Byrne Creek student aims to advocate for others
Even as a five-year-old, Mahjobeh Badakhsh knew it wasn't right.
While her family was living in Iran, someone had broken a neighbour's window. As one of the few Afghan families in the area, they got blamed.
"My dad paid [to fix the window] because he didn't want any trouble, even though it wasn't our fault," recalled Badakhsh.
It's that sense of injustice that the Grade 12 Byrne Creek secondary student plans to fight after she graduates this month.
Badakhsh, now 17, was only two when her family left Afghanistan. Her parents were both professors at the University of Kabul, and they enjoyed a privileged lifestyle, but they knew their lives would change drastically once the Taliban came to power.
The Taliban took over the city where they were living on a Friday and on Saturday, the family flew to another province, eventually settling in Iran where her dad got a job with the Afghan embassy.
In Iran, emigrants and refugees from Afghanistan were eventually segregated and discriminated against. After she attended kindergarten, Badakhsh, her siblings and other Afghans were barred from attending public schools.
Badakhsh, only a young child, would be called names whenever she emerged from their home.
Finally, when her father developed an eye condition that would eventually require support services, he decided they needed to move.
"We came to Canada in search of a cure and a better future," she said.
Badakhsh was only about eight years old at the time, and it would be years later before she understood why her parents left Afghanistan in the first place.
She was 13 when she first returned to visit family there and was shocked by what she saw and heard. There were rockets exploding in the distance. She saw how some women wore the burka out of fear of retribution from the Taliban faithful if they did not.
"This is my home. I didn't know it was this way."
She began educating herself about the situation in her native country, and soon began raising money for an orphanage in her father's home province. Over the next several months she helped raise $3,000 through canvassing for donations and bake sales, for which she would often stay up until 5 a.m. making cupcakes.
In the summer of 2009, she returned to Afghanistan and gave the money directly to the children at the orphanage, to ensure they got the greatest benefit from her efforts.
"I felt really good. It was the first time I realized what I want to do with my life," she recalled. "I didn't care about money or wealth. All I wanted to do was try to help these people, not just Afghanis, but anybody who needed a voice in the world."
She still dreams of one day rebuilding the orphanage.
Meanwhile, her efforts while at Byrne Creek include participating in the model United Nations, and the school's UN and Leo clubs, with which she helped spearhead a clothing drive that resulted in 70 large bags of clothes being shipped to refugee camps and shelters in Afghanistan.
In her studies, she has focused on global issues and even completed a psychology project that looked at terrorism, and how people can put themselves at physical risk for a belief system.
As for her family, they're her greatest supporters. It helps that her father was a human rights advocate before the family left Afghanistan, so this type of work appears to be in her blood.
Badakhsh plans to enrol in the international studies program at Simon Fraser University, and work to promote greater education of global issues, "that allows kids to think about what's going on in the world."
As she said, "Ignorance is bliss, but it's not nice in the long run."