“My future is uncertain and worrying”
Amidst her changing country, one UNICEF ‘Changemaker’ reflects on her future as an athlete and as a woman in Afghanistan
MAZAR-E-SHARIF, AFGHANISTAN – Fatima was born with a disability which confines her to a wheelchair. When she started school, she endured bullying and insults. She would often come home crying.
But her parents were supportive, and Fatima refused to give up on herself. In 2018, she joined a wheelchair basketball team organized by a community organization in Mazar, and she even captained the wheelchair running team. For four years, she led the basketball team, empowering herself and other girls with disabilities.
“When I first started playing basketball, I found it very challenging and I thought I would not be able to continue doing it,” said Fatima.
“But after learning basketball, people told me I was a role model for others, especially children with disabilities. When I heard that, I felt so proud, and I continued playing.”
In May 2021, UNICEF engaged Fatima in the “Changemakers” initiative, aiming to amplify young voices, encouraging girls like Fatima to speak up and speak out on issues that affect her.
One day a month, Changemakers like Fatima took over UNICEF Afghanistan social media platforms, giving a platform where she could highlight the importance of sports and education for young girls, discuss equity for young people with disabilities, and more.
“I felt really proud when UNICEF selected me as a Changemaker to share my thoughts on social media,” Fatima recalls.
“I was happy to use UNICEF platforms to talk about the challenges of children with disabilities, and the issues they face in their everyday lives.”
Unfortunately, after August 2021, girls in Afghanistan were no longer allowed to play sports, especially in public.
“I was shocked when I heard that I could not continue practicing basketball,” Fatima lamented. “My dream was crushed. My tongue stopped and I could not say anything. It was a very painful moment for me, and I thought for a moment that my whole future was destroyed.”
Fatima’s nine teammates were also devastated.
“Currently, they feel hopeless and desperate,” Fatima said. “We worked for four years to build our team and improve our skills, but we lost everything in just a few days.”
She lost her captaincy. She lost basketball. She lost her teammates.
Fatima has begun to adjust to her new challenges and is currently preparing for Kankor, a university entrance exam for a private institution. She hopes to be come a journalist.
“If I could at least continue my studies, I could become a strong female journalist. I will not give up.”