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Seattle nonprofit educating girls in Afghanistan worries women's rights are in danger

Sahar has educated thousands of Afghan women since 2001. Now, the nonprofit is fearful for the future of women in the country as the Taliban seize power.

SEATTLE — As the Taliban takes back control of Afghanistan after President Joe Biden announced the withdrawal of U.S. troops from the country, people in Seattle and across the world are watching, wondering what's next.

The Taliban had taken the country once before in the late-1990s, but when the U.S. invaded Afghanistan following 9/11, the group was taken out of power as a western-backed government attempted to take its place.

Now, with the withdrawal of troops after two decades of war and the Taliban taking back power, many worry about what's next for human rights, especially women's rights, with the group's history of following harsh interpretations of Islamic law.

The Seattle-based nonprofit Sahar has been working to educate girls in Afghanistan since a little after 9/11. Now, the nonprofit is fearful of the future for women in the country.

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"I don't know how to express my feelings. It's something of nightmares. I can see that the thing I had feared, I experienced in my lifetime, is happening again," said Shogofa, who was born in Afghanistan and now works for Sahar. She asked to only be identified by her first name to protect her family living in Afghanistan.

Growing up in Afghanistan, she remembers the Taliban taking over her home city Mazar-i-Sharif in 1996 when she was 7 years old. She said she wasn't allowed to attend school, wasn't allowed outside alone, and, as a woman, she was forced to stay home.

"There was so much fear and violence," said Shogofa.

She's spent her adult life trying to stop history from repeating itself. Shogofa found a passion for education, and working with Sahar has allowed her to help educate girls in Afghanistan.

"[We teach them] about leadership, about giving women hope and giving them opportunity for jobs and giving the women tools to be independent," explained Shogofa.

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Thousands of girls have received education from Sahar. The nonprofit has programs ranging from teacher training to early-marriage prevention. Shogofa worries now many women's futures are unknown and in jeopardy.

"They had the dreams to be a doctor. They had the dreams to be a nurse, their dreams to be engineers, their dreams to be part of their country to build their country," said Shogofa. "It just breaks my heart to see that my country is bleeding."

The nonprofit said it's working now to ensure the safety of its staff in Afghanistan. It also plans to use its resources for humanitarian aid. The nonprofit expects to see a tremendous need for affordable food for the people in Mazar-i-Sharif.

It also plans to put pressure on U.S. politicians to protect women's rights in Afghanistan.

Shogofa said her dream is to finish building a boarding school for girls living in rural parts of Afghanistan. The nonprofit said the project is on pause.