Everyday teachers enter their classrooms to nurture, train, and care for the children of others. Our tasks are many—we are nurses, secretaries, custodians, potty trainers, coaches, cheerleaders, motivators, builders, innovators, creators, artists, authors, dentists, and a whole lot of other things, too—but few of us enter our classrooms in the morning expecting to be fighting soldiers. On December 16, 2014 seven armed terrorists entered the Army Public School in Peshawar Pakistan and attacked the more than 1,000 children (first-tenth grades) and teachers working there. More than 150 died, and hundreds more were wounded in the worst attack of the Pakistani Taliban to date. Lives were forever changed that day.
Afshan Ahmad, 24 years old, was having a discussion with her high school students when terrorists burst in, shooting a student in the chest. According to eyewitnesses, Maam Afshan seemed to understand immediately what was going on. She stood up and confronted a terrorist, tackling the armed man as she shouted at the children to run. Angry, the attackers poured petrol over her and set her on fire. As she burned, she continued to defend her students, yelling that she would not allow them to kill the children as long as she was alive. The militants were distracted by her resistance and the children ran out of the classroom as their teacher shouted, “Run away, run away, children!” Irfanullah, one of the injured students in that class said this later:
“It’s an instance of true love and a greatest sacrifice. She was not only our teacher, but our guard-mother, as well. I feel I am a self-centered guy because instead of being with her to save her life, I ran away, but I was also wounded.”
Afshan Ahmad is dead, but her students are alive. One hundred thirty-two children died in the attack, along with 12-18 teachers and the school’s principal. Attackers claimed they only targeted “the older students, but not the young children,” as if that was some kind of mercy, but seven-year-old Khaula, who was sitting in the principal’s office as her father enrolled her in school, was killed, too.
Teachers impact the lives of their students in ways we can’t even imagine, but few of us are called to make such a sacrifice as the brave teachers and administrators at the Peshawar School during this monstrous attack. May God bless them and bring them glory and peace.
But you know what I really can’t understand? When I searched for information about Afshan Ahmad, a woman who burned to death to protect her students, I could only find one article about her–the one where I first learned about her! How is this possible? And where are the stories of all the other brave people in that school?