Razia Jan has a dream: that all girls in Afghanistan will go to school. And she has already realised the beginning of that dream. In a rural village in Afghanistan, at least 500 girls have been going to her school. And that number is growing fast.
In a small Afghan village, something remarkable is going on. Something that should not be remarkable at all, but still is: around 500 girls go to school there. Girls who would normally not receive an education because they cannot afford it or because girls do not really belong in school: schools are for boys namely, is the predominant thought in Afghanistan. But a determined woman is bringing about change.
Razia Jan, a small woman, seventytwo years old, with warm but fierce eyes is convinced of something: education is the foundation for the lives of Afghan women and girls. School is the key to their future. All girls should go there, regardless of their background and financial resources.
With this in mind, she established the first school for girls in a rural area in Afghanistan in 2008. Ironically, the school was located on a site where there used to be a boys’ school. Now, all girls from the area are welcome at the Zabuli School in Deh'Subz. They do not have to pay anything. The check the little ones in the morning to see if they have brushed their teeth. The female teachers here are a lot more than teachers. They are great role models and a kind of life coach for the girls.
“It was difficult at first,” Razia Jan explains. The villagers did not trust it. “When a country is devastated by war it is hard for people to believe that life can get better again and that their daughters can go to school.” But gradually, more and more parents entrusted their daughters to Razia Jan. Meanwhile, the school has become indispensable for the village. "If this school falls apart, the whole village falls apart," one father says.
That fear is not unfounded. Schools for girls are often attacked by terrorists who are against female education. They throw bombs, poison the pupils or throw acid in their faces. So far, Razia Jan’s school has not been attacked, but security remains an issue.
Another problem for the girls is the threat of forced marriage. Every day, girls get married off, often to middle-aged men. When it happens, a husband usually does not accept that a girl continues to go to school; she has to clean the house and cook food. “Every day I pray that nothing goes wrong. I do not know what tomorrow will bring, but for now, at least they are in school. That makes me very proud and happy,” Razia Jan says.
Razia Jan was born in Afghanistan and moved to the United States in 1970. Humanitarian work is in her blood. She sent 400 homemade blankets to emergency workers at Ground Zero after 11 September 2001, and later 30.000 pairs of shoes to poor Afghan children. Razia Jan has been praised for her humanitarian work, and she has received many awards. In 2012, she was one of the ten CNN Top 10 Heroes.