By Nilaya, NSLI-Y Persian, Tajikistan Summer 2014

My travel experiences in Tajikistan two summers ago with NSLI-Y inspired me to apply my knowledge of Persian-speaking territories to explore my interest of women’s rights. Last year, I decided to conduct an independent study project that consisted of over sixty hours of research on women's issues in Afghanistan.

As part of my research, I conducted a personal interview with Miss Naheed Samadi Bahram, the director of Women for Afghan Women, a civil society organization based in Afghanistan and New York which is dedicated to securing and protecting the rights of disenfranchised Afghan women and girls. I learned about the establishment of women’s shelters throughout Afghanistan and how these shelters in undisclosed locations have protected thousands of women from violence and human rights violations.

During part of my conversation with Miss Bahram, I was able to communicate with her in my NSLI-Y target language, Tajiki. Although she spoke Dari, another main dialect of Persian, we were able to comprehend one another.

One of the most valuable skills that NSLI-Y taught me was that of communication. Overcoming the barriers and the challenges of learning a new language has allowed me to connect with others on more personal levels and has given me the confidence to express myself. During my immersive experience in Tajikistan, which enabled me to leave my comfort zone, I gained exposure to the world. NSLI-Y inspired me to pursue my passion of studying languages and empowered me to advocate for the rights of women and girls around the world.

After I organized my final presentation, I shared my findings with my school and my community in the hopes of spreading awareness of the injustices that women around the world are confronted with. Today, I continue to lead my school’s Women’s Awareness club, host assemblies, and organize fundraisers to support Women for Afghan Women’s efforts.

To my fellow NSLI-Y alumni, explore your interests and share your experiences with your friends, family, and community. Reach out to people and create new connections. The language and life skills that you acquired during NSLI-Y can be applied to so many different situations in your lives. But most importantly, make sure to use your skills to give back to the world.

2022 Update
: Nilaya Knafo pursues initiatives to make the world a more cooperative place through both her career and her graduate studies. Currently working on the Youth Program at the United States Institute of Peace (USIP), Nilaya develops and implements multi-faceted training and education programs for youth leaders and peacebuilders around the world. Nilaya has also recently begun an MA in Religion at Yale University. She focuses on the intersection of religion and art, with special interest in the preservation and protection of religious heritage in the Middle East and North Africa.

Nilaya’s experience in Tajikistan on the NSLI-Y program encouraged her to use her language and intercultural skills to serve US foreign policy efforts promoting peace. She concluded that, “Thanks to the growth I experienced on NSLI-Y, I was able to partake in opportunities that eventually led me to where I am now.”

For more information on Nilaya's research with the Women for Afghan Women, check out her article in The Morning Call.

image of nilaya

This story is part of the “Coming Back, Giving Back” campaign sharing how NSLI-Y Alumni are using their study abroad experience to make a difference. Submit your story today to [email protected]!