The right to an education is article 26 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Sadly, like all the other articles, this is often ignored, particularly for women.
In some countries, girls are not only denied an education but are threatened if they try to obtain one. Last year IFLScience heard the story of Lema, an Afghan girl who stopped going to school after her life was threatened, but taught herself to read English at home from a newspaper. From the age of 13 Lema used the power of the Internet to access online education systems from home, and she fell in love with physics and mathematics, spending years developing her knowledge of these fields as well as could be done remotely.
Afghanistan doesn’t have a SAT testing site, so the only way Lema could win entry to American universities was to be smuggled into Pakistan. The trip was so hazardous family members tried to get her to give up on her dream of studying abroad, but an uncle agreed to take her on a trip he was making for other reasons. The journey was so long that when she arrived the site was full, but SAT management decided if ever there was a time to bend the rules this was it, and allowed her to sit the test.
Despite her lack of formal education, Lema did well enough that she was offered a place at several American universities. Unfortunately, her initial attempts to get a visa to study in America were rejected.
We first heard about Lema’s story through a lobbying campaign to get her visa approved, combined with fundraising to pay for travel and tuition. We wanted to get behind this campaign. However, publicity about her story also attracted the attention of enemies of girls’ education, and there were fears of reprisals against her family. Additional media was thought likely to increase the danger, so naturally, we didn’t run anything.
Now, a year later, we are delighted to learn Lema has made it to a university in America, and is loving it, although we still can’t use her real name as fears of reprisals to her family are still ongoing. She has even been granted a full scholarship, so is no longer seeking financial support. On the other hand, she does want to inspire other girls to know what is possible, and sent us the letter to her former self, published on the next page, in the hope it can reach others who are told maths and physics are not for them.
As you can imagine, we are deeply honored that she chose IFLScience to get her message to the world, and to learn she loves reading us.