Amid a period of political instability in Afghanistan, Wellesley recently welcomed Pashtana Dorani to join the Wellesley Centers for Women (WCW) for two years as a visiting fellow. Dorani is an Afghan human rights activist, community development expert and the founder of LEARN Afghanistan, an organization delivering safe education to girls.
Dorani grew up in a family of educators. Her father founded a school for girls in her village where her mother and aunts taught voluntarily. Their devotion for education left a lifelong impact in Dorani. While tutoring her cousins who were unable to attend school, Dorani realized she had the capacity of technology to overcome many socio-political obstacles. The revelation led her to found LEARN Afghanistan and devote herself to nurturing young girls in education through technology.
Tolerance for uprising voices is rare in Dorani’s community. Dorani was hit with self-doubt when she and her venture were distorted as treacherous or as toadying to Western culture. The question, “Is it worth it in the future?” often confused Dorani.
However, her conversations with girls in her schools helped encourage her to reaffirm her mission. In one notable incident, a girl told Dorani that the Taliban may limit women physically, but they could not limit their mental or political independence. She now regards once hurtful accusations as badges of honors for standing up for the deserved justice.
However, when the Taliban took over Afghanistan in October, Dorani was forced to flee the country. It was not an effortless journey to travel over 6,600 miles away from the place she once called home to Wellesley. A close friend suggested Dorani visit Wellesley, where Dorani’s outspokenness, resilience and passion for women would thrive best.
As a visiting fellow with WCW, she will research the empowerment of education and financial literacy with a case study approach by tracing Afghan girls and women and how education makes an impact on their life.
She and her staff are working on pushing their healthcare and women’s education projects further. On Dec. 5, another school under LEARN Afghanistan was launched. LEARN will also open another maternal health clinic with in-house doctors to cater to the needs of pregnant Afghans.
With LEARN’s future goal to expand into Pakistan, Jordan, Yemen and Turkey, Dorani is looking forward to working with the Wellesley community.
It has been over a month since her arrival. Now, Dorani particularly enjoys walking around Lake Waban, as she can be off without self-consciousness and disquietude — a privilege she had not had while in hiding in Afghanistan.
Dorani has no idea what the future holds for Afghan girls and women, in education or the workforce, but she believes in Afghan women’s resilience and boldness. Acknowledging constraints in traditional paper-based education, LEARN has partnered with Rumie’s App, a digital learning platform to deliver school-age girls with appropriate education. As for herself, Dorani intends on pursuing a doctoral degree, challenging the inequality faced by Afghan women seeking higher education.
“When things get tough, we prepare for the fight,” Dorani said. “We may slow down but we will continue to fight.”