“I’m very worried about everyone else who could not leave the country”Selene Biffi

Master’s student at the Cambridge Judge Business School, Selene Biffi, has helped three of her former pupils escape Afghanistan. Biffi told Varsity that she “spent days working round the clock on papers, logistics and coordination” to help her students and their families escape to safety.

The students all formerly attended the Qessa Academy in Kabul, Afghanistan — which Biffi founded in 2013.

‘Don’t abandon me’

In August, as the Taliban took over the Afghanistan capital, Biffi started receiving panicked texts from her former students. ‘Don’t abandon me’, one message read.

“Distressed is the first word that comes to mind when thinking about those moments”, Selene Biffi told Varsity, “although that was certainly not the only feeling then: there was sadness, anger and pain too, all of them in equal, overwhelming measure. However, I refused to give in and watch things unfold from a distance, and instead leveraged the feelings I had to look for options to help.”

‘I thought we wouldn’t be able to get into the airport’

Sayed Wakil Hussaini, one student who Biffi helped escape Afghanistan, received a message from his former teacher shortly after the Taliban took Kabul. The message asked him for a list of his family members who required evacuation.

Biffi then instructed Hussaini to travel to Kabul airport early the following morning.

The chaos surrounding Kabul airport that day, with members of Taliban firing shots into the air, initially led Hussaini to believe that escape was unlikely. Hussaini eventually managed to get on a plane to Italy. The family left all their possessions behind.

In a “concerted effort”, Biffi also helped two other families escape Kabul on the same day as Hussaini.

“It was made possible by people in both Italy and Afghanistan, who have selflessly helped me make it happen,” Biffi explained. “It wasn’t easy at all.”

Despite her relief that Biffi was able to answer her pleas to leave the country, one of Biffi’s former students, Soheila Dorosti, remains fraught with grief and worry; “I love my country”, she told CNN, “I love my people, I have a lot of friends in my country, and I don’t know what’s happening for them. It makes me so sad.”

Dorosti is now residing in a small town in southern Italy.

Following a period of quarantine, the students were reunited in Italy with their former teacher.

Adapting to life away from Afghanistan

On the challenges that her students will now face as refugees, Biffi highlighted that “adapting to a new country is never easy”. She also stressed the importance of “getting documents first and foremost and receiving support at the centres they are currently staying at”. Biffi said that the families will need “considerable patience” throughout the process, for which they are receiving some help.

“Many people have reached out to me to ask how they can support”, Biffi continued, “and some of them have sent items or are sending messages of support directly to my former students on a daily basis.”

“They all have hopes and dreams for their future outside of Afghanistan, and I hope we will be able to support them fulfil these dreams as much as possible”, Biffi concluded.

The “school for storytellers”

Selene Biffi founded the Qessa Academy with money she won from the Rolex Award for Enterprise. The academy has been described as a “school for storytellers”, aiming to support the preservation of traditional Afghan folk tales by “creating a venue for master storytellers to teach their craft to younger generations.”

Some of Biffi’s former students have gone on to work at local radio stations and as teachers.

Biffi is a master’s student in Social Innovation, as well as a social entrepreneur with a focus on education and youth empowerment.


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Biffi also co-authored The Teacher of Kabul, a book about her experiences in Afghanistan and her dedication to “rebuild from its roots” a country devastated by war.

Neil Stott, co-Director of the Masters of Studies in Social Innovation programme at Cambridge Judge Business School, told Varsity: "The MSt in Social Innovation programme is designed to bring students from a wide range of backgrounds to address the greatest challenges facing the globe -- and universal access to education is clearly one of those vital challenges."

"We are always proud", Stott added, "when students like Selene step up and take action, big or small, to make a tangible difference to people's lives."

“Everything looks very dark”

After the US withdrew troops from the country, the Taliban took control of Afghanistan in August, facing little resistance as they entered Kabul, with President Ashraf Ghani’s rapid departure leading to the collapse of the Government. Tens of thousands of people were desperate to escape the country, with memories of the Taliban’s former rule, decades previous, looming.

The BBC recently reported that Afghan girls are being prevented from attending secondary school. Many fear the return of the Taliban’s restrictive regime in the 1990s, which saw the rights of heavily rescinded in education and beyond.

The New York Times reported on Monday (27/09) that women will be banned from Kabul University.

Taliban officials are yet to make a decision on the matter of the education of girls, but have previously stated that women will be able to work and study in compliance with its interpretation of Sharia Law.

“Though on the one hand I’m very relieved that [my students] were able to come to Italy” Biffi commented, “I’m very worried about everyone else who could not leave the country.”

Varsity has contacted the Cambridge Afghanistan Society, the University, and the Cambridge Judge Business School for comment.