Hailai Arghandiwal:  A Journey in Gratitude

Hailai Arghandiwal: A Journey in Gratitude

April 24, 2018 1 Comment

Hailai Arghandiwal for Goal Five

My name is Hailai. My friends and family call me Lai. I am a first generation Afghan-American born to former refugee parents. My journey to finding my why in life began at a very young age, and although I didn’t realize it then, family, gratitude, and a will to succeed would be the fundamental values that would shape who I am and who I am becoming.

I believe that in order to know where you are going, you need to know where you come from.

My mom and dad were both born and raised in Afghanistan. They both fled around the time of the Russian invasion and sought asylum outside of their homeland. I was born in Alameda, CA and have grown up in the Bay Area ever since. I was blessed with two big families with traditional values with a strong connection to my roots that helped shape my childhood. I was able to have a connection with a world that I was not physically a part of. And this was pivotal for me.


My mom has always jokingly said that I was quite literally born on the soccer field. My father coached soccer and my older brother played, so it only felt right to play the sport that brought my family so much joy. I started playing organized soccer at the young age of five. As I got older, my passion and my talent grew. I knew that I wanted to play soccer at the highest level, even then.

From an early age, my father and mother pushed my brother and me to be the absolute best we could be, because America, unlike Afghanistan, gave us the platform to do just that; to be the best. They put me on the best teams growing up to ensure that I got to where I wanted to go.

In high school, I played for Pleasanton Rage within the ECNL league. I was exposed to hundreds of college coaches throughout the whole process. Being a soccer player born and raised in the Bay Area, I knew about the amazing college soccer programs that were so close to home. Joining the Santa Clara University women’s soccer team was my goal. The soccer program is notorious for its success and for fostering many amazing national team players like Brandi Chastain. I committed as a recruited walk-on for the Santa Clara team in my junior year of high school. I was one of the first girls in my family and in the Afghan community to play for a top 20 division 1 program.

Hailai-Santa Clara

I was recruited as a walk-on and was not offered a scholarship as a freshman. I knew that even though I wasn’t awarded a scholarship, I could help the team and make an impact. And by my junior year, I earned that scholarship. We made it to the Elite 8 and Sweet 16 of the NCAA tournament in my junior and senior year. I also had the privilege of serving the team as captain in my final season this past fall. I have had the pleasure of playing with some incredible soccer players who along the way have either taught me a lesson or inspired me to be better. I am eternally grateful for that experience.

As cliche as it may be, the past four years at Santa Clara have been some of the greatest years of my life. Don't get me wrong, I think I’ve cried more in college than I have in my whole life. But I believe that things don’t happen to you, they happen for you. So, whatever circumstance I faced, I am better for it.

My first shot at the Afghanistan National Team was when I was 14 years old when I traveled to Bangladesh for the South Asian Football Cup in 2010. I was young, but I can recall that trip as one of the most powerful eye opening experiences of my life. The national team was in its infancy stages and the women on the team were stronger than I could have ever imagined. To endure what they have endured, and to be able to put a smile on their faces gave me a sense of motivation.

Meeting these girls led to me finding my why. Living in America and being on the SCU women’s soccer team has given me perspective. We have everything here. Imagine a world, where you couldn’t choose who you wanted to be. This was their reality, but they have chosen to risk their lives in the hope that the future of Afghanistan is a better one.

The more I got involved with the national team, the more I realized the type of responsibility and duty that I needed to take on. My purpose turned into something greater than soccer. It turned into being a vehicle and voice for change. Women are pivotal to the success of this world, because without us, there simply wouldn’t be one.

Being a part of Santa Clara’s team and Afghanistan’s national team has humbled me in more ways than one. I often used to feel guilty being from America, but these Afghan women taught me a lesson in gratitude. If you ever feel guilty about your position in life, whether it be very successful or not; gratitude will always keep your intentions pure and will allow you to move forward always.

When you’re a kid you’re asked what you want to be when you’re older. And for most that dream naturally changes, but for others, like me, it was always to become a professional soccer player. And now that I have graduated from Santa Clara University, that dream is still alive and strong. The dream is within reach and I am beyond appreciative to even have the chance to pursue professional soccer abroad.

We are destination oriented people. When we accomplish one thing, we're thirsting for the next thing. This relentless pursuit is truly humbling especially when we take a second to look at the big picture. What am I doing? Why am I doing it? I realized this past year that our dreams only matter when they are rooted in something real.

I am determined to excel to create a platform for myself so that I can shed light on the voices that really matter, the voices of not only Afghan women, but all women. When I was little, I never saw someone that looked like me make it. I didn’t see her in sports, in fashion, in media or in music. I hope that in the future some little, brown girl will look at me and think that it is possible.

I believe that the future is as malleable as we want it to be. It is as female as we want it to be. We all have the potential to change the world for the better. Men and women both.

You now know where I started, but more importantly now you know where I’m headed. This is just the start.

With gratitude,


Hailai Arghandiwal is a former captain of the Santa Clara Women’s Soccer Team and current member of the Afghan Women’s National Team

If you want to follow along with Hailai on her journey to be a professional soccer player, follow us @goalfive. She’ll be documenting her highs and lows on our IG story beginning next week in Italy. Good Luck Hailai! 

UPDATE:  In December 2018, Hailai signed with Florentia becoming the first Afghan-American to play in the Serie A in Italy.

To find out more about the challenges facing the Afghanistan Women’s National Football Team, please visit our mission partner Soccer Without Borders or watch this video produced by nbcsports.com.

1 Response

Robby Conn
Robby Conn

April 25, 2018

Good luck, Hailai! Thanks for sharing your story, and in such a meaningful way. I’m sure you’ll do great! Robby

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