Whether performing on stage, giving her first public speech, competing in a football match or representing classmates on the student representative council, Nooria Ahmadi leads a busy life like most Sydney schoolgirls.

But none of this would have been possible two years ago. Nooria is enjoying an education in Australia she was banned from having in her own country.

The 17-year-old Afghani schoolgirl from Holroyd High School appeared last week in Treehouse Theatre’s production of 13 Suitcases, telling her story of fleeing the Taliban and settling into life in Sydney.

Performers in the Treehouse Theatre production ’13 Suitcases’ hugging.


The Taliban seized control of Afghanistan in 2021, following the US military withdrawal.

Under their rule, girls are banned from secondary education and 80 per cent of them do not attend school at all.

“When I came here, I promised to myself the first thing for me will be my education. It was one of my biggest dreams to go to school,” said Nooria, who had not attended school since Year 6.

She says her first day at Holroyd High is her best memory in Australia.

“When they said ‘Nooria, today we’re taking you to school’, I was literally crying. I was so happy I couldn’t even say anything,” she added.

“Sometimes my classmates are saying they are waiting for the school holidays … I want to have no school holidays, just keep going to school. It is a dream for me.

“I want students, especially young people, to understand how lucky they are. Even if they have problems, they will understand how to be strong and how to not give up.”

Nooria is currently in Year 10 and hopes to use her education to become a leader.

“I would like to work more for women and girls because in my country they don’t have their human rights, the rights they should have. I was one of them.”

It was one of my biggest dreams to go to school.

Like Nooria, 22-year-old Farhat Kohistani fled Afghanistan suddenly and without any family in 2021.

In Afghanistan, she studied information processes technology and business marketing administration at university. Farhat is continuing her education in Australia and attends Year 12 at Barker College in Hornsby.

“I’m finding a way to achieve my own goals. I am really passionate to focus on my study. The Barker team and Barker staff encourage me and I receive lots of support,” she told Central News.

Farhat said that after getting her Australian visa: “Barker has changed my life for the second time.”

Although feeling guilty about leaving her family behind, Farhat is thrilled to continue her education and wants to study international relations when she completes her HSC.

“The main thing for me is to be a voice for people and raise a voice for girls who don’t have their own rights,” she said.

Both girls participated in the inaugural Village Championship, an Afghan cultural festival hosted by Pymble Ladies’ College on Sydney’s North Shore, in May last year.

They returned last month for the festival, which involves an afternoon of live music, food, cultural stalls, speakers and a friendly football match. Nooria also shared her story to the community in her first public speech.

“[The festival] means everything to me. I feel like there’s a lot of people supporting us,” said Nooria.

Organised by Her Village Foundation and supported by KPMG, Rydalmere Football Club, Pymble Ladies’ College and other sponsors, the event fundraises for newly arrived Afghan schoolgirls and charities providing relief in Afghanistan.

The festival forms one part of a three-day program where the girls build connections, develop leadership skills, receive a care package and share their culture with their local community.

Afghan cultural stalls. Photo: Tahmara Thomas

Tahmara Thomas, 18, a 2022 Pymble Ladies’ College graduate helped plan the event with a team of 10 like-minded people. She said ideas for the program began after seeing the coverage of Afghanistan in 2021.

“There were all those horrid images of people running and grabbing onto the actual planes just trying to escape … I really wanted to do something about it … it’s not enough to feel and it’s not enough to talk. There needs to be action,” Tahmara said.

“It’s very easy to see things on the news and disassociate. I think when you’re actually talking to someone whose gone through something, it’s a lot harder to ignore that. So what I love about our program is giving people in our North Shore bubble exposure to people they normally wouldn’t meet.”

In future years, Tahmara hopes to offer more services for the girls, like driving lessons and tutoring, and to extend the program to other schools, organisations and refugee groups. She hopes all who attended immersed themselves in Afghan culture and gained more perspective from the girls’ experiences.

What I love about our program is giving people in our North Shore bubble exposure to people they normally wouldn’t meet.

“The girls are so resilient. You wouldn’t tell talking to them what they had been through,” she added.

Nooria fled her home in Ghazni, a province in Afghanistan’s south-east, after the Taliban came to her home.

“They were looking door to door for young girls to take,” she said. “I pretended that I was a boy…. they realised I wasn’t and got really mad … they said ‘we are going to come for you again’.”

An Australian soldier helped Nooria onto an Australian-bound plane, despite lacking a passport or any ID.

Her younger brother, injured in an accident at the airport and unable to travel, remains in Afghanistan and is her closest family member. They talk every night and with a sad smile, she said that he can’t sleep until they speak. She hopes to bring him to Australia one day.

Nonetheless, Nooria remains optimistic.

“We have a sentence in our language: if there is a pain that won’t kill you, it will make you strong.”

Main image by Tahmara Thomas.