"I am Manizha, a 15-year-old 10th-grader from the land of beliefs, the land of love and knowledge.... I have worked so hard to achieve my beautiful dream, but today I am confined in a prison called home."
Manizha has big dreams -- she wants to become a physician and serve the people of her native northern Afghanistan. But like many school-aged girls in the country, her hopes are fading following the reintroduction of severe restrictions on the rights of girls and women since the Taliban retook power a year ago.
On the August 15 anniversary of the Taliban takeover, RFE/RL's Radio Azadi has compiled drawings, photographs, and passages of letters sent by schoolgirls from around the country. The girls' firsthand takes on their situation, carefully put to paper through writing or art, provide a window into the seclusion of their daily lives and the despair that is slowly eroding their aspirations.
To protect the schoolgirls' identities, RFE/RL is using only their first names and has edited images to ensure their faces and signatures are not visible.
A year ago, Afghan girls would be preparing for the new school year. But that annual rite of passage was taken away when Taliban militants stormed Kabul on August 15, 2021, formed a government, and started issuing decrees in keeping with the group's strict interpretation of Islam. Among them was a ban on girls in grades six to 12 from attending school.
"I spent the winter days happy at the thought that we might be going to school again soon, but they took away the right to go to school from me and people like me," writes Manizha.
"We live in a place where we cannot raise our voice. We are tired of not going to school," she adds. "The opponents of education should know this! No one can make laws for us, just as you cannot take away our right to breathe air, you cannot take away our education, because education is our right."
Kobra is a ninth-grade student in the city of Firozkoh, located in the central Ghor Province.
"Unfortunately they closed schools for girls and these last 10 months have been like 10 years to us," she wrote in June. "We have lost our hope for the future. The difficulties of the future appear before our eyes like a living image. Every time I think about the future, I wish that I was not in this world; our mental state is very damaged."
The 16-year-old alludes to suggestions made by the Taliban since coming to power that it would consider allowing girls to return to school, an opportunity accorded to university-aged women after an initial ban.
"Many times the Islamic emirate has said that the doors of schools will be opened and girls can continue their studies," she writes. "But we don't think that we will achieve our dreams."
Kobra keeps herself busy helping her mother out with the housework, sewing children's clothes, embroidering, and crocheting.
"But the future is not in our hands," she writes. "The only thing we can do is to pray, and we always pray that our future is not taken away from us."
Maryam is a cyclist whose athletic career was cut short when the Taliban and its strict interpretation of Islam made no allowances for women's sports.
Like other girls who have the opportunity, the 11th-grader from Kabul Province tries to continue her studies with private lessons, and she attends English lessons every morning.
After that, she writes, does housework and homework "to alleviate my suffocation," and follows domestic and foreign news to keep herself informed on women's rights issues and the outside world's support for Afghan women.
"Sometimes I miss it so much," she says of her old life, recalling that she was on the cusp of traveling abroad with her cycling team and was employed at a hair salon before the Taliban barred women from working outside the home.
Unable to continue her hobbies and work, she writes, she practices her hairdressing skills at home with her sister.
Marzieh, a ninth-grader from an undisclosed area of Afghanistan, spends much of her time at her family's bakery and doing chores at home.
"Afghanistan itself is a country that has fought for the future," she writes. But the arrival of the Taliban, which was infamous for its human rights abuses and hard-line Islamic rule during its first stint in power from 1996 to 2001, "has caused the closure of our schools and thousands of female students have been displaced from their homes."
"We need an education, but the Taliban denied us this because according to their Islam it is a sin for girls to study after the sixth grade. We girls will never approve of these words, because God created everyone equal," Marzieh says. "We used to go to school and study with passion. But after the schools were closed we all became very depressed and faced many problems."
"Personally, I wanted to become a doctor and serve my country, but I didn't succeed. I studied for nine years, but it was useless, I ended up staying at home," she concludes in her handwritten letter. "In general, I had a lot of dreams. It's a pity that I missed out on an education. I missed out on everything."
Monawara should be entering the 11th grade at a Sufi school in Kabul Province. Instead she bides her time at home washing dishes, cleaning the kitchen, and praying.
To reduce stress she writes to Radio Azadi, tries to read one hour a day, and then tunes in to the news in the evening.
"Every day I await news about the opening of the schools and programs related to women's rights. I am tired of domestic news because we don't have any good and hopeful news," she says. "Apart from war, suicide, explosions, and the deprivation and condemnation of women, the Taliban has nothing to do."
She, like Maryam, used to be involved in cycling.
"I always think that it was a dream and it went away. I tremble and have terrible dreams that the Taliban will come to our house and we will have to hide," Monawara writes. "Since the dark day of the fall of Kabul I have had mental and emotional problems and am being treated by a psychologist."
Nahid, an 18-year-old from Kabul Province, opens her letter to RFE/RL with a saying: "If you have worked hard and still haven't seen results, remember that the fruit of the tree is the last thing that grows on the tree."
The 12th-grader follows a daily routine of studying, prayer, chores, private lessons, and doing her homework. After that she begins painting, having a "little fun," and then more studying.
"After being deprived of the blessing of literacy, I endure very difficult and unmotivated days," she writes. "I have completely lost the motivation I had for going to school and for my future."
She believes she has become a psychotic, has forgotten her schooling, and has become completely illiterate.
Her current situation, she writes, is out of her hands and is being determined by others.
"I had many friends at school. Even our professors were our friends and trained us with a completely Islamic and humane spirit," she recalls. "Every moment of the school was enjoyable for us because our professors, along with their lessons and the teaching staff, trained us in the spirit of patriotism and being kind to people."
Parwana is an eighth-grader from the central Ghor Province, whose dreams sometimes conflict with her nightmarish reality.
"I had a dream one night that I went to school and visited with my classmates in the schoolyard and in the classroom. Maybe the best dream," she writes. "When I awoke I drew this picture, which shows that the school gate is locked."
Parwana tells Radio Azadi that she believes the Taliban are afraid of educated women.
"Why should a woman not study? Where is it mentioned in the book of Islam, the holy Koran, that women should not study?" she asks. "Almighty God has ordered men and women to read and learn."
Her family cannot afford to pay for private schooling and, not being able to study, Parwana says, has "damaged my mental health." She describes constant pressure on her mind and spirit that she admits leads her to yell at her mother sometimes.
But she also recognizes the wisdom of her elders.
"My great-grandmother says that where there is no unity and agreement, whether it is in a house, a village, a city, or a country, it will become a ruin," Parwana says.
"Even now this country looks like a ruin," she laments. "Blocked educational facilities, the lack of health services, murder, theft, looting, and hundreds of other ugly things. I always confide in my God, and I always ask him to lead our country to peace."
Sahar, an 11th-grader from the southwestern Nimroz Province, says Afghanistan always had problems, but "still, we went to school, we studied, we wanted to build our own future."
She recalls the excitement she had preparing for the first day of the school year and cannot understand why the Taliban has not allowed girls to go to school since taking over.
"We have no hope for life," Sahar writes. "I wanted to become a doctor and serve my people in the future, but unfortunately our fate is unknown at the moment -- whether the Islamic emirate will allow us to study or not."
She describes living in confusion at home, where she keeps her mind and hands busy with handicrafts like embroidery.
"The voice through the fog is not only mine, but also that of thousands of other girl students who are unable to study," Sahar says.
Saahida is an 11th grader from Parwan Province, located north of the Afghan capital.
"I am very sad because I can no longer go to school and study," the 17-year-old writes. "It's hard. The days are spent in great difficulty," she writes. "In past years I was going to school. I was studying and seeing my friends and sisters."
Now, Saahida says, she spends her days facing problems.
"Every day is worse for me than the previous day. At the beginning of the year, I was very hopeful that we would be allowed to go to school and continue our studies," she says. "I had prepared a lot and I was looking forward to going to school, studying, and getting closer to my goals."
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When she went to the school after it appeared the Taliban might allow it, however, she was not allowed to enter.
"I returned home very disappointed. Since that day I don't have any hope anymore," Saahida admits, saying she had once wanted to be a doctor.
"Now I think that I will never realize these desires," her letter concludes. "I suffer with these desires and goals every day. I say to myself that maybe I will take these dreams to the grave with me."
Zahra, from north of Kabul, says that "this year is one of the worst years of my life."
"I am a 12th-grade student who had hoped that this would be the last year of my education and that I would finish school and pass my entrance examination and be able to study in my favorite field, law, and finish university," the 18-year-old writes.
"Our hopes and dreams were buried," Zahra says of the Taliban's ban on girls' education. "After this, we have no hope that the schools will be opened again for us."
She says she turns to God and asks: "Why is such injustice happening to the women and girls of my land; why are our lives being played with? How long will we be in a state of destitution?"