Dunya’s Journey:

From Kabul’s Shadows to Manhattan’s Light

Jus a few month ago, I arrived in Manhattan, escaping the brutality of the Taliban regime in Afghanistan. Now, I am in 11th grade at the Marymount School of New York, one of the finest schools in the city. Well, it almost sounds like a fairy tale—an 18-year-old Afghan girl, having left her family and home behind, to search for a new beginning in the heart of the world’s capital.

My path to where I am today, isn’t a tale of overnight miracles or simple luck or coincidence. Instead, it’s grounded in the profound passion and commitment of a few kind souls who dare to risk life to light a path for those of us caught in the shadows. This story, my very own, is a shoutout to hope and showing that when Afghan girls given the opportunity, have just as much ability to shine as anyone else.

This significant shift in my life began six years ago, on a day that forever altered my destiny. That’s when I ended up living in an orphanage run by AFCECO, amidst the daily bombings, suicide attacks, and a suffocating misogynistic atmosphere.

Raised in a tribal culture deeply rooted in old customs, where the trading of young girls as brides was normal and their freedoms were confined within the home’s walls, I didn’t see much of a future. My father was lost to addiction, having forgotten who he once was, while my mother, despite being illiterate and battling illness, worked tirelessly to support our family of ten. Despite these hurdles, she was a beacon of hope for my siblings and me, continuously searching for avenues for us to thrive. Her perseverance brought us to a place of new beginnings and possibilities—the AFCECO orphanage, where we were given the opportunity to grow beyond the limitations of our past.

Indeed, AFCECO marked a turning point. Initially, adapting to this new place was challenging—with new faces, new routine, and a new setting. But it quickly became a place where I could explore my potential, learn about the capabilities of girls like me, and connect with children from various regions of Afghanistan, each bringing their unique dialects and stories.

That’s where I fell in love with painting. Every time I painted, it felt like I was telling my own story. The orphanage encouraged us, and I got really into it. In 2019, my friends and I started painting murals all over Kabul, putting our dreams and hopes on walls for everyone to see.

Then everything got turned upside down with the Taliban’s return. They banned us from going to school, and destroyed my paintings. It was like all the doors were closing, as our futures, once filled with possibilities, were covered again in a fog of uncertainty and fear. Yet, thanks to AFCECO, hope was not lost. They established hidden safehouses, allowing us to pursue our education online under the guidance of outstanding American educators. In time, AFCECO helped my sister, a few other girls, and me to Pakistan, where we stayed in an AFCECO safehouse. There, we attended an international school for 18 months, learning English to a degree that transitioning to a New York school was easy. Leaving Afghanistan was one of the hardest things I’ve ever done. Saying goodbye to my family and all the memories was heart-breaking.

Now, as I make my way through one of the best private schools here, I’m carrying all those lessons with me. The courage, the resilience, and the drive to make a difference—that’s what I’m all about now. This journey from Kabul to New York is proof that hope can take you far, and dreams can become real if you dare to chase them. I’m endlessly grateful to AFCECO for raising, educating and setting me on this path, to Uplifting Afghan Girls (UFG) for their assistance with the US visa process, to my host family for welcoming me with open arms, and to my sponsors for their generous support. This story isn’t just mine; it’s a message of hope for every Afghan girl dreaming of a brighter future.

Dunya Artal
New York
March 2024  

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