The lever that moves the world.

So, what did you do during your summer break?

Let me tell you what four SOLA students did during their break from school. There’s no better time than now to tell you this story – and I think you’ll understand why when you hear it. But before I do, I need to roll the calendar back a few months.

That’s because at SOLA, as you may know, we don’t have a summer break like schools do in the West. Most schools in Afghanistan operate on a March-December calendar, which means students go on break during the cold winter months of January and February, and SOLA is no exception.

I said “most schools”, though, and not “all”: that’s because in some of the southern provinces, where the climate is warmer than Kabul’s, students stay in school during January and February. Helmand is one of these provinces, and it’s also the home province of those four girls I mentioned earlier – girls who, when they went home to Helmand for break this year, got paid jobs as teachers at their local public school.

You read that right. Four of our students – two rising 7th graders and two rising 8th graders – were all paid to teach at a school in Helmand in January, February, and early March. They were teaching girls older than themselves, and as the weeks passed and as word spread about these talented new female teachers, the number of girls enrolled at this school actually increased. When our girls finally had to say goodbye because it was time to return to SOLA, their students were in tears and the principal told the girls he was eager for them to come back.

I love this story so much, for so many reasons. It’s a story of Afghan women helping Afghan women. It’s a story of girls bringing the SOLA model out of Kabul and into the provinces where it can have such incredible impact. It’s a story of real female leadership: I didn’t tell these girls to get teaching jobs, and neither did anyone else at SOLA – they did it themselves. They took the initiative. They knew they had skills to share with their community, and they shared them.

It’s powerful to think about, isn’t it? SOLA’s reach expands each year, SOLA’s impact expands each year, and our students are the ones who lead the way. Right now, we have students on campus representing 25 of Afghanistan’s 34 provinces, which means we’re closer to our goal of full provincial representation than we’ve ever been. We want our girls to feel that their classmates are their sisters. We want them to believe that they have a home in every province. We want each girl to know – to know with absolute certainty – that she holds in her hands the lever that moves the world. That lever is her education, and there is no one who can ever take it from her grasp.

I’ll say it all another way. In the dark of winter, four SOLA students were lights in their home province. It’s an image I’ll never lose sight of.

Shabana Basij-Rasikh