Student’s advocacy for Afghanistan expands to young audiences with new book


Calvin University

Tori Jan’s book was released on January 11, 2021.

As a teenager, Freshta Tori Jan fled to the U.S. from Afghanistan. She and her family were facing severe persecution from the Taliban because they were Hazaras, a minority ethnic group.

Once in the U.S., she began advocating for her family and her community, first locally, but eventually nationally and internationally. Now a senior at Calvin studying international relations on the pre-law track, she’s chronicling her experience in a book for W.W. Norton Publishing’s “I, Witness” series.

In 2019, Tori Jan’s increasing public exposure grew even further. She was invited to speak at the International Conference of Youth Voices, hosted by the Hopkins Project, an organization founded to promote the courageous creative expression of young people with a special emphasis on supporting youth writing centers.

Amanda Uhle, co-founder of the Hopkins Project and former director of the 826 Michigan program, told Chimes she noticed Tori Jan’s activist work through Michigan media and was interested in helping her tell her story, initially with the International Conference of Youth Voices, and, after extensive conversation, through this book. Uhle said, “I knew that she would have a great narrative about her life that would be compelling … and also instructive.”

Written with the help of Uhle and her co-founder Dave Eggers, “I, Witness: Courage: My Story of Oppression” is the third book in a series written by young activists for students ages 9-12. However, Tori Jan said her book is also for anyone who wants to get informed: “If you really care about social issues … here is a story, this is what is happening, and it is not being talked about.” Her ethnic group, the Hazaras, continue to face persecution in Afghanistan. For Tori Jan, the book is meant to be a call to action.

Geared towards younger audiences, the book also aims to build empathy and compassion in a new generation and empower them to use their voices. Tori Jan said that one of the essential messages of the book is “you are never too young to be a leader … you have a voice that you could [use to] make so much change.”

Off-the-page, Tori Jan has also become an inspiration to her peers. Ella Pastoor, a junior and one of Tori Jan’s best friends, said that her relationship with Tori Jan has inspired her to “become an advocate for people going through tough things of all walks of life.”

Tori Jan’s book, “I, Witness: Courage: My Story of Oppression,” can be found wherever books are sold.