After escaping Taliban bombing, Shrewsbury student shines


After escaping Taliban bombing, Shrewsbury student shines
Kubra Mohammadi, who left Afghanistan after the Taliban took over the country, stands with her trophy after placing fourth at the 2023 National Catholic Forensic League competition in Louisville, KY. (Photo/Sanam Zaer)

SHREWSBURY – After the Taliban bombed her school in Afghanistan, killing several of her friends, Kubra Mohammadi embarked on an unexpected and difficult journey around the world.

The relocation was challenging, but after landing in Shrewsbury, Mohammadi has turned herself into one of the town’s most gifted students. With virtually no understanding of English one year ago, Mohammadi has placed nationally in speech and debate competitions and was recently accepted to one of the most prestigious journalism programs in the country.

From Afghanistan to America

Mohammadi left Afghanistan after the Taliban took over the country in 2021. After the regime change, Afghan women – including Mohammadi – were not allowed to return to school. At 17, Mohammadi fled to New Jersey, staying in a camp for three months, before heading to New York for another five months.

In an interview with the Community Advocate, Mohammadi described her difficult situation.

“I was alone and I couldn’t speak English; it was really hard,” she said. “When I moved to New York, it was really hard because all the kids like me spoke Spanish… we couldn’t really communicate with one another. I was the only one there – the only girl there – that spoke Dari. It was really hard for months – I couldn’t communicate with them and I was just alone.”

Mohammadi said that at the New York shelter she often resorted to pointing and gesturing to have any semblance of communication with her peers.

After the difficult journey, she made it to Shrewsbury, and residents Sanam and Navid Zaer began to foster her. Both Mohammadi and Sanam Zaer speak Farsi, making her adjustment to Shrewsbury that much easier. 

“I was lucky because I came to this home… They always support me,” Mohammadi said.

Mohammadi set her sights on completing her education. To do that, she would need to speak English. She started from scratch, teaching herself the basics of the language. After only one year of self-study, Mohammadi has made incredible progress.

“I read books, [and] watch TV or YouTube,” she said. “I speak with myself – I think in English instead of Persian. When I can’t [translate] something to English, I go to the dictionary.”

Speech and debate success

With just one year of English under her belt and enrolled as a student at Shrewsbury High School,  Mohammadi jumped right into school activities, choosing to participate in perhaps the most English-forward activity the high school offers: speech and debate. 

“When I got here, I wanted to become a journalist, and journalists have to speak. I wanted to be part of the [speech and debate] team,” she said.

Mohammadi joined the team and quickly found success competing in the original oratory category. According to the National Speech and Debate Association’s website, competitors must deliver “a speech that addresses a social problem, is written and memorized by the performer, and is no more than ten minutes in length. Above all else, an oratory should reflect maturity, intelligence, wit and hopefulness.”

In her original oratory, which placed fourth in the nation at the 2023 National Catholic Forensic League competition in Louisville, Ky., Mohammadi spoke about something extremely personal. “Is it a crime to study?” she asked the judges, detailing her experience in Afghanistan. 

“It’s mostly about women’s rights and about girls in Afghanistan and how the Taliban banned them from going to school,” she said. “It’s personal… I spoke about how I lost my friends…and how hard it was.”

“I chose [the topic] because I wanted to speak out about women’s rights. There are rights that women have in the United States or other countries that women are deprived of in Afghanistan – they cannot do those things… I want to speak – raise my voice – for their rights,” she continued.

The SHS Speech and Debate Twitter account noted that Mohammadi’s speech left “few dry eyes.”

On June 5, Mohammadi was inducted into the National Speech and Debate Association with the degrees of honor, excellence, and distinction. Out of the over 130,000 students that participate in speech and debate, only 7,000 attain the degrees Mohammadi has received by graduation.

Journalism career

Now, she looks forward to following her dreams and studying journalism. 

Mohammadi was one of 40 students nationwide accepted to the Princeton Summer Journalism Program (PSJP). According to the PSJP website, it is the “only program of its kind offering a free, year-long college preparation and journalism program for high school juniors from limited-income backgrounds. Our mission is to diversify the fields that impact our democracy through the exploration of the important connection between journalism and critical social and political events.”

She looks forward to participating in the journalism program over the summer, perhaps majoring in journalism in college. She hopes to advance her English even further in the coming months.

“I love reading and writing,” Mohammadi said. “[I’m excited] to learn more at the program and get more information about journalism.”


Hudson teen to compete in national speech competition

Hudson youth competes at national speech tournament

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