SL Interview: Awista Ayub Brings Soccer and Strength to Afghan Girls

Born in Afghanistan, Awista Ayub fled to the United States with her family when she was two. The year was 1981 -– two years after the Soviet Union’s military invasion of Ayub’s homeland. Her family never returned.

Ayub was a college student at the time of the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, an event that caused her to reconsider her heritage as well as her connection to America. She was driven to act, she writes, because “like so many fellow citizens in the aftermath of 9/11, I felt the need to do something.”

In 2003, Ayub decided to establish the Afghan Youth Sports Exchange. The following year, she brought eight girls to the United States from Afghanistan for a soccer leadership camp. The eight had grown up as children of violence and turmoil: first, the civil war that engulfed Afghanistan after the Soviet Union’s withdrawal from Afghanistan in 1988-89; then, the oppressive reign of the Taliban following the civil war; most recently, the U.S.-backed military initiative that ousted the Taliban regime.

In the U.S., the eight girls trained for six weeks, competed in the Afghan-American Soccer Cup tournament and represented their country in the International Children’s Games. Later, Ayub returned to her homeland to visit the girls and lead soccer clinics at Ghazi Stadium, in Kabul, where the Taliban had carried out executions and torture.

In “However Tall the Mountain: A Dream, Eight Girls, and a Journey Home” (Hyperion; Amazon), Ayub chronicles the story of her efforts to bring soccer to Afghan youth and to empower girls through sport. At once poignant and instructive, the memoir is a tale of redemption and triumph that shines a unique light on Afghan culture.

In May, Ayub earned her masters in public administration from the University of Delaware, with a concentration in international sports development. On Sept. 11, 2009, SportsLetter spoke with Ayub on the phone from her home on the East Coast.

— David Davis