Afghan immigrants to share stories on South Whidbey

For Afghan women learning to read, write and communicate are the building blocks of education

For Afghan women who have immigrated to Washington in the past few years, learning to read, write and communicate are the building blocks of education that lead to a more independent and autonomous life.

With the help of the Afghan Advantage – a nonprofit organization based in the greater Seattle area – these women are on their way to building connections and thriving in their new country. And soon, they will board the ferry to Whidbey Island for the first time and share their stories during an event at 5 p.m. on Sunday, April 14 at Music for the Eyes in downtown Langley.

Officially established in 2023, the Afghan Advantage offers literacy classes free of charge to women who have immigrated to Washington with their families after evacuating Afghanistan when the Taliban seized control of the country in 2021.

“When the Afghans came, the worst problem was English language skills, and it was made worse because a lot of these people didn’t read or write any Afghan language,” said Sharon Lundahl, who owns Music for the Eyes with her husband, Fred. “To learn English before you learn any other language is hard.”

The Afghan Advantage reports that women’s literacy in Afghanistan is 22%, the lowest rate in the world. Half of the students who participate in the nonprofit’s classes have never attended school before.

“If you don’t have that hook of literacy to transfer from one language to the next, a lot of the methods and understanding, especially of reading and writing, are not present,” said Sarah Jacobsen, one of the founders of the Afghan Advantage and a member of the nonprofit’s board.

Besides learning English from native speakers, part of the education also includes time with Afghan teachers who speak Pashto and Dari, the official languages of Afghanistan. The intensive learning process consists of four modules, each lasting a total of eight weeks. By the end of it, women will know how to write their names and recite their phone numbers and home addresses, seemingly simple things that can make a world of difference.

Students also learn basic life skills and digital literacy, such as how to navigate an internet search engine or how to send an email. They take field trips to the library, the grocery store and a restaurant; they practice using public transportation. They can even learn how to drive — an action which is prohibited for all women in Afghanistan.

“It’s really a complete lifestyle change for them, to gain that literacy to get them on the path of being able to go out into the community and have more independence and autonomy,” Jacobsen said.

Since its founding, the Afghan Advantage has taught 86 students and has a growing waitlist of women who are eager to learn more. Most students reside in south King County.

The women are looking forward to setting foot inside Music for the Eyes, a gift shop replete with cultural items from all over the world, including Afghan carpets, hats and jewelry. Former foreign diplomats Sharon and Fred Lundahl collect the treasures while on their travels and bring them to the Village by the Sea.

“I don’t think any of our students or teachers or board members have ever been north of Seattle,” Jacobsen said. “So it’s just this really huge adventure. They’re so excited about it.”

She added that the Lundahls have always been big supporters of the Afghan Advantage. After the fall of Kabul, Afghanistan’s capital, Music for the Eyes donated rugs to the families of refugees that the state welcomed.

“If someone could have one thing in their home, the thing they would want is a rug,” Jacobsen said. “We had people who were just absolutely floored and so thrilled and grateful to have that rug.”

The event in Langley is an opportunity to raise funds.

“We are a new organization, and the funding will definitely help us support more women in our program,” Jacobsen said.

But most of all, it will be a chance for the people of Whidbey to learn something new. The visiting speakers will talk about Afghanistan and their culture.

For more information about the nonprofit organization, visit

Photo provided
Sarah Jacobsen teaches a group of students in Tukwila.

Photo provided Sarah Jacobsen teaches a group of students in Tukwila.