Small yet mighty, Razia Jan is a champion for girls’ education in Afghanistan. Working within the unfortunate reality where girls are attacked, abused, and killed for seeking out their right to quality schooling, Razia stands as a Voice of Hope for those who once were voiceless.
Making its television debut on October 31 on PBS POV, What Tomorrow Brings documents the courage and commitment of Razia and her students. It tells the story of Pashtana, who is happiest when she is at school and yearns to continue her studies; of Rihala, who faces violence from her family for going to school; and of the teachers and headmasters that serve as confidantes and advocates for these girls’ continued education.
Both hopeful and harsh, the film reminds us of the universal power of education and the thirst with which girls in Afghanistan seek it as they forge a path toward progress.
Among villages where illiteracy is a standard for many, she builds support for students by teaching them to write their father’s name in both Dari and English within their first weeks of study. In a community where child marriage is common, she has negotiated at her personal expense to ensure betrothed girls can continue their education. And amid a conservative society that yields regular threats to safety and security, though she stands just over five feet tall, she has gone toe to toe with those who wish her and students harm.
In 2008, Razia opened the Zabuli Education Center to provide free education and resources in a community where no girls’ school had previously existed through the work of the Razia’s Ray of Hope Foundation. Despite persistent challenges, including the risk of violence, over the last eight years Razia has worked tirelessly to steward community acceptance and expand curriculum offerings for her students. Ironically built on the site of a former school for boys, today the Center welcomes 550 students from Deh Sabz, a rural community located 40 minutes outside of Kabul.
And recognizing the integral need for continued education for young women in the region, in August 2015 the Foundation officially broke ground on the first women’s post-secondary vocational school in rural Afghanistan. Fully funded and scheduled to open in the Spring of 2017, the Razia Jan Institute will ensure that Zabuli graduates have an opportunity to continue their studies and fulfill their potential on their terms. With approval from the Afghan Ministry of Education, the Institute also aims to address the significant skills gap within the local community through course offerings in health care services, midwifery, and office administration.
Resilience is necessary in a world where girls face threats to their safety for seeking an education. Reports of attacks and poisonings of female students are sadly commonplace. General insecurity affects girls’ safety in getting to school, particularly if they have to travel a long way to the nearest one.
And yet, girls attend school anyway. More than 2.5 million girls are enrolled in school today and over 15,000 women have graduated from University, a far cry from the Taliban era when girls were prohibited from attending school at all.
Narratives like Razia’s matter.
They serve as a vital reminder that quality schooling is integral for both child development and community well-being. Moreover, they stand as an enduring testament that though the road may be difficult, through education and opportunities, girls in Afghanistan will build a better future for themselves, their families, and their country.
Razia's story is one of 29 inspiring stories told in "We Are Afghan Women: Voices of Hope." To learn more about the book and the Bush Institute’s Afghan Women’s Project, visit: http://www.bushcenter.org/explore-our-work/fostering-policy/afghan-womens-project.html
Natalie Gonnella-Platts serves as the Deputy Director of the Women's Initiative at the George W. Bush Institute. In this role, Natalie is responsible for research and programmatic efforts that empower women worldwide to lead in their communities and countries. The portfolio currently includes the First Ladies Initiative, the Afghan Women’s Project, and the Women’s Initiative Fellowship. Natalie leads the work of the First Ladies Initiative, which aims to enable and support First Ladies from around the world in effectively using their platforms to empower women and children in their countries.
Natalie studied Communications and International Studies (Peace and Conflict) at the State University of New York (SUNY) at Fredonia. She earned an MA in War, Violence and Security studies from the University of Sussex in Brighton, United Kingdom. Prior to joining the Bush Institute, she held roles in New York City at American International Group (AIG), and in London at ConservativeHome USA, the Legatum Institute, and BBC Worldwide. She is also a co-founder of Each Inc., a non-profit that seeks to provide innovative technology tools to organizations that care for and protect orphans and vulnerable children globally, and has previously served as a project strategy advisor to Stop the Traffik’s Finance Against Trafficking initiative.Full Bio
Farhat Popal serves as the Manager of the Women’s Initiative Fellowship and the Afghan Women’s Project at the George W. Bush Institute. In this role, Farhat is responsible for research and programmatic efforts that empower women worldwide to lead in their communities and countries.
Farhat studied Political Science/International Relations and History of the Near East at the University of California, San Diego. She earned a Master’s degree in Public Policy from the Goldman School of Public Policy at the University of California, Berkeley. Prior to joining the Bush Institute, she worked on human rights programs in Afghanistan and Central Asia at the State Department's Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor in Washington, DC, and evaluated reconstruction projects in Afghanistan with the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction. While with SIGAR, she spent considerable time conducting field work at the U.S. Embassy in Kabul. In addition to her international work, Farhat evaluated the effectiveness and efficiency of local government programs at the City of San Diego and City of Oakland’s Offices of the City Auditor.Full Bio
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