Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Teaching her children well: The remarkable life of Fawzia Koofi and her fight for a better future

Fawzia Koofi / The Favored Daughter

"As you grow older you will learn about loyalty," writes Fawzia Koofi in her courageous memoir The Favored Daughter: One Woman's Fight to Lead Afghanistan into the Future. In a letter to her daughters, Shurha and Shaharzad, that precedes the chapter entitled "The War Within," Koofi says: "Loyalty to your faith, to family, to friends, to your neighbors, and to your country. In times of war our loyalty can be sorely tested."

Indeed, these are challenging times for everyone throughout much of the world. For some of us, our homelands are facing political upheavals, while others are battling through the economic reality of uncertainty. 

Our loyalty is being tested every day.

In Afghanistan, one of the world's poorest and most volatile countries, Koofi, 38, who is her country's first female Parliament Speaker and a noted activist for women's and children's rights, is currently a leading candidate for the 2014 presidential elections. Mind you, in a country where women have been struggling for generations just to achieve gender equality, a woman has never been elected president of Afghanistan.

Recently, Koofi appeared on The Daily Show with Jon Stewart and spoke at Harvard Law School as part of a visit to the U.S. to drum up support for her candidacy as well as to promote her book. Immediately, after seeing Koofi's interview with Jon Stewart, I went online to put a hold on her book, and checked it out from my local public library by the weekend.

Since obtaining a copy of Koofi's book, I have not been able to put it down. It has been my reading companion at home and at work, even at the gym. It is both a highly fascinating and riveting read. And, I highly encourage anyone wanting to learn more about her life's journey ~ from being rejected at birth and left for death to becoming an author and a presidential candidate ~ or what life in Afghanistan is really like, as seen through this remarkable woman's eyes, should read Koofi's book.

In a review of The Favored Daughter: One Woman's Fight to Lead Afghanistan into the Future, which Koofi wrote with Nadene Ghouri, an award-winning journalist and former Al Jazeera and BBC broadcaster, the Kirkus Reviews wrote: "An affecting inside look at the making of an Afghan woman leader, in spite of the repression by traditional Islamic society and the Taliban ... With moving letters to her daughters opening each chapter, Koofi delivers an important message."

The Globe and Mail wrote: "A powerful and moving book, not just for Koofi's daughters, but for all the daughters of the world."

Indeed, Koofi's message is an important one that needs to be shared and passed along from one generation to the next. And while her letters to her two teenage daughters focus on life in Afghanistan, I think it is a message that is germane to us all no matter where in the world we reside, and it's one we can all appreciate reading and learning from.

Koofi continues in her letter to her daughters about the importance of loyalty: 
"You must be loyal to the true and good nature of your Islamic faith, helping and loving those around you even when you might feel you cannot.
 "It is important to be loyal to your family, both those alive and dead. Our bonds of family do not cease at the grave, but we must also be careful not to remember the dead at the expense of the living.
"You must be loyal to your friends, because it is the action of a true friend. And if they are true friends then they will also be loyal to you, and ready to act when you need their help.
"You must be loyal to your fellow Afghans. There are many of us and we are not all the same. But you must be able to see past those ethnic and cultural differences and remember the thing that unites us together ~ Afghanistan.
"And you must be loyal to your country. Without loyalty to our country we have nothing as a nation. We must work hard and wisely to improve our country for your children and their children."
Loyalty can be a hard lesson to learn sometimes, as Koofi has reminded us. Yet, there are few lessons more valuable.

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