Twenty-six-year-old Khalida Popal, who played forward for Iran’s national soccer team, plays with a severely limited arm after her home was bombed by the Taliban. Popal says she met a man 10 years younger than her and engaged in a horrific battle with Taliban fighters, who she says disguised themselves as police officers, pretending to be hunting smugglers. She says she eventually fell to her knees and begged them to spare her life, but instead she was shot in the right arm.
“I was shot four times, I could barely walk after the first shot,” Popal told The Guardian in a Skype interview. She decided to flee Afghanistan in 2007, after a volleyball game with her teammates was invaded by Taliban fighters.
“I was never scared to play; I was never afraid to work, but on the 10th and 11th of January I didn’t feel like working,” Popal said. “The Taliban is here.”
Popal then had to overcome several obstacles: first, to get back to Europe to receive treatment, where she was only allowed to stay for six months. Then, she had to beg doctors in Italy to operate on her arm.
The doctors in Italy referred her to Doctors Without Borders. Her story quickly went viral and local and international supporters rallied around Popal’s cause, opening a GoFundMe page to fund her treatment. Currently she is undergoing rehab in Malta after a soccer doctor—Zachariah Bangabale—inks a deal with the Raiffeisen soccer club in Afghanistan, and hopes to return to full fitness next year.
“I want everyone to know that I’m back and I will try and play football again,” Popal said. “I want everyone to know that the Taliban is not with us.”
As Popal—who played for Iran at the 2007 Asian Women’s Cup and for Belarus at the 2008 European Championships—appears more determined than ever to play for Afghanistan, she hopes that her story and those of her fellow Afghan refugees will inspire people around the world to help refugees.
“People should know what is happening to people,” Popal said. “People should realize that we are suffering from the war, and that’s why I am in Malta and I am going to Afghanistan.”
Read the full story at The Guardian.
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