An Impressive Gift
Spozhmai Wardak (+Video)
As a young girl, Spozhmai, is secretly enrolled in school by her mother. She fears that her grandfather will disapprove, but she is pleasantly surprised when he encourages her and takes her shopping for new green boots to wear to school. Despite her family’s hardships, this moment marks the beginning of a robust education and career. Her various life experiences strengthen her personality and inspire her four children. She will never forget those green boots.
We were four siblings and I was the only girl. My father’s side of the family was very conservative. Without their knowledge, my mother enrolled me in school. She thought they wouldn’t approve. But one day when I was returning from school, my grandfather saw me. I was scared. When we reached home, my mother was worried that he’d be angry. But to her surprise, he hugged me and thanked my mother for sending me to school.
The next day, my grandfather took me to the market and bought me a green pencil sharpener and a pair of green boots. He asked me to attend school regularly and to remember him whenever I used the pencil sharpener and the shoes. Those shoes were a gift I will never forget. When I wore them, I felt stronger than other students. Although he wasn’t educated, my grandfather had a bright mind and really kind heart.
I remember how much I loved school, my books, notebooks, teacher, and classmates. We lived in rented houses. We moved houses several times, which meant we also moved schools. And each time, I would miss my friends, classmates, teacher and everything. I used to wish that my father had his own house where I would have a cupboard for my books and notebooks, and a place for my pretty doll there in a corner of the room. I wished that we would never have to move houses. Eventually, my father was able to build our own house, a small house with a small garden where my mother planted flowers and my father planted apple and black cherry trees.
Years passed and my four brothers and I excelled in our studies, all because of my parents’ efforts and encouragement. We were still not financially well off, though, Some days there wouldn’t be enough food, and my mother would go hungry only so that we could eat. She was my hero. Every time there was a crisis, she’d tell my father, “Don’t worry, I am with you. Our children are with us. Our problems will get solved and the sun will shine on us.”
I had only two dreams: that my family would have enough money and that I would have a beautiful sister! Sure enough, the Almighty Allah heard my prayers. My two brothers became engineers, my sister, a doctor—and I, a teacher.
Soon I got married and built my own small garden with two sons and two daughters. I also earned money through tailoring and teaching. I taught students preparing for higher education. At the same time, I volunteered with Save the Children International. When a paid position became available there, I applied and was successful. I worked there for eleven years. Soon a war threatened our country, but I continued to travel and support children and women in different provinces. I had the opportunity to travel to different parts of the world, and this was the highlight of my life.
Next I joined USAID Afghanistan as an early grade reading materials specialist. I brought to life more than one hundred story and rhyme books both in Pashto and Dari. From there I took up the challenging job as the Policy and Plan deputy minister with the Ministry of Women’s Affairs of Afghanistan. Working to improve the life of Afghan women, especially those in rural areas, was one of my most enjoyable jobs.
My parents, especially my mother, were always proud of me. It was one of the greatest tragedies of my life to lose them. The war in Afghanistan soon intensified, and I had to leave the country in 2021. But now I am hopeful and happy that my own small garden where I was able to raise four beautiful flowers: Sahel Jan, Zuhal Jan, Sahar Jan, and Sear Jan. My blossoming grandchildren are also with me. I’m proud of them and happy that I have this small and lovely garden.
My children are all educated, so I don’t think I’ll be alone. They can protect others and serve their countrymen and their own family. I was one person, and with marriage, became two. Now we are a team, an intelligent and qualified team. Committed to working for others, we will go ahead with our brave and strong people to build our homeland again and again. And all this started with a pair of green shoes.
Spozhmai Wardak was most recently head of Afghan Women Shora (Southwest provinces). Previously, she was Deputy Policy and Planning Minister with the Ministry of Women’s Affairs. She has also worked with USAID and in various sectors of Save the Children. Spozhmai holds degrees in mathematics and Gender and Women’s Studies. She arrived in Canada in April 2022.