Afghan Love Stories and Valentine’s Day Fairytales
Nasrine Gross’s story is a real-life fairytale. She grew up an afghan during the “Golden Age of Progress” in Afghanistan, met her Iowa-born husband in Beirut, moved to America to raise a family, then started her own nonprofit organization. She is also Central Asia Institute’s newest board member.
While her life has been filled with challenges, love, and adventure, Nasrine isn’t taking her good fortune for granted. Instead, she dedicates her life to helping women and men in her home country write their own stories. Whether or not those stories will have happy endings has yet to be seen.
This Valentine’s Day we want to share the story of one woman’s love for education, and how she is working with couples in Afghanistan, helping them learn and grow stronger together.
Couples That Study Together, Stay Together
For more than 20 years, Nasrine Gross has been a pioneer in educational programming and a champion of women’s rights. Her nonprofit organization, Kabultec, provides literacy classes for husbands and wives in Kabul. The group’s work was highlighted in the most recent Journey of Hope magazine:
[Kabultec has] an innovative approach not seen anywhere else in the country. The courses allow 10 couples at a time to meet in their neighborhoods to learn to read, write, and do arithmetic. Eventually they delve into historical and social issues. At the end of the one-year course, students are performing at a third-grade level. The second year program is the equivalent of the fourth grade.
Couples are the key to the program’s success, says Nasrine. If only husbands attend class and become literate, then women will continue to be bypassed by society. If only wives attend class, husbands may not understand the importance of their studies and offer resistance. So, Kabultec teaches both together.
The course, however, had unanticipated results. The year-long classes are successfully creating a more literate society, however, they are also unexpectedly strengthening marriages and giving couples tools to resolve disagreements peacefully.
“We give only one textbook per couple,” Nasrine explains. “So they have to work with each other in order to finish their homework. And also they come to know that fighting and quarreling is not the way to solve a problem. Talking and writing are the way to go…It has really affected them very positively. They don’t quarrel, they talk to each other.”
She continues, “The couples say ‘before we used to fight, and now we don’t have time to fight. We come home and we have to do our homework.”
Learning and Luck Equal Love
For Nasrine, education and relationships have always been intertwined, both professionally and personally.
In college, after placing third on an exam at Kabul University, she was given the opportunity to study at the American University of Beirut in Lebanon. That’s where she met her future husband, Max.
“I was actually the president of the bridge club and he was a bridge player. At the tournament we were paired as partners, you know, and so he and I were partners and the rest is history.”
Years later, she still marvels at her luck.
“What are the chances of someone from Iowa and someone from Afghanistan ever meeting? It’s very unusual. I’m very happy that I ran into this Iowa guy. We got married in 1968. So is it 49 years? It’s very nice. I recommend marriage.”
Love can be found through textbooks and working together.
Once Upon A Time
Although she met her husband in college, Nasrine says her work with Kabultec is more so a legacy of her father and mother.
“My father and mother were the first – literally the first – Afghan couple with both the husband and wife as graduates of Afghan high school. It’s really a very important event in the history of Afghanistan. My mom was one of the first six girls who graduated from high school for the first time.”
They met through a serendipitous chain of events.
“My mom was at the time in 10th or 11th grade and had problems in sciences – calculus, algebra, and physics – and my dad’s PhD was in physics and mathematics. So, her brothers hired him to be her private tutor. And the way she reported it, they fell in love the first night.”
Having two educated parents meant Nasrine had a dynamic, scholastic upbringing.
“My house, as a result of these two marrying, we had the most educated of Kabul come to our house. They were not necessarily very wealthy people, but they were the most educated. So it was like a grandiose salon of beautiful ideas, of books, of progress. All these things that in the early 1950s, after the Second World War, coming into being in the world. Extremely exciting. And with it, of course, all these ideals and aspirations for Afghanistan.”
Nasrine’s students will keep her parents’ dream alive for the next generation of Afghan people. It is her greatest hope that literacy will give the couples in her program the power to take control of their destinies and mold the future of their country into something beautiful.
Love can come in many forms. This Valentine’s Day share your love with women and men halfway around the world – read a book in honor of someone fighting for their right to literacy; pen a Valentine to a student working for a brighter future; afghan or not, share your own education love story in the comments below. We can’t wait to hear it.
Happy Valentine’s Day!