Jamila always knew that her neighbour Bahiri* had a hard life. Forced to marry a much older man when she was very young, she then developed epilepsy during her first pregnancy. Her husband took a new wife, thinking the epilepsy was a ‘djinn’ – an evil spirit.

Jamila was deeply concerned by these traumatic events: "My neighbour found it difficult to cope with the stress and tried to commit suicide, but fortunately didn’t succeed." No one was helping Bahiri, so, despite being only 16 years old and still in school, Jamila decided to take action.



In Afghanistan, stigma and discrimination against people with mental health problems is rife. Those suffering with mental health issues are excluded from their families and the wider community and are often shamed, insulted or beaten. These social problems often make it harder for people to find the help that they need.

Tearfund’s partner have been working in west Afghanistan to change attitudes and behaviours surrounding mental health. After receiving their training, Jamila knew she had to do something to help Bahiri.

Jamila realised that she did not have an evil spirit, but a medical condition that could be treated. It took a lot of courage, but she persuaded her dad to go with her to see Bahiri’s family. Jamila spent a long time trying to convince them that Bahiri needed to go to a medical clinic. Eventually they agreed. The doctor told the family that the problem was totally treatable.



As a result of the care she received, Bahiri is much better. Jamila is thrilled at the difference that she made to this vulnerable woman’s life: "I am so happy that my father and I could help and pass on what I learned in the training."

Changing attitudes and behaviours takes time and commitment. It depends on the bravery of ordinary people to speak out to challenge the outdated ideas and practices in families and communities. Jamila is just one example of many young people in Afghanistan who are starting to become more socially active and inspire change in their communities.

Jamila’s courage, intelligence and care for one woman’s life made all the difference. She spoke out when she needed to, changing a whole family’s attitude – ultimately saving Bahiri’s life.

*Names have been changed to protect identity 

This was originally posted on the Tearfund website.

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