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A woman once in Malala’s shoes

October 12th, 2012
02:13 PM ET

By Samuel Burke

Shabana Basij-Rasikh was six years old when the Taliban came to power in Afghanistan.

To get an education she enrolled in a network of underground classrooms.

Hearing the story of Malala – the teenage blogger and rights activist, shot by the Pakistani Taliban - Shabana says it could have been her.

When she was fighting to get her own education in Afghanistan, she constantly feared she would be caught by the Taliban and often saw no clear future for women.

“I was scared. I didn't want to continue. I didn't want to be killed by the Taliban. My parents, they were always the ones who kept pushing.” 

Pakistan’s FM: Malala attack possible turning point for Pakistan

And much like Malala’s inspiration, Shabana says her father inspired her to go to school.

“He would say, you can lose everything you own in your life. Your money can be stolen. But the one thing that will always remain with you is what is in here. And he would point to his head. And he would say, ‘Your education is the biggest investment in your life. Don't ever regret it.’”

Her mother and father were both the first people in their families to go to school, and her mother taught her to read and write at home.

Shabana’s mother retired from her teaching job two years ago and turned the family’s house into a classroom for girls and a women.

“Had it not been for their commitment to my education and to my siblings' education, I would be a sophomore in high school if I were lucky,” Shabana says at age 22.

She eventually came to America and graduated from Middlebury – a top U.S. college.

She's now working to build schools and educate young women back home.

“I am back in Afghanistan to share that knowledge that I've gained here [in the U.S.] to help many other girls in Afghanistan, who are still struggling to receive an education.”

She’s just launched a global campaign called 10 by 10, investing in girls' education.

She now runs a boarding school for girls in Afghanistan called SOLA – the word for peace in the local Pashto language.

“The girls that you see there, they are the future leaders of Afghanistan.”

Now Shabana says concern over the West pulling out of Afghanistan looms over her: “The funds will dry up and there will be a lot less attention towards education for Afghan girls.”

Girl's courage, Taliban's cowardice

CNN’s Juliet Fuisz produced this piece for television.

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