Afghan women seek freedom and happiness in swimming and driving lessons

  • Maryam Zahid: We help women develop an “identity for themselves” and deal with the trauma of war.


  • Sahar Dear: I decided to start my studies and drive my car instead of sitting at home and thinking about the bad situation in Afghanistan.



In an indoor pool in a western Sydney suburb, about 20 Afghan women (recently refugees in Australia) listen to former asylum seeker Maryam Zahid give them swimming lessons and talk about the country's beach culture.

Zahid arrived in Australia from Afghanistan 22 years ago, and said her sessions help women develop an "identity for themselves" and deal with the trauma of war in their home country.

"This is something that will affect the psychological and emotional aspects of their lives," Zahid said at the Ruth Evros Aquatic Center in Auburn. "They have an identity for themselves as human beings first."

"We make memories for them, memories of freedom, happiness and opportunity," she added.

Zahid's "Afghan Women on the Move" program is also helping refugee women, many of whom fled after the hard-line Taliban's return to power, to learn to drive and find jobs.

Zahid believes that the women may not return to Afghanistan, where the government has severely restricted the rights of women and girls.

For example, girls are prevented from attending secondary school.

Currently, 23-year-old Sahar Azizi is taking her second driving lesson on the busy streets of Sydney's suburbs.

"I decided to start my studies and drive my car, rather than sitting at home all the time thinking about the bad situation in Afghanistan," said Azizi, who arrived in Australia a year ago with her husband and a premature baby.

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