Shabana is the President of SOLA: the school she co-founded while still a teenager.
Born in Kabul, Shabana was in grade school when the Taliban swept to power in 1996. Under the Taliban regime, girls' education was banned and women were forbidden from moving in public without a male chaperone; however, a network of secret schools for girls began to open around the city, for those ready to accept the risks of being caught attending.
Shabana, and her family, were among those ready. From 1996 until the fall of the Taliban in 2001, Shabana dressed as a boy and walked with her sister (clad in the traditional burka) through Kabul's streets to these secret schools. Instructed by their parents to tell anyone who asked that they were on their way to a market, they hid their schoolbooks in shopping bags and varied their routes daily, sometimes spending more than an hour walking to their classes.
The end of the Taliban regime meant the re-opening of girls' schools, and Shabana continued her education in Afghanistan before finishing high school in the U.S. through the State Department's Youth Exchange Studies program. She then enrolled at Middlebury College in Vermont. It was in 2008, as a student at Middlebury, that Shabana co-founded SOLA, with the mission of providing access to quality education for girls across her homeland.
Shabana is a 2011 magna cum laude graduate of Middlebury College with a degree in International Studies and Women & Gender Studies. In 2016, she was awarded an honorary doctorate from SOAS University of London.
While at Middlebury, Shabana was awarded a Davis Peace Prize, with which she built wells outside of Kabul; was selected as one of Glamour Magazine's Top 10 College Women of 2010; and received the Vermont Campus Compact 2011 Madeline Kunin Public Service Award for outstanding leadership and service to others.
Shabana was named one of CNN International's Leading Women of 2014 and one of National Geographic's 2014 Emerging Explorers. She is a global ambassador for Girl Rising, a call to action seeking investment in girls' education worldwide.
In 2018, Afghan President Ashraf Ghani and First Lady Rula Ghani awarded Shabana the Malalai Medal, one of Afghanistan's highest national honors, for her work in promoting girls' access to education.
"My father 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. 'Your education is the biggest investment in your life,' he would say. 'Don't ever regret it.'"