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Voices of Hope: Educating Girls in Afghanistan

March 10, 2016
by Razia Jan
Razia Jan, founder of the Zabuli Education Center in Afghanistan, shares two especially inspiring stories of two Afghan girls at her school.

This month, the Bush Institute is proud to celebrate the release of “We Are Afghan Women: Voices of Hope.” With an introduction by Mrs. Laura Bush, the book highlights the stories of extraordinarily resilient women and their struggles, successes, and resolve in present-day Afghanistan.

To coincide with the book launch, the Bush Institute’s Women’s Initiative will spotlight organizations and individuals who are doing important work in Afghanistan through a “Voices of Hope” blog series over the next several weeks.

As Mrs. Bush has said, “It is important for those of us around the world, both women and men, to stop and listen to Afghanistan’s women. By listening, we also have a chance to learn.”

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Razia Jan, one of the Afghan women featured in the new book, “We Are Afghan Women: Voices of Hope,” participated in a discussion with Mrs. Bush and Fox News’ Greta Van Susteren this week to promote the book. Razia is the founder of the Zabuli Education Center, a private K-12 girls’ school that provides more than 500 girls in Afghanistan with free education as well as uniforms, shoes, warm coats, and meals. Below, she shares two especially inspiring stories of two Afghan girls at her school.

Rahela is the oldest student at the Zabuli Education Center ( age 24). She has three brothers and three sisters; all of her sisters are enrolled at the Zabuli Education Center too.

After some years of education at a different school, she began fifth grade when she was 18. Her previous schooling was so poor that she could barely read and write. 2015 was her final year at the Zabuli Education, as she graduated in December.

Her father is the village Malik (the equivalent of a mayor), who, despite conservative views, is hugely supportive of the school. Two years ago, she resisted an arranged marriage to a much older man, and her family punished her brutally, attempting to intimidate her into complying with the marriage. For six months, Rahela endured beatings from family members.

The support of classmates seemed to help this student endure; they rallied her spirits, even on days when laughter hurt because her ribs had been broken. After six months of steadfast refusal, her family finally conceded. This was no small victory, and there is no doubt she could not have done it without the support of her teachers and fellow students.

Yalda is one of the first seven girls to graduate from the Zabuli Education Center. She has a younger sister, Leeza, who is in eighth grade at the Zabuli Education Center this year.

When Yalda was in ninth grade, she was engaged to be married. Although girls are usually forced to withdraw from school once they are engaged, she begged and pleaded with her family to be allowed to finish twelfth grade before discontinuing education. She was able to persuade her future husband to allow it on the condition that she complete school in three years. So Yalda studied extra hard and was able to take the exam to skip tenth grade. She was married as a senior in high school, but her in-laws allowed her to continue school. She graduated in December 2015.

Her family's attitude has continued to change, and since graduating, she is still at school, now helping out as an assistant teacher. Yalda is going to continue her education at the Razia Jan Institute when it begins classes this summer. She wants to be a midwife in the local village, to turn her education into a positive impact on the community.