In Her Own Words: An Honest Letter From a Scholarship Student
“Tajik women must be educated for a healthy and a happy life. An educated woman can be a better human being, successful mother, and a responsible citizen.” These words come from Ayperi Kubanichbekova, a shining example of determination and passion for learning exhibited by CAI scholarship students and an example of why we need to keep girls in school.
Each year CAI provides scholarships to hundreds of students in Afghanistan, Pakistan, and Tajikistan. These students, ranging in age from kindergarten to Ph.D. level, are some of the brightest minds in their countries. However, poverty, physical hardships, war, and other barriers outside of their control could stop them from earning an education. These students, like Ayperi, represent future leaders, ambassadors, and peacekeepers.
“Scholarships provide an opportunity for people to get an education,” says Mahbuba Qurbonalieva director of CAI-Tajikistan, CAI’s in-country partner. “Without assistance from an outside source, students like Ayperi may have problems to pay their tuition fees and will have to stop their education and forget about their dreams.”
Scholarships Keep Girls In School
Ayperi was born in Tajikistan’s rural Murghab district in 1993. When she was two her parents divorced, and her mother was left to raise Ayperi on her own in a country embroiled in civil war. From 1992 through 1997 war raged through Tajikistan, destroying much of its economic infrastructure, and leaving its citizens in extreme poverty. Today the country still has one of the lowest GDPs in the world.
“The political situation was quite tense in 1993 people were in a sort of crisis,” remembers Ayperi. “My mom had no money, so it was pretty hard time.”
Ayperi never attended kindergarten but jumped at the chance to go to school in the first grade in Murghab. She worked hard, earning top grades and dreaming of adventures outside of her small town. When she graduated from 10th grade (in Tajikistan students attend school from 1st to 10th grade) Ayperi applied to the Future Leaders Exchange Program (FLEX) to study in the U.S. Soon after, she found herself in a California high school as the first FLEX student from Tajikistan.
“I will never forget my first day in U.S.A, Fresno City, California,” she says. “At my school there were so many students of different nationalities: African-Americans, Hmong, Chinese, Koreans, Mexicans, Armenians, and Russians. It was quite exciting to meet people from all around the world. It made me proud of being a representative of my little country in the U.S.A.”
After her year abroad, fresh with knowledge and excitement, Ayperi found herself back in Tajikistan and determined to go back to school to study English. Her mother took out a hefty loan for her first year, but, the family could not pay it back and the bank refused another loan for the second year.
Ayperi’s story could have ended right here, without the money to go to school and with her family trapped by debt.
However, CAI-T offered her a scholarship to continue her English studies in Khorog at the Aga Khan Lycée. She graduated with her advanced degree this year, but her journey as a leader is just beginning.
Just like her mother, she has her sights set on being a lawyer. “Studying law gives to women freedom of thought and also helps in raising the status of women. It broadens their outlook and makes them aware of their duties and responsibilities. She can fight against evils such as domestic violence, and dowry demand.”
She’s making plans and looking into schools, and when she’s ready, she’ll apply for another CAI scholarship to help her through. Until then, she’s dedicating her time to helping women in rural areas of Tajikistan recognize their rights and inspiring her community to keep girls in school.
Using Her Skills To Help Her Community
Ayperi is working as a community mobilizer on a campaign called “Promoting local decision making among non-state actors for sustainable de-centralized pasture management in Murgab” organized by the Agency for Technical Cooperation and Development (ACTED).
“Now she is applying her knowledge in practice, working with ACTED as social mobilizer. We are proud of such [students like Ayperi], because we did not believe that she will be back to Murgab to serve her people, as life condition in Murgab is bad due to its weather and remoteness of this region,” says Mahbuba.
Ayperi’s job is to inform women in rural areas of their rights to access natural resources like farmland and water sources. She distributes booklets on women’s equality and tries to advise these women that they have a stake in sustainable land management and farming.
“Because of cultural practices, there is a lack of women’s engagement and participation in decision making and community-based organizations. Even more so with regards to holding key positions in natural resource management structures,” she explains. “Women also face specific constraints when it comes to their rights as users of natural resources such as land and pasture.”
One Scholarship Impacts a Whole Community
Ayperi represents the thousands of thinkers, activists, and problem solvers whose stories will be cut short without scholarships. Even in the most rural and poor villages, there are children desperate for knowledge. By covering tuition, room, board, and expenses like medical insurance, these young minds are gaining the skills they need to break barriers. When you keep girls in school, they become role models for their communities and bring their knowledge back to help other young students and families.
“Those students who get scholarship to continue their education will always try to help other students in need to get education too,” says Mahbuba. “If every student in need got a scholarship the rate of illiteracy in Tajikistan would decrease, and those who had an opportunity to get high education will contribute to the development of their country.”
This year CAI is working to fund more than 700 scholarships for students in Afghanistan, Pakistan, and Tajikistan. To find out more about students like Ayperi and our scholarship program, check out our campaign page and read the latest Footsteps magazine.
Ayperi is thankful for the help she and others are receiving to follow their dreams, “I am grateful for CAI for taking care of girls from the remote areas and helping them to fulfill their dreams, I hope the results of my study will [bring you] hope.”