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Young Afghan women are completing secondary school with the support of activist Rahela Sidiqi

With their Malala Fund grant, Rahela Trust is providing online learning and mentorship to support young Afghan women in finishing their last years of secondary school. 

As a young girl growing up in rural Afghanistan, Rahela Sidiqi’s home was filled with the love of learning. She remembers her father reciting the Rumi poems he loved to her mother. Her mother, who didn’t know how to read, would dictate the poems from memory for her children to write down on a blackboard in their living room, and her father would review their work when he returned home from his job as a police officer. 

“I really enjoyed going to school every morning,” says Rahela of her childhood. “My work was appreciated. They were joyful times.”

She found happiness and freedom in secondary school, surrounded by caring classmates and supportive teachers. In the face of the Taliban’s atrocities and the current ban on girls’ secondary education, it was critical for her to nurture the hopes and dreams of young women at this stage in their lives and motivate them to continue learning. 

“I want them to see themselves as agents of change for the future of their country,” says Rahela. 

She founded Rahela Trust in 2015 to provide university scholarships and mentorship to young women in rural areas with limited resources to pursue their education. With their Malala Fund grant, the organisation is now expanding their programme to support 50 young women to complete their last two years of secondary school through online learning and mentoring. Students will then be eligible to apply for Rahela Trust’s university scholarships and have opportunities to transition to higher education through a partnership with Woman Online University, a digital institution established by a group of former professors from Afghan universities. 

The dozens of young women who have graduated from university thanks to Rahela Trust and gone on to successful careers are just some of the thousands of Afghan women whom Rahela has impacted in a lifetime of activism. Her career in Afghanistan spanned the country’s tumultuous decades of conflict from the Taliban’s rise to power to the U.S. invasion of the country.

When she was 16, Rahela’s father was killed when members of the mujahideen ambushed his post during the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan. Her mother was left alone to raise Rahela and her nine siblings. Driven by the deep value of education instilled in her by her parents, Rahela completed school and graduated from Kabul University’s faculty of agriculture in 1986. 

With her education, Rahela was determined to fight for women’s rights and help build an inclusive, peaceful Afghanistan. She began her career with Oxfam helping refugees like herself fleeing conflict after the Soviets left the country. She went on to pioneer a community approach with UN-Habitat to engage women in the rebuilding of urban areas, and serve as senior advisor to the Head of the Civil Service Commission of Afghanistan from 2006-11. 

Having faced numerous threats throughout the years to her and her family’s lives due to her activism, Rahela was forced to seek asylum in the U.K. in 2011. She continued to fight for the futures of Afghan girls and women from abroad through Rahela Trust. 

While Rahela Trust supports their scholars to learn the skills needed for the job market, their programme equally supports them in developing their character and giving back to society. Rahela often tells the young women she works with that it is their responsibility to use their talent to help themselves and their communities, a lesson that has shaped her life and organisation.


Emilie Yam

Emilie leads on writing and editing for Malala Fund’s external-facing content and shapes the organisation’s public voice and tone.

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