After a Taliban bomb killed their father in Kabul, the Abdul Nabi girls and their family fled to a Pakistani refugee camp. Laila and Jaila cooked, cleaned, sewed and dreamed of going to school. They wanted to be doctors. But it wasn’t possible. Then UNICEF resettled the family in Boston. When they were 13 and 14, Laila and Jaila started school for the first time. It was like offering food to the starving, their ESL teacher, Charlotte Dumont, remembers.
“It was so hard for us to believe we were finally at school,’’ Laila said. “Every day, as soon as we got home, we would study. All we had was our books, and we loved them.’’
. . . Within 18 months, the two inseparable girls with the long dark hair had made it up to grade level, taking places in mainstream math and science classes, where they shone.
In high school, the girls qualified for honors and advanced placement classes.
They studied through nights, asked for extra help, reproached themselves when their work fell below their own exacting standards. They found time for volunteer work, jobs, and summer leadership camps where they kayaked and hiked. They were ferocious about all of it.
Less than six years after they walked into their first classroom, Laila and Jaila Abdul Nabi earned their high school diplomas. Laila will go to Bryn Mawr on a full scholarship. Jaila will live at home to care for her mother and brothers and go to UMass Boston. Both girls plan to go to medical school.