Thursday, June 8, 2023

Shabana Basij-Rasikh’s Education Efforts In Afghanistan Earn Her the 2023 Rolex National Geographic Explorer of the Year Award


National Geographic Society announces Shabana Basij-Rasikh as the 2023 Rolex National Geographic Explorer of the Year for her dedication to educating Afghan women and girls.

Shabana Basij-Rasikh, a National Geographic Explorer and champion of education for Afghan women and girls, has been honored as the 2023 recipient of the prestigious Rolex National Geographic Explorer of the Year Award.

Presented at the National Geographic Society’s annual Explorers Festival, held in partnership with Rolex as part of its Perpetual Planet initiative, the award acknowledges individuals within the National Geographic Explorer community who shed light on crucial issues, discoveries, and challenges facing our planet.

Jill Tiefenthaler, CEO of the National Geographic Society, expressed the organization’s commitment to supporting National Geographic Explorers, describing them as “passionate changemakers and boundary-pushers who are illuminating and protecting the wonder of our world.”

Tiefenthaler commended Basij-Rasikh, calling her a “gifted and accomplished leader” who has dedicated her life to educating and uplifting Afghan women and girls. “We are inspired by her courage and commitment to building pathways for educational access, equality, and inclusion,” Tiefenthaler said.

A student in a math class at the School of Leadership, Afghanistan
A student in a math class at the School of Leadership, Afghanistan, (SOLA). Photo by Joel van Houdt, National Geographic

Having grown up in Kabul during the Taliban’s initial regime, Basij-Rasikh experienced firsthand the restrictions placed on girls’ education and pursued her own education in secret. She would go on to study in the United States and co-founded the School of Leadership, Afghanistan (SOLA) with a mission to provide quality education to girls throughout the country.

Under Basij-Rasikh’s leadership, SOLA became Afghanistan’s first boarding school to educate women and girls beyond the primary level. The institution also assists graduates in preparing for and enrolling in universities worldwide. Through its efforts, SOLA has enabled girls from various provinces in Afghanistan to access millions of dollars in scholarship opportunities.

Continuing her commitment to women’s rights and education, Basij-Rasikh recently led the evacuation of the SOLA community from Afghanistan to Rwanda in 2021. Today, SOLA operates as the only boarding school for Afghan girls in Rwanda, ensuring continuity in their education and empowerment.

Basij-Rasikh expressed her gratitude for receiving the award and utilized the platform to draw attention to the struggles and triumphs of Afghan women and girls.

“I’m the inheritor of the historic bravery of generations of Afghan women, and we achieve what we do at SOLA because we stand on the shoulders of these giants,” Basji-Rasikh said in a statement. “I am honored to be this year’s Rolex National Geographic Explorer of the Year, and to use this platform to encourage the world: don’t look away from Afghan women and girls.”

National Geographic Explorer Shabana Basij-Rasikh is the Co-Founder and President of School of Leadership, Afghanistan, the first and only boarding school for Afghan girls. Photo by David Gill, National Geographic

The recognition serves as a testament to Basij-Rasikh’s remarkable accomplishments and the transformative impact of her work in promoting education and empowerment.

National Geographic’s recognition of Basij-Rasikh’s efforts comes at a critical time when the importance of education and gender equality is increasingly recognized as a catalyst for positive change. Basij-Rasikh’s own journey, from pursuing education in secrecy to co-founding SOLA and leading its relocation to Rwanda, exemplifies her resilience, determination, and a deep commitment to providing opportunities for young women to thrive.

Education has the power to break the cycle of poverty, promote social equality, and foster sustainable development.

The Rolex National Geographic Explorer of the Year Award not only acknowledges the exceptional work of Shabana Basij-Rasikh but also serves as a reminder of the continued need to support and uplift women and girls in challenging environments. It underscores the importance of investing in education as a fundamental right and as a crucial step toward achieving a more equitable and sustainable future.

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