I don't know quite how to start this post. So I think I will start with what inspired it -- if "inspired" is a word I can even use in this context. An article
from the August 31st edition of the New York Times
with the headline: "Gas Sickened Girls in Afghan Schools." (The photo I've attached here appeared in the NYT.)
"Blood tests have confirmed that a mysterious series of cases of mass sickness at girls’ schools across the country over the last two years were caused by a powerful poison gas," the article begins. "Testing the blood of victims in 10 mass sickenings...confirmed the presence of toxic but not fatal levels of organophosphates. Those compounds are widely used in insecticides and herbicides, and are also the active ingredients of compounds developed as chemical weapons, including sarin and VX gas."
It then went on to say that the Afghan government contended that it "remains a mystery" whether the pumping of this poison into schools full of young girls was "deliberate."
And then this: "Many local officials had dismissed the cases as episodes of mass hysteria provoked by acid and arson attacks on schoolgirls by Taliban fighters and others who objected to their education. But the cases have been reported only in girls’ schools, or in mixed schools during hours set aside only for girls."
Let's get this straight. Compounds widely used in chemical weapons, including sarin and VX gas, have been pumped into girls' schools TEN TIMES over the last two years (and apparently two more incidences occurred during the last week of August, sending 119 girls to the hospital), causing girls and their teachers to display "classic symptoms of organophosphate poisoning...known by the diagnostic mnemonic of Sludge, the symptoms include salivation, lacrimation (tearing), urinary distress, diarrhea, gastrointestinal upset and emesis (vomiting)," and the Afghan government is actually saying it isn't clear if this is "deliberate," and for two years local officials have dismissed these cases as "mass hysteria" caused by -- oh those "hysterical" girls -- arson and acid attacks
on girls daring to go to school, carried out by people who "object" to their education?
Object? Object? Is that really the word?
How about hate? Loathe? Murderously oppose? And what is it about a girl getting an education that causes people to want to burn
her, with fire or with acid; what is so threatening about a girl reading and writing that anyone, anywhere, would pump poison f-ing gas into the environment where this apparently terrible, intolerable, unconscionable activity was taking place?
Reading this and then watching New York light up with school children this morning, boys and girls alike wearing backpacks and carrying lunches in brightly colored boxes, I wanted to say to each and every one of them: "Do you know how lucky you are?" Because there are places -- and I wish I never had to tell my two sons this, but I will -- where a girl going to school is a girl risking her life, walking a terror-filled gauntlet that at any moment could cause her horrible pain, disfigurement, or death...and she goes anyway
. And I want to say to them: "Do you know how powerful reading and writing are?" So powerful that people who don't want YOU to have power will stop at nothing to prevent you from ever reading or writing one single word
. That's how much an education matters. And that's how important it is for girls to get one. And that's why we owe it to those girls to do everything we can to help them.
If this horrifies, angers, and sickens you, as it did me, I want you to do three things with me.
1) Make that article viral.
Post it on your Facebook feed. Post it on Twitter. Post it every damn place you can. Make it unavoidable. Make it so everyone you know will have had it forwarded to them fifty times.
2) Don't just post the article and stop there. Be sure to ask people to take a simple, powerful action to support our sisters in Afghanistan: donate TODAY
to the Afghan Women's Writing Project
. Begun by She Writer Masha Hamilton (who blogged about the project
for us last summer), "the project engages generous, talented women author/teachers here in the United States who volunteer, on a rotating basis, to teach Afghan women online from Afghanistan." Anything helps. No donation is too small.
3) Take a moment out of your day to provide feedback
to an Afghan woman writer on work she has posted to the site. As the AWWP team says, "your responses mean a lot to them." Truly, I don't think we can even understand how much.
I hope you will do these three things today. I hope you will do it for 15-year-old Waheeda Amiri, who, with her four sisters, was sickened in an attack.
“School builds our future,” she said. “I was worried my family wouldn’t let us come back, but my father said we should. Whatever they do to us, we are going to keep coming.”
Show her that there are places in the world where women write without fear. Give her hope that one day, she will live in one too.