Saturday, April 4, 2015

Important People I Would Not Have Known Without YES, Day 1: Zahra Yousofi

When I saw Zahra sitting in the Poudre High School library over four years ago, something inside me was compelled to speak to her. I didn’t know, at that time, but I was seeing someone who would change my life. Zahra Yousofi was one of the members of YES Afghanistan 2010-2011, the last YES group from Afghanistan. I was a high school student unsatisfied with the day to day conversations of most of my peers.

Zahra and I, we talked. We talked about love, life, Afghanistan, God, women’s rights, and so many other things. We roamed Bellvue, Colorado, just west of my hometown, Laporte, admiring the beauty of the place. We really only hung out for a few months, lamenting, as exchange students often do, that we hadn’t connected earlier. But after going home to Afghanistan for the summer and spending a semester at boarding school in New Jersey, Zahra came to Colorado to visit. Inspired by her, I was on the application journey for YES Abroad. Ever since then, I’ve know that the end of an exchange does not mark the end of a friendship. Exchange is the catalyst for life-long friendships. After returning from Ghana, my American friends grew distant, in a way. I always knew I could call Zahra if I needed her.

Zahra and I have always laughed about the diversity of our backgrounds (one the one hand) and the alignment of our interests (on the other). Even our names are similar (people with certain accents call us both Sah-ra). We are both sophomores in college now in different parts of the United States. After not talking for a year, we decided to Skype two weeks ago. As I asked Zahra about her summer plans, she described her desire to start a women’s project in Afghanistan focused on trade education. She mentioned that if she could, she would buy sewing machines for the women. Zahra knew she had to do something for Afghan women, because she had made a promise. I froze, shivering a little. Not a week before, I’d written this blog post about my NGO in Ghana, Enliven Mama Africa: (The post describes my commitment to trade education for women in Ghana, and the promise that fueled it. Zahra had not seen any of my work related to Enliven Mama Africa.)

It seems that our different experiences over the past few years are driving Zahra and me in the same direction. If it were not for YES—

We might still be dreaming. Instead, we are working, with each other’s encouragement and blessing. I have a friend loves me and who is not afraid to challenge me.

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