"Sometimes I talk with flowers
And I know they hear me.
Most people don't know
That flowers can hear us.
Flowers are always quiet
Because they are listening."
-Madia, age 14
In her poem "Talking With Flowers", Madia writes about fighting and war and how when she needs someone to talk to, she can speak to the flowers for they listen. Luckily, Madia can do this on school grounds, for she is an Afghan girl who is able to pursue her education. But she cannot take this for granted. With school attendance remaining an often dangerous endeavor for female children, and with the women's literacy rate estimated at 12% nationwide, the right to learn must be fought for and protected.
At the Afghan Women's Writing Project, we connect international women authors, journalists, and teachers with Afghan women and girls via online workshops. The Afghan women send in their essays, stories, and poems and their mentors help them develop their writing, their ideas, their voices on the page.
This year, we've begun a special project: an intensive workshop for girls. In the second installment of our Teen Writers' Workshop, we showcase the work of our youngest writers, girls aged 12-15. Once again, we are delighted and moved by their visions and their experiences and the wisdom they already bring the world.
In "The Burden of Being a Girl" Arifa writes about working women in Afghanistan:
"On my way home from school, I often stop at a bakery to buy bread. I've always been curious about the woman who makes the bread. She looks about thirty-seven and I wonder how she does this job, working from six in the morning to seven or eight at night, baking through the hottest days of the summer, and also cooking for her family.
One day I asked her. She told me that she has worked as a baker for fifteen years and that she is the only person in her home with a job. When she was seventeen, her father gave her to the man who is now her husband. He does not work. The woman said that her husband would force her out of their home if she did not work.
In contrast to this story, I see many things about working women that make me proud to support the cause of women's rights in Afghanistan. I see women in our schools, from teachers up to the principal. These are educated women working to create more educated women."
For as Arifa later writes: "A country in which half of the population is allowed to diminish the other half is like a body where disease in one part destroys the rest."
Shahira shares her dreams for Afghanistan in "Big Land":
"But I will rise in the dark sky of Afghanistan
to bring back the shining sun.
I would love to have my own land
to share and to live in it,
to change the darkness to light,
to give courage to my people.
The courage to be together
and to not be alone.
People think that we are alone
but if they feel for each other they would say,
we are together in this land.
Instead of starting to fight and war, they would say 'Welcome'
and if they see the bleeding of people they would stop killing."
In her poem "My Mother Said Be Happy" after she tells us of her mother being widowed at age 22 with four girls to care for, Madia writes of her new life in school:
"Now I am in a school with many friends.
I never see them cry,
They say, Let's play a game!
Let's just sit and talk!
Talking makes me so happy.
Writing and reading also make me happy,
And so does taking pictures at school.
School is my life now
I am learning and growing,
And finding ways to be happy."
And I will close with wisdom from Sadaf, age 15:
"life is a race--try to win
life is an exam--try to pass and be happy
life is a river--try to find treasure
life is gold--try to give to others
life is a box of treasure--try to open it and find the way of life
life is like paper--try to write memories of happy days
life is like time--try to use it in good ways"
Please take some time to click through and leave a response for the writers. They enjoy very much hearing from readers all over the world. Check back often for we publish new work every week. As we move towards 2014, and we contemplate US and international roles in Afghanistan, please do not forget these girls, please o not forget how much they have to give to their society and to the world.
Follow Stacy Parker Le Melle on Twitter: www.twitter.com/stacylemelle