Author Freshta Tori Jan’s first-person narrative of the persecution she endured as a member of the Hazaras, an ethnic minority in Afghanistan, is the latest addition to the I, Witness series, “a nonfiction book series that tells important stories of real young people who have faced and conquered extraordinary contemporary challenges.” Other books in the series include Accused: My Story of Injustice, Hurricane: My Story of Resilience, and Resistance: My Story of Activism.
Born in Herat, Afghanistan, in 1999, Freshta fled with her family to the capital city of Kabul when she was 4 years old. Surviving amidst poverty, Freshta worked as a shepherd when she was around 6 or 7 years old to help support her family. Freshta was able to attend a public school, but she was bullied by teachers and students alike because of her ethnicity. Finally, she had the opportunity to enroll at the International School of Kabul. However, when the Taliban, a terrorist group, came to power, they wreaked havoc, murdering, pillaging, and spreading horror and panic throughout the country. Soon after, they forced the closure of the ISK.
As persecution of the Hazaras intensified, Freshta’s mental health suffered as she always anticipated being attacked. She writes, “I didn’t realize that the reason I always felt sick might be because of the death threats, the Taliban attacks, the school closure. I had a long conversation with my mom. I told her that I couldn’t imagine this being the end of my educational journey. I told her that I had a much bigger vision for myself than what was happening in our lives. I wanted something more.”
Freshta’s story of escape from Afghanistan to India, finding a new life in the United States (she now attends Calvin University in Grand Rapids, Mich.), and her advocacy work for Hazara Advocates USA, a group she co-founded, is truly inspirational. Freshta challenges middle school readers to follow in her footsteps of being “a justice warrior.” She writes about her advocacy for the Hazara people: “I keep fighting a little bit of their fight, because that’s the best I can do for them. … If you want to make the world a place where justice and freedom are more valued than racism, persecution, and oppression, it’s up to you. You have to take hard risks and it won’t be an easy journey. But if you stay silent, revolution and change will never happen. And if you wait to speak, it may be too late.”
Though not graphic or explicit, the book does contain accounts of the Taliban’s horrendous atrocities. (Norton Young Readers)