One man's fight to educate girls and beat the Taliban

Erfan Abidi was on the last Australian chartered flight out of Afghanistan three years ago when the Taliban took over - two days before a suicide bomber killed 170 people at the airport.

That narrow escape motivated him to want to help those who could not flee the Taliban's iron grip on the war-torn country where girls are banned from continuing their education past primary school.

More than 10,000km away, Mr Abidi's home in Adelaide has since become the base of an underground network of schools for 300 girls.

An Afghan girl reads a book in her home.
Erfan Abidi has created a network of underground schools in Afghanistan to educate girls. (EPA PHOTO)

"I was the lucky last one on that plane," he told AAP.

"We survived indiscriminate shootings from the Taliban while trying to leave. I was frightened it was the end for my family and I.

"Everything changed in our lives just in one day."

Mr Abidi had worked as a translator and cultural adviser for NATO troops and Australian soldiers, putting him at grave risk for being viewed as a collaborator with foreign occupiers.

He came to Australia through the Afghan Locally Engaged Employee program which the government ended last month.

Several of his colleagues have since been killed by the Taliban or have disappeared.

Soldiers get into a helicopter.
Afghans who worked with Australian soldiers risked their lives. (HANDOUT/AUSTRALIAN DEPARTMENT OF DEFENCE)

Mr Abidi arrived in South Australia during COVID lockdowns in 2021 where he and his family had to adapt to new surroundings that tested their resolve after their comfortable life in Kabul.

His efforts to educate girls in Afghanistan has led to him being made an ambassador for Refugee Week - the annual peak activity co-ordinated by the Refugee Council of Australia from June 16 to 22 to celebrate the contributions refugees have made to Australian society.

"Being a refugee ambassador is an honour because we represent the culture, potential, capacity, knowledge, skills and talents of newly arrived people in the community," he said.

Once Mr Abidi had settled into a job in the community services sector, he drew on his contacts in Afghanistan and Aghan education specialists from around the world to devise a way to help future generations of girls to push on with their learning.

Going through security arrangements, he set up face-to-face classes in several regions about a 18 months ago with dedicated parents and teachers using the curriculum of the previous government.

"We are teaching the old curriculum and added some subjects focusing on human rights after discussions with local leaders and some experts in the field of education," Mr Abidi said.

"By establishing these underground schools, I wanted to open a beacon of hope for those who have been forced to be silent."

Even though there are lethal risks for those undertaking this dangerous work if caught by the Taliban or sympathisers, the teachers and parents are united in giving their girls a future.

"The parents I talk to tell me 'we are already dead with the Taliban in power so there's no reason to be scared anymore'," Mr Abidi said.

"We are advocating for more than six million other Afghan women.

"We are showing that our Afghan girls are resilient while they are getting a minimum education, which is a basic human right."