The portrait of the “Afghan Girl,” a 10-year-old Afghan refugee was first printed on the cover of National Geographic magazine in 1985. The piercing green eyes became an internationally-known symbol. Even today, the iconic image shows the pain and difficulty that countless refugees face, and the effect that war can have on a child.
It has been more than three decades since that original photo was printed, and Sharbat Gula is now in her 40s. For the first 17 years after her picture was taken, she did not know that her face had become famous worldwide. The people who looked into her hauntingly beautiful eyes on the magazine cover did not even know her name.
During that time, Gula was in Pakistan, as were many other Afghan refugees. She ended up there after being forced to flee her country due to a war between Russia and Afghanistan. Eventually her photographer, Steve McCurry, found her again and followed up about her life story. Gula now has four children, and is in Afghanistan again after being deported from Pakistan. She had been imprisoned due to allegedly obtaining her Pakistani ID illegally.
Gula told BBC News that this was the hardest experience of her life, since she lost her house and was thrown in jail, even though she just wanted to educate her children and have a safe place to live. The Pakistani government apologized after the incident, but she says she has had enough. Now, she claims that if she ever goes back, it will only be to visit the graves of her husband and eldest daughter.
The Afghan government has welcomed her with open arms and promised to financially support her, including buying her a house. Although Gula is hesitant to believe that they will keep their promises due to her negative experience with the Pakistani government, she is hopeful, and even wants to start a charity or hospital to help the needy people of her country.
Sharbat Gula is just one of millions of people who are living like her, or in even worse situations. Her story helps bring to light the horrifying impact of war on children, as well as the need to help bring refugees to safety and back on their feet.