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After fleeing Afghanistan, her educational journey continues

Apr 22, 2022
5 min Read
Eugene Curtin
Kabul International Airport

All she had was a letter.

But it was enough.

Enough to pierce the turmoil and chaos of Afghanistan’s Kabul Airport, enough to make her case heard above the din of thousands seeking escape as the Taliban assumed control of the city, enough to persuade Italian soldiers to usher her through the gates, on to an airplane and to safety in southern Italy.

Katrina (not her real name) is safe now, and in the quiet and security of an apartment, with support from the Italian government, is resuming a Creighton University long-distance learning program that will see her graduate in August with a bachelor’s degree in leadership.

It has been, she says, as she reflects on the six months since she escaped the pandemonium of Kabul Airport, “a long journey.”

Katrina, 23, is enrolled in a global education program conducted by Jesuit Refugee Service and by Jesuit Worldwide Learning, which, according to its mission statement, seeks to transform the world by providing “equitable high-quality tertiary learning to people and communities at the margins of societies.”

These agencies provided her with a letter that described her plight and assured Italian authorities she would be welcomed by the JRS program in Italy. JWL personnel accompanied her to the airport, she says, to back up her account.

I had a letter from JWL and JRS explaining everything about who I was, and so, because of that, they helped us to come to Italy.
— “Katrina”

During a Zoom appointment on a recent Italian morning, as cars honked noisily outside her apartment, Katrina put her inspirational story into words.

“I left on a military plane,” she says. “We were among about 2,000 or 3,000 people trying to get to the gate at the airport. Our organization talked with some Italian soldiers, and they took us inside the airport. I had a letter from JWL and JRS explaining everything about who I was, and so, because of that, they helped us to come to Italy.”

She said four other JWL students fled Afghanistan with her.

Katrina’s story began in 2018, in central Afghanistan’s mountainous Bamyan Province, where she first encountered the Society of Jesus’ worldwide educational outreach program. She soon earned a diploma in liberal studies with a concentration in business from the Jesuit Regis University in Denver. That credential allowed her to enroll in Creighton’s Bachelor of Science in Leadership program, which she conducted at odd hours (Afghanistan is 10 ½ hours ahead of Omaha) with the dedicated and patient support of numerous Creighton faculty. She was expected to graduate in May but will now graduate in August after the delay caused by the disruptions in her homeland.

In the meantime, she was inducted into Nu Tau Epsilon, Creighton’s chapter of Alpha Sigma Lambda, the honor society for nontraditional students.

My family has been very important. They have allowed me, as a girl, to study and they have encouraged me to do what I like to do.
— “Katrina”

The goal of the JWL program for individuals graduating from partnering universities and colleges is that they provide educational opportunities in their native lands. To meet that requirement, Katrina and two other teachers managed a JWL Community Learning Center in Daikundi Province, where they taught JWL’s Global English Learning program (GEL). That program continues for the present, Katrina says, with women teaching girls, but given the Taliban’s track record forbidding the education of girls and women, the future is unknown.

As far as her future is concerned, Katrina says, a return to Afghanistan is at least five years distant as she pursues a master’s degree and a job. She has 10 family members back home, she says, who need support to maintain their human dignity.

“My family has been very important,” she says. “They have allowed me, as a girl, to study and they have encouraged me to do what I like to do. There are other girls whose fathers and mothers do not allow them to do that because of cultural problems and because they think, very traditionally, that if girls go out into society it will not be good for their families.

“My father never took the position that his daughter should not study.

“I need to support them. There are no jobs for people in Afghanistan. No one in my family is working right now, so I would like to do something, get a part time job to support them and send them some money.”