May 10, 2024 - News

Afghan students who fled Taliban and faced bullying in U.S. create hijab project

A photo of the three girls designing their pins with library books in the background.

Elementary students Yasamin, Hoda and Fatima create pins with a message of inclusivity. Photo: Courtesy of Julio Garcia

Three Travis Heights Elementary students have created a project to help their peers understand why they wear hijabs — and have even secured funding to spread their message throughout their school.

Why it matters: Travis Heights has a large population of Afghan students who wear hijabs, and the project by the fourth graders aims to spread understanding and inclusivity at their campus.

  • The Afghan students are refugees who fled the Taliban with their families. Many of their parents worked for the U.S. government.

How they did it: The students and friends — Yasamin, Hoda and Fatima — first tackled a question as part of a schoolwide initiative called Project-Based Learning: "How can we as fourth-grade citizens, recognize discrimination and create a campaign that advocates for kindness and inclusion?"

  • They read books like "Separate is Never Equal" by Sylvia Mendez, "Malala's Magic Pencil" by Malala Yousafzai and "The Proudest Blue" by Ibtihaj Muhammad to drive their conversations about racism, discrimination and stereotypes, according to their teacher, Julio Garcia.
A photo of Hoda holding a pin.
Hoda holds one of the pins that reads "Wearing a Thobe is My Right." Photo: Courtesy of Julio Garcia

What they're saying: Garcia tells Axios their passion and initiative fueled the project.

  • "In interviews with me, they shared saddening stories about being bullied because of their hijabs, experiences so hurtful that they stopped wearing them for a while," Garcia tells Axios. "Determined to make a change, they brainstormed ways to spread awareness and promote acceptance."
  • "These clothes are important to us for many reasons. We wear them because of our faith, our family traditions and because they make us feel strong and beautiful," Yasamin said in a video that Garcia made about their project.

State of play: Most of the nation's largest cities, including Austin, saw hate crimes surge in 2023, including anti-Muslim hate crimes.

Zoom in: After their discussions with Garcia, the girls designed pins with their message of inclusivity: "Wearing a Hijab is My Right" and "Wearing a Thobe is My Right," referring to the traditional long-sleeved, ankle length garment worn by boys and men in many Muslim cultures.

  • They were later granted funding from the school's PTA to create 400 pins, enough for every student at Travis Heights Elementary.

What's next: Friday is the school's first-ever "Wear Your Hijab Day," and it's now a yearly event on the Travis Heights calendar.

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