A third-generation Afghan refugee raised in a refugee camp in Pakistan, author Pashtana Durrani knew she was privileged in comparison to other Afghan refugees. The daughter of a tribal leader who valued education and started a community school for girls in his home, Pashtana learned from an early age that “no one is coming to save you if you’re an Afghan woman.”
No one had more influence on Pashtana’s life and future than her father, who loved her and taught her that she mattered in a culture that denigrated and thwarted girls’ opportunities at every turn. He also insisted that Pashtana had a responsibility to serve her community, to keep her eyes open to the world’s woes, to understand her history, and to value education.
In a society where most girls are allowed to eat only when the men and boys have had their fill–in poor families often resulting in no food at all for girls–and where most girls are refused an education, Pashtana opposed the status quo. From an early age she became an “accidental activist” as she vocalized her views, first to her family and, years later, in the public sphere. Though she was granted a scholarship to the University of Oxford in England, she declined. She couldn’t allow herself to accept it when it would remove her from her nascent dream to educate Afghan girls in rural areas and help them escape the prisons of illiteracy and abuse in their homes and society.
By turns heart-rending and heart-warming, terrifying and humorous, disheartening and inspiring, Last to Eat, Last to Learn traces Pashtana’s life from the refugee camp to her college career at the American University of Afghanistan, to her founding of the NGO LEARN, and to being named Malala’s Fund Education Champion, a United Nations Youth Envoy, and Amnesty International Global Youth Collective representative.
In 2021, Pashtana was forced to flee Afghanistan when the Taliban took over. She now resides in the United States and continues to administrate LEARN. She concludes, “I don’t know how our story ends. Not for Afghanistan, not for my girls, not for my family. Not even for me. It doesn’t matter. Sometimes, all you can do is just keep writing.” (Kensington)