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Nazia’s Story: An Afghan Refugee’s Relentless Commitment to Education and Hope

  May 16, 2024

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The hardest and most important job

Growing up in Afghanistan, Nazia developed a true passion for teaching at a young age. She became an English instructor when she was in 10th grade, and for years, continued teaching for little or no money, eager to gain experience.  

“Teaching has been my dream job. In our country, people don’t have a good perspective about teaching – they think it’s a simple job, but it’s the hardest and most important job. A doctor once had a teacher. A president once had a teacher.”   

With time, Nazia became successful and well-known in her profession. While completing her university degree in education, she taught English to both children and university students, and then after graduating, accepted a role teaching adult learners online. With hard work and sacrifice, she had built a life for herself doing what she loved. 


A dark cloud 

Then, the Taliban came and took it all away. It was 2021, and Kabul had fallen in what felt like an instant.  

“[Women] lost the right to get an education and have a job. We couldn’t travel alone, we had to have a guardian. It felt like a really big, dark cloud had come over our country and it was not going to move away. It made everything dark. You felt like thunder was going to hit you; the thunder was the Taliban.” 

As a woman, it was now illegal for Nazia to teach. It took her a full year to find an opportunity to do so anywaya decision which came with real peril.

“Taliban were living in our neighborhood, so when I taught, I would close all the windows and doors. I felt afraid they would hear my voice talking in English, and I would cause danger for my family.” 

The Taliban did their best to fan the flames of her fear. 

“Two separate times, I received a WhatsApp message from an unknown number with a profile picture of the Taliban, asking me ‘Have you started teaching again?’ I deleted the message and blocked the account. It was terrifying, but I didn’t stop because there were a lot of women who needed education, they needed a light in the darkness. My class was not only for teaching English, it was to give students motivation to be brave, to never lose hope.” 

Nazia did not give up. In fact, she wanted to do more. She decided to start a social support and education group for fellow women living under the Taliban, which she named “Lifesaver Girls.” It took her many tries to find an education center brave enough to host this illegal gathering, but with perseverance, she was able to convene one meeting. She felt she had to. 

“After the Taliban took over, most of the girls got disappointed and depressed. This group motivated them. When they first came to the meeting, you could feel the hopelessness and [see] deep sorrow in their faces. We talked about some successful women who did their best in the hardest situations, and we introduced them to online ways to get an education. At the end of the session, you could see the brightness of hope in their eyes.”  

A really hard night 

Nazia had been living in Ghazni, a city about two hours from Kabul. In December of 2023, she received a call from the organization that was helping to evacuate her from Afghanistan. They told her to be in Kabul the next morning. Women were not allowed to travel alone, so she set off with her father. They waited 14 days before being evacuated to Pakistan. Then they had to walk an hour in the middle of the night to meet the driver who would take them to Pakistan and then to Qatar.  

“It was a really hard night. It was so stressful. At the Afghanistan-Pakistan border, the Taliban checked all of the stuff we had and asked ‘Where are you going? Are you going to a foreign country?’ I told them ‘No, I’m sick.’ My father was pushing me in a wheelchair so they would believe me.” 

Nazia told the Taliban that another male relative was waiting for her at the border, so that her father was able to leave her. Then she was alone. She was checked by the Taliban four separate times. When she got to Pakistan, she stayed three nights before being evacuated to a camp in Qatar. It was a difficult period.  

“It was like you are in a big jail. You are not allowed to go out of the camp. I was stressed that my case wouldn’t be accepted, and I would think about how I would live in Afghanistan. I would be arrested for leaving the country alone.”  

After 28 days, Nazia’s case was approved. She arrived in Boston in January 2024.  

Learning how to walk 

Nazia with IINE Career Navigator Emma Pond

Within one week of her arrival in Boston, Nazia enrolled in services at the International Institute of New England (IINE). Case Workers quickly helped her get her social security card, enroll in food benefits and health care, and acquire her work permit. IINE’s Education and Employment teams helped her to write a resume, begin searching for jobs, and explore opportunities to pursue a master’s degree. She was also invited to a monthly support group for fellow Afghan women to meet, socialize, share advice, and explore their new city together.  

IINE’s Afghan Women’s Group in Boston

Nazia says that the people she meets at IINE are “really kind and helpful. I’m really thankful.” She is adjusting to life in Boston and learning how to navigate new challenges with IINE’s help.  

“It has some hardships. I’m getting used to a new environment—living without my family, traveling alone—but it is an interesting experience. Nowadays, I’m like a baby trying to walk, standing and falling down, but still not losing hope. The baby is sure they will learn how to walk even though it is hard. Here in the U.S., I’m learning how to walk. IINE is helping me to learn.”  

Finding the light 

Even before she came to the U.S., Nazia had dreamed of pursuing a master’s degree and then a PhD at Harvard University. Now this dream feels closer. 

I came to Boston by chance— it’s a really beautiful coincidence. I want to get my master’s and PhD in [Teaching English for Speakers of Other Languages], and one day, become a professor. Everyone says being a Harvard student would be hard; I agree it’s hard, but it is not impossible.” 

Nazia is also a writer. She has already had some success—a short story published on the website of a university in Iowa. She’s writing more short stories and hopes to write a romance novel one day. One thing’s for sure: nothing will stop her from striving for her dreams. It’s not easy, but she knows she now has support—and freedom.  

“In our country, we couldn’t go out after 5 p.m. Here, I can. I feel safe. There is no Taliban here, no one that will restrict me from following my dreams. When I have a hard time and miss my country, I walk around, and I see beautiful smiles. I feel ‘this might be hard, but I’m in a good environment… ‘I believe that when something is hard, it makes you the real version of you. There might be moments you feel down, like nothing is going to get right, but still in that moment, we can find the light.”  

We are proud to have welcomed, resettled, and supported refugees in the New England region for over 100 years. Learn more about our refugee resettlement work here.


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