71-year-old Razia Jan, spent her childhood in a liberal Afghanistan, prior to Taliban occupation and subjugation. Her experience allowed her to migrate to the U.S, where she attended Harvard University.
When September 11 happened, Jan knew that a return to Afghanistan was imminent and unavoidable if she was to enact change in a country so close to her heart.
So in 2008, Razia opened a free, private k-12 school for girls in Deh’Subz, a highly conservative village in rural Afghanistan.
Her plan was not enacted without a fight from local male groups. The men in the village were unhappy with their children going to school especially when it was a female-only institution, but after some convincing, their mentality soon changed.
Razia’s plan was to prove to the fathers of the village that by furthering their girls’ education, they could benefit as well. So she began by teaching every first year student to learn to write not only her own name, but also that of her father’s.
“Today our young daughters can read in English,” one father beamed. “Yes, this is a proud moment. The changes are enormous — like the difference between the earth and the sky. … We feel like this is our golden period, and we are kings,” one proud father told The Islamic Monthly.
Things then began to change, slowly but surely.
During its first year, the Zabuli center taught 91 girls, now it counts the enrolment of nearly 500 students from kindergarten to year 12.
But what happens to the girls once they graduate? That’s what Razia’s Ray of Hope foundation is seeking to answer.
The foundation launched an Indiegogo campaign which saw over $117,000 raised to fund the building of the Razia Jan Technical College.
As soon as the goal was reached, construction began on site and now, the technical college is no longer a dream but a promising ray of hope for these young girls.
The college will train the women in midwifery, computer science, literature, English as a second language and teaching, with the hope that these women will return as teachers to the college or serve in the community to help others in need.
“I think the confidence they have, the courage they have, the self-respect they have, I can see that,” Razia says. “I can see the improvements and really sometimes I can’t even believe it. Everything is so much better for them; they are so confident. I think they are so bright, they are so intelligent, and they want to learn.”
This college is so much more than just a place to learn. For these women, receiving an education means they have more of a chance at breaking the cycle of poverty, avoiding archaic laws that see them married off at 14 and extending their knowledge to family and friends changing the future for generations to come.
“This is their will. And this is how they are showing their strength,” she says. “Little by little, they are finding support. It’s not an easy way. It’s a hard way. It might take 20 years … but I am so proud of these girls. So, so proud.”