Freshta – ‘I Will Not Give up on the Kindness of People’ by Julia Hall 2024

(Freshta, Afghanistan – 120 x 80cm)

Freshta arrived in the UK from Afghanistan in October 2021, aged 30. In 2016 she had studied for her master’s degree at Somerville College, Oxford, before returning to Kabul. Somerville became one of the UK’s first University Colleges of Sanctuary in 2021, and as such was able to help Freshta escape and return to Oxford when the Taliban took control of her country.

The sanctuary provided allows Freshta to continue her work. She is the Director of Charmaghz Mobile Libraries, a charity which provides mobile library services to children in Kabul. Because it provides primary education, women are still allowed to work for the organisation, and girls are still allowed to learn. In November 2021, she addressed the UN Security Council with an impassioned plea to take steps to end the cycle of violence in her home country.

Freshta described to me how one day in Kabul she woke up, and suddenly the Taliban – who had been a distant idea – were all around, in their cafes and their streets. Her family were happy that she left as she was outspoken and they were frightened for her. There was an abrupt discontinuation of what her life looked like, and she is starting again – dreams are connected with geography, and when your dreams and expectations of life have been taken away, you start questioning everything. The first time she heard herself referred to as a ‘refugee’ she thought ‘are you talking about me?’, she probably feels more as though she is in exile, rather than a refugee.

Her family had already been exiled from 1996 to 2002 because of the Taliban. They spent those years in Pakistan, and her mother associated her happiness with returning to Afghanistan so they didn’t put down any roots. Freshta learned then that we are not our countries, that we shouldn’t sacrifice ourselves by tying ourself to one country. There is a Persian poet, Sohrab Sepeheri, who writes: “Don’t close the window to the light” – this has become very important to her. She is experiencing trauma, but has to let in moments of joy. It is not always a useful question asking yourself ‘where are my roots?’.

Finding yourself in a position where you need help for very basic things can hurt your ego, but it is the small acts of kindness which can make you feel at home, and part of a new community. Freshta told me: “I am not grateful for losing so much, and being constantly thankful can feel exhausting, but I am learning to embrace uncertainty. I will not give up on the kindness of people”. People have to know that privilege comes not just from hard work, but also from history and luck – the luck of being born in a country whose history has brought it to this point. The Taliban have given women a common agenda, and there is a strong feeling of sisterhood as women in Afghanistan become more politically conscious. Many of the people who helped her to leave were women from across the world, and there has been much solidarity from the international female community. We need to act together and collectively.

This scarf was a present from a dear friend – “she helped me with extraordinary grace and humility, in a deep way like a sister would”.

SKU JU/HA008 Artist

Additional information

Dimensions 120 × 80 cm

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