‘My son said that the kidnappers had told him to warn me to stop working otherwise I would face severe consequences.
That was the last time I spoke to my son.’
Parween runs a girls’ school in Laghman province, Afghanistan. Because of her, education has brought hope and opportunity to many girls in the region – hope that was denied for years under Taliban rule. But it has also made Parween a target for attacks from militia groups in the area.
‘My son left home in his car on Friday morning and said he’d come back soon. When he didn’t come back we called him, but his phone was off. We started to worry he’d had an accident. By evening we had started to panic and the whole village was searching for him. We couldn’t sleep all night. We had no news from the hospital, traffic accident department or police. It was the longest night of my life.’
On a Friday in April 2009, Parween’s 18-year old son Hamayoon left home and never came back. When they finally got the phone call from the kidnappers, it was clear that Hamayoon was being punished for his parent’s work.
‘The kidnappers said “If your wife can open a girls’ high school, if she can afford to teach and spoil the girls, and if you can work for foreigners at the UN, you can afford to pay us the ransom.” But we couldn’t afford the money they were asking.
‘They handed the phone to my son. He asked me to come and take him back home. He said the kidnappers had told him to warn my husband and I to stop working, otherwise we would face severe consequences. That was the last time I spoke to my son. I was numb and in shock.’
Parween and her husband frantically searched for their teenage son. They kept calling the police and security forces for any sign of Hamayoon. They started checking morgues.
‘We even opened some unknown graves to search for my son’s body. We saw corpses half-eaten by animals, rotten bodies, some corpses with ropes around their necks, some strangled, some with bullet wounds. We suffered a lot of torment searching for Hamayoon.’
After 14 months of searching and waiting, they got the call. This time it was the police. Hamayoon’s body had been found by nomads in the desert. A heavy rain had flooded the desert, and washed her son’s corpse down from the hills.
Hamayoon’s teenage body was punctuated with bullets in his chest and stomach. He had been dead for three months.
Nowhere is safe
‘Before my son was kidnapped we received threatening phone calls and night letters warning me to stop working in girls’ education.’
Parween has lived out the reality of that awful threat. And she’s continues to get calls from the kidnappers even now. They are threatening to kill her other children.
‘We don’t feel safe anymore now, and we don’t know what to do.’
She says she feels like crying all the time. They’ve moved house many times but never been left in peace. Every sound at the front door brings terror: ‘My children are always scared, even in their sleep.’
And all because Parween is a teacher.
Girls' education was banned under Taliban rule, and members of the Taliban and other militia groups continue to punish women and men who bring education and equality to girls in some parts of Afghanistan.
Targeted for empowering girls to know their rights
‘I don’t know why they are threatened by education and teaching people to read and write, helping their children to have a better future.
‘Maybe they are scared of women’s empowerment. Education is about empowerment. And if you are empowered you will ask for your rights – you will fight for them.’
Despite her loss and suffering, Parween won’t stop bringing hope and empowerment to girls in her region.
‘My main goal is to serve the people of this country by promoting education for children and rebuilding the country.
‘Despite the cruelty to me and my son, I will not give up on education. I will continue working and educating girls in this country because education is empowerment.’