Whenever I review my life, it seems like a story to me. My imagination and future dreams are part of me. I call my dreams my inner little girl. I always have a deep connection with this little girl. It is very joyful to see that little girl living her future.

Sometimes I sit alone and take a moment to review my past. I try to reflect on what happened and what helped me. It seems that I have always had a hunger for knowledge, a strong vision about my future, and the ability to rely on myself to seek solutions for my problems.

I think of the times that I would steal my brother’s schoolbooks and pens and draw pictures and lines. This was at a time when girls were not allowed to go to school. Then I think of the moment when the Taliban regime collapsed, and schools opened. Unfortunately, the apparent end of the Taliban regime was not the start of happiness. The conservative culture is like a war that hampers girls’ education. It is more powerful than a war.

It was my motivation and determination that helped me to persist and go to school. As a young child of only 7, I dared to go to school without my father’s knowing. I knew it was not right to go to school without his permission, but I wanted to be able to read books the same as my brother. I remember the stunning moment when I became one of the top students at school. While I was studying, I would picture myself as a successful girl who would lead an organization, wearing a business suit and carrying a business bag. This picture would make me smile and help me concentrate on my studies.

Next, I would think of the time when my parents announced my engagement to a man twice my age. It was the most horrible nightmare ever. My inner little girl was the only image that motivated my studies. I remember the silent moments after midnight when I had a chance to study, to maintain my position as top student. This gave me a strange peace in my heart, a feeling that everything would be okay and darkness would not stay forever. I thought of playing a sport such as golf to distract my negative thoughts.

Later on, I would think of the time when I found that I had no friends anymore. Everyone kept leaving me, my family, friends, even best friends because of my marriage issues and my desire for freedom. It was not easy. It was very frustrating to have no one to rely on or trust or to share my fear and stress. But it was a very life-changing experience to start listening to my heart and do what felt right to me. I was often very depressed and felt like giving up on my dreams. Then I would look at my school transcript and my grades and immediately get back my motivation and remember my hard work in school.

And I often think of the special moment when I was selected as the only female golfer from Herat to participate in a golfing tournament in Bangladesh, where I was later given the opportunity to do my undergraduate education. It was an unbelievable achievement.

I escaped the nightmare of my childhood through the power of education and sports. Now I know the value of freedom at the deepest level. Everyone has the right to be independent, to achieve their potential and receive an education to build a peaceful and prosperous life.

Please help Shagufa raise funds to pursue her education and help end child marriage in developing countries. Donate here: ShagufaGoFundMe