Afghanistan: Rapper Sonita Alizadeh Wins Scholarship to US School

How 18 year old Sonita Alizadeh resisted family pressure to marry and travelled from Tehran to Utah after her talent was nurtured by networkers across the world.

From refugee to rapper

Sonita Alizadeh is an 18 year old Afghan refugee whose family was forced to move to Iran when she was aged only 8. Because she was an undocumented Afghan, she was not entitled to education in Iran. She worked as a janitor at a charity supporting Afghan children in the same situation as her. For several years her mother had pressured her to get married. Her mother wanted a suitor to pay US$9,000 for Sonita so that she could afford to pay US$7,000 for her son’s wedding. Sonita’s mother was in a sense, selling her daughter to a paying Afghan family, so her son could marry the wife of his choice. Sonita’s protest video of her song 'Brides for Sale' shows a bruised 15 year old girl dressed in wedding clothes with a barcode on her forehead pleading with her family not to be sold, saying “I am seen as a sheep grown only to be devoured.” In early 2014 Sonita won the ‘best female’ prize in Argus Productions’ election anthem song contest with a rap style song encouraging Afghans to vote in elections.

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Still from documentary film 'Sonita is a Travelling Swallow' by Rokhsareh Ghaemmaghami.

Networking from Kabul to Tehran to Utah

When Kabul-based WLUML networker Noorjahan Akbar sent her colleague Elie Calhoun, based in Indonesia, a link to Sonita’s music video, 'Brides for Sale' she had no idea that it was the first step to Sonita gaining a scholarship to a college preparatory school, the Wasatch Academy, with an amazing music program, in Utah in the US. Elie Calhoun shared the video on Facebook. Elie’s US based colleague Cori Stern saw the music video on Facebook. Stern then googled Sonita's name and found the trailer for the documentary Sonita is a travelling swallow by Rokhsareh Ghaemmaghami.

Cori Stern is the co-founder of the US based Strongheart Group which helps exceptional young people who want to be change makers to amplify their voice and message. Cori Stern very much wanted to help Sonita reach her dreams of recording her music. Stern contacted the headmaster Joseph Loftin at Wasatch Academy and shared Sonita’s story and music. Mr. Loftin interviewed Sonita personally by Skype and then offered her a scholarship to attend the school. Laurie Michaels, a Strongheart supporter and philanthropist, believed strongly in Sonita's potential and contributed greatly to assisting her in attending the school.

Maryam Violet, another WLUML networker living in London, also contacted Sonita and interviewed her for the e-broadcasting platform Zanan TV, where she is a producer. Maryam said Sonita ‘wisely spoke about humanity, politics, her concerns for Afghanistan and her high hopes. Her eyes were shining when she was talking about her dreams for future. I am really happy and proud that her dreams are coming true through this great network.’

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Sonita Alizadeh at the Wasatch Academy in Utah, January 2015. Photo: Cori Stern.

Sonita is now part of the Amplify program, and has a scholarship at Wasatch Academy in Utah, in the United States. In addition to rigorous academic work, she is studying and recording music at Wasatch's brand-new music conservatory. She will also be able to make music videos through the school's state of the art film program and studio.

For more information click these links:

'Brides for Sale'

Election anthem song contest

Project Sonita Sonita's mother

Sonita is a travelling swallow

Strongheart Group

Wasatch Academy