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Ms. Musleh sits with her classmates in the dining Hall.
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After class Ms. Musleh sits on her bed with her roommate Celine Xi.

The conversation compelled Ms. Rezayee to help the student, who subsequently obtained an interview with Shawnigan Lake. During an early morning conversation on the rooftop of her home, where she could get a better Internet signal, Ms. Musleh impressed the head of the B.C. institution.

“We were incredibly impressed by how calm she was in a landscape of fear, and her inner confidence and her ambition to access education,” said Richard (Larry) Lamont.

After an hour, Ms. Musleh was accepted by the school, and she calls that day – Dec. 24, 2021 – ”the best day in my life.”

Ms. Musleh was then booked on a flight to Pakistan, where she spent three months awaiting her Canadian paperwork. At the airport, she hid her cellphone, acceptance letter and other documents, and lied to the Taliban that the trip to Islamabad was for a family wedding. A week after she took off, the extremist group banned women from taking long-distance road trips in Afghanistan on their own.

After arriving on Vancouver Island, Mr. Lamont told Ms. Musleh she could stay with his family for some time before moving into the residence at Shawnigan Lake – but the student wanted to start her school life.

“She didn’t want to waste any time,” he said.

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Ms. Musleh picks ripe tomatoes in the growing dome at Shawnigan Lake School.

While studying in Canada, Ms. Musleh thinks about the war and its consequences, as millions of her fellow compatriots have become refugees in other countries.

Such circumstances push her “to work hard … to have a good country for my people” and make her country “be a good country in the world,” she said.

Original article on Globe and Mail: