As It Happens

After being shot by insurgents in Afghanistan, woman graduates university with honours

Breshna Musaza has a message to the women and girls inspired by her story: "Education is our natural right. This is what I believe."

Breshna Musazai was left for dead in a suspected Taliban attack on the American University of Afghanistan

Breshna Musazai was was one of 139 students who received their bachelor's diplomas from the American University of Afghanistan on May 11. (Communications Department of American University of Afghanistan)

Breshna Musazai survived three bullets during an attack on her university by suspected Taliban insurgents — but that didn't stop her. Last month, she graduated with honours. 

Musazai, 28, crossed the stage at the American University of Afghanistan in Kabul on May 11 with the help of her brother and a walker.

"When I looked at the audience, everybody was standing and clapping," Musazai told As It Happens host Carol Off. 

"That was a very proud moment for me."

A deadly school shooting 

Two years ago, on Aug. 24, 2016, Musazai was attending evening prayers at the campus mosque when she heard an explosion followed by bursts of gunfire.

Everyone scattered, but Musazai — barefoot and paralyzed in one leg from polio — couldn't move as fast as others.

She eventually made it to a nearby building where she found her classmates. They were about to move on when Musazai heard a noise behind her.

"When I looked back, I saw the gunman," she said. 

Musazai received a standing ovation during her graduation ceremony in Kabul. (Communications Department of the American University of Afghanistan)

He was sporting a school security uniform and he looked right at them. Musazai said she thought he was a guard.

"But when he shot me, then I realized he was not the guard," she said.

Playing dead for 6 hours 

Musazai took a bullet to her good leg and crumpled to the floor. She knew she couldn't get away, she said, so she played dead.

The gunman shot her again, she said. The second bullet struck her foot, but still she didn't move. 

"I was there for six hours in that hallway," she said.

"And those six hours, I heard them yelling at the students and I heard gunshots. I heard sounds of explosions. They were throwing hand grenades in the classrooms. And I was very scared. I did not know if I'm going to make it."

Two years after being shot by suspected Taliban attackers, Breshna Musazai graduates with a bachelor's degree in law. (Submitted by Breshna Musazai )

She considered giving up — of moving her body so the insurgents would know she was alive and put her out of her misery.

"I could not tolerate the pain. It was unbearable," she said. "But then I thought, let's wait. I know someone will come."

And someone did.

The police arrived on the scene hours after Musazai took her first bullet. But then the law student found herself caught in the crossfire between police and the attackers.

She was struck with a third bullet in her injured foot.

Eventually, more officers arrived through an entrance closer to Musazai, and they whisked her out of the building and into an ambulance.

Thirteen people, including seven students, were killed in the attack.

Road to recovery 

Musazai survived with a broken leg and two missing toes.

Dallas surgeon John Alexander, a trustee of the university, sponsored Musazai so she could go the United States for medical treatment.

Her fiancé​ travelled with her, and then moved on to Canada to seek refuge, the Washington Post reports.

But Musazai didn't follow him. She was determined to go back to Kabul and finish her bachelor's degree in law.

"The first days, I was a little bit scared and I was in a wheelchair so it was hard for me to come out of my house," she said.

"But later everything was good. My friends, my classmates, everybody was very supportive. Everybody encouraged me and I made new friends."

'Afghanistan's Malala'

Her story has become an inspiration for girls and women around the world — especially in Afghanistan, where 3.7 million children between the ages seven and 17 are not in school, according to Unicef. Of those, 60 per cent are girls. 

Sahar Fetrat, a feminist and activist in Kabul, tweeted her support for Musazai, calling her "Afghanistan's Malala" —  referring to Malala Yousafzai, the Pakistani woman who was shot by the Taliban in 2012 and later won the Nobel Peace Prize for her education advocacy.

"Education is our natural right. This is what I believe," Musazai said.

"It's not a right which is given by the constitution. It's our natural right and we should fight for our right to education."

Still, she said her trauma from what she endured stays with her. 

When asked how it felt to pose in her cap and gown with the 138 other members of her graduating class, she wavered and trailed off.

"Sorry, I am hearing some kind of sounds coming from outside," she said. "Today we had another explosion."

At least 12 people were killed Tuesday  in a suspected ISIS suicide bombing at a government ministry in Kabul. Later in the day, at least five policemen were killed by a suicide bomber using a military Humvee in Ghazni province.

"When I'm on the campus every day, I think about how to survive if this happened to me again," Musazai said.  "When I leave home, I know that anything could happen to me on the way."

Still, she's planning to pursue her master's degree.

"It's life, you know. We cannot just sit at home and do nothing."

Written by Sheena Goodyear with files from Associated Press. Interview produced by Katie Geleff.