Sonita Alizadeh (WA class of ’17) is celebrating Thanksgiving by attending the world premiere in Amsterdam of the documentary Sonita, a film featuring her life, her journey and the many struggles she has overcome. Having escaped from the prospect of forced marriage herself, Sonita has dedicated her life to helping others who are facing the same plight. These days Sonita is working very hard at balancing the demands of two roles: pursuing her education at Wasatch Academy while campaigning to eliminate child marriage in the world at large.
Earlier in the month, while participating in the Women in the World summit in London alongside such notable figures as Meryl Streep and Nicole Kidman, Sonita was interviewed by the BBC confidently promoting her campaign to end forced child marriage, a custom all too common in her native country of Afghanistan. Tragically, at the age of 16, Sonita found herself being sold by her own parents as a child bride, a traumatic experience which led her to write about the injustice and record a rap song which then went viral, changing her life for the better, forever. She has since become an outspoken advocate against forced marriage.
Sonita then traveled on to Oslo, where she had the chance to sing her rap song about child marriage to the Prime Minister of Norway at an event promoting the International Day of the Girl Child. She also met with a group of Norwegian government officials to present her case against child marriage, denouncing it as an impediment to education all around the world. Sonita is currently in Amsterdam attending the world film premiere with Head of School Joseph Loftin, CEO Zoe Adams of the Strongheart Foundation and her good friend Sarah Roston (WA class of ’15) and is meeting with the director of her new film documentary there as well. In the midst of all this whirlwind of activity, Sonita is calm, cool and collected, quietly keeping up with her studies. She is thriving in her new life as a student at Wasatch Academy. When asked what she likes best about the boarding school she now calls home, she cites the fact that it is “safe” and that here at Wasatch Academy “she is allowed to learn.”
Wasatch Academy fosters a deep respect for the dignity and the value of each student, appreciating the “individual voice” of each person. Head of School Joseph Loftin emphasizes these fundamental principles at every opportunity. Sonita has found a new home where her talents are applauded and her undaunted courage to speak up for herself has been encouraged. She has come a long way from the conflicts of her past, but she is ambitious to go farther; she acts not for herself alone, but on behalf of all other girls, for whom life is still a constant misery: “now I am happy, I have the best life, now I have freedom. I am now working for other girls, whom no one can hear.”
The statistics are grim. Amnesty International reports that only one-third of students enrolled in Afghanistan schools are girls. Only 13 percent of Afghan women 16 and older can read and write. Eighty-seven percent of Afghan women suffer domestic violence. Most Afghan women don’t live to see 50. Wasatch Academy provides Sonita all the support she needs, allowing her the space and freedom to work toward her career goal of becoming an attorney specializing in human rights advocacy. Living in peaceful Mount Pleasant, attending classes on the idyllic Wasatch Academy campus, she is one among hundreds of students, from all over the world, who are working hard to make their dreams a reality.
Sonita’s song and her accompanying viral video were the direct result of her own lived experience: “I had bruises on my face as I sang those words… I got the idea from my friend’s faces.” Her keen powers of observation and analysis say it all: “I was looking to make a music video and I realized this is the real image of child marriage.” Sonita is a curious mixture of both the contemplative artist and the social activist, both her insight and her self-assertion are key to her survival and to her viral, virulent message. Sonita’s video begins with her speaking into her own cupped hands, whispering her message to those who would hear: “I was talking to my friends, but also to those outside my culture.” Knowing that “there I can’t talk openly,” she is overcoming this challenge with determination: “my goal is to let the world know about child marriage.” Sonita told the BBC: “I am speaking out!”
Despite her unfortunate past and the challenges she faces seeking to make the world a better place, Sonita is enthusiastic “I am so excited for my documentary!” As this story is being published, Sonita is in Amsterdam attending the premiere of the documentary self-portrait profiling her all too personal fight against this injustice. For this young woman, life may have become an inspiring opportunity, but she has consecrated herself wholeheartedly to one overriding purpose: to eradicate child marriage in her lifetime. She has found a new life and a new circle of friends. Sonita will be studying here for another two years, mastering English and preparing for college, as an integral part of the Wasatch Academy family.
Follow Sonita at the World Premiere on Twitter @SonitaAlizadeh or these hashtags #endchildmarriage #sonitasdream
Sonita sitting in “class” with the Prime Minister of Norway Erna Solberg (taken from Sonita’s own Facebook page)
Sonita performing for the PM in “class” at the International Day of the Girl Child with a focus on Education (taken from Sonita’s own Facebook page)