The Taliban is snuffing out hope in Afghanistan. It will fail.

It’s the small things that find you, and they can come without warning.

Not too long ago I was in Turkey, at the airport in Istanbul. My husband had gone to get us food, something to eat before our plane boarded. He brought it to where we were sitting in the departure hall: a simple plate, white rice and some beans. I had a bite, and I started crying.

“What’s wrong?” he asked, concerned.

“It’s Kabul,” I said. “It tastes like Kabul, like afternoons there. I’m in Kabul right now. I’m home.”

Two years ago today, Aug. 15, 2021, the Taliban swept into Kabul and the Afghanistan I knew disappeared. By the end of the month, the School of Leadership, Afghanistan (SOLA), my Afghan girls’ school that I’ve dedicated my entire adult life to operating, was in exile. We were in Rwanda, reestablishing our operations, all of our students safe, all of our girls free to learn.

But I can’t go back to Kabul. None of the Afghan women at SOLA can. None of the girls at SOLA can, these teenage girls and girls even younger, Afghan girls whose parents have entrusted us with their care.

And none of us know when that might change.)

The small things are the words of a SOLA student in Rwanda, a girl among her classmates.

We were together, these girls and I, talking about a beautiful hill in the countryside where we will build our new campus. We were getting ready to take a trip so they could see the land for themselves, and I was telling them about what would stand there one day: a school for Afghan girls where education will always be possible and where sisterhood will always exist.

This girl was part of the conversation, an enthusiastic participant. But in a quiet moment, as we all sat together under a clear sky, she asked: “When do we…?”

She didn’t finish the question. She didn’t have to. I knew what she was asking. All of us knew. And she knew we knew.

Home. Where women have been turned to ghosts, shrouded beneath the blue burqa. Where girls have reportedly been told, just this month, that there is no need for them to attend school past the age of 10.

The small things are things of honesty, and of truth.

“I don’t know,” I said, and paused.

“It’s not the answer you want. It’s not the answer any of us want,” I continued. “But it’s the reality. And so is this: The hope your parents have, and you have, and I have — that’s what we’re going to build on here.”

It was a sunny day. Peaceful and still. The hills of Rwanda rose all around us. We were Afghan women, together. Our voices, our faces, our tears.)

What does hope look like?

It looks like Afghan girls in school, whether they’re in diaspora communities or attending secret lessons at private homes in Kabul and in the provinces. Because every day these girls are in school, they chip away at the darkness that fell across Afghanistan two years ago.

Every day these girls are in school, they build the possibility of a different future. For themselves and for so many other girls, so many other sisters they’ve never met.

It’s been two years, and still, inside the sadness, inside the anger and the honesty, I choose to find the hope.

Shabana Basij-Rasikh is co-founder and president of the School of Leadership, Afghanistan.
 The Taliban is snuffing out hope in Afghanistan. It will fail.