Razia Jan, the symbolic courageous lady who fights to educate rural Afghani girls

razia jan cnn hero

Afghanistan is one of the most challenging places in the world for a woman. In Afghanistan, only 18% of girls over 15 years know how to read and only 40% of females attend school. The startlingly low number of women with no education results in disadvantages for Afghan women; they are abused, mentally, physically and sexually. For nearly three decades, the people of Afghanistan have been subjected to a succession of brutal wars and the oppressive rule of the Taliban. These conflicts have left Afghanistan’s infrastructure and economy devastated, making it one of the poorest countries in the world.

Under the Taliban rule, women were forced to wear an all-encompassing burqa in public and barred from working outside the home. They were also banned from attending schools, riding bicycles, wearing bright colored clothes or laughing loudly. Schools for girls have been burned down, hundreds of teachers educating girls have been threatened or killed and girls have been physically harmed while attending or walking to or from school. Terrorists would stop at nothing to keep Afghan girls away from receiving education. This is where Razia Jan comes to help. Razia Jan is the founder of Razia’s Ray of Hope Foundation, a non-profit organization dedicated to improve the lives of women and children in Afghanistan through community-based education.

Born in Afghanistan, Razia Jan experienced some of the sexism herself. She was fortunate enough to move to the United States to get an education. There, she went to college, had a son, became an American citizen and opened a small tailoring business in Duxbury, Massachusetts. Razia Jan had a perfectly stable and a normal life. However, one huge tragedy occurred, completely changing Jan’s mindset about life and caused her determination to make a difference. This incident was the infamous 9/11 tragedy. She saw the fire-fighters as heroes and decided she wanted to be one too.

After continually hearing about the worsening statistics of Afghan girls not receiving education, Razia Jan decided to step up and make a change. Not only does she return to her dangerous homeland, she started an all girl’s school, against the consent of the people there, risking her life. Her courage helped hundreds of girls to get better lives. Returning to the country takes courage and running a girl’s school there, takes even more courage.

In order to achieve her goals, Razia Jan had to overcome many obstacles. When many people told her to stop what she was doing, she was determined to educate Afghan girls and not even big scary men could stop her from doing just that. Razia Jan’s strong determination is what led her to keep pursuing her goals. Despite the threat of violence, Jan continues to open the doors of her Zabuli Education Center, a two-story, 18-room building where over 430 girls are receiving a free education. On the evening before the school opened in 2008, four men paid her a visit. They said,

This is your last chance… to change this school into a boys’ school, because the backbone of Afghanistan is our boys,…. I just turned around and I told them, ‘Excuse me. The women are the eyesight of Afghanistan, and unfortunately you all are blind. And I really want to give you some sight.

She single-handedly raised about 150,000 dollars from donations and fundraisers to cover the cost of building the school. She got the money from donations to her non-profit organization ‘Razia’s Rays of Hope’ as well as some sponsors. The Zabuli Education Center teaches kindergarten to eighth grade. Without her school, Razia Jan says, many of the students would not have able to receive education. Jan’s school teaches math, science, religion and three languages: English, Farsi and Pashto. It recently added a computer lab with Internet access.

To shield the students from attacks, Razia Jan has built a new stone wall to surround the school. She also employs staff and guards who serve as human guinea pigs. Jan says she is so scared of poisoning that school staff members accompany children to the bathroom and make sure the children don’t drink water from the faucet. Additionally, the day guard arrives early each morning to check for any gas or poison that might be leaked inside the classrooms. The guard opens doors and windows and checks the air quality before any children are allowed to enter.

Heroes Tribute: Razia Jan

Razia Jan has received many awards for her humanitarian work, including the 2007 Woman of Excellence award from Germaine Lawrence Inc., multiple Rotary Club International Peace Awards and certificates of appreciation from the Army Corps of Engineers and the American Legion. Razia Jan was honored as one of the Top 10 CNN Heroes of 2012.

Not many people would willingly return to a corrupt, dangerous country after having escaped it years before. Throughout her journey from building and running the school, Razia Jan hadn’t only made a huge difference in Afghanistan, but also inspired many people along the way. Razia Jan, who takes no money for her work with the school, believes the education her students receive will benefit not only future generations of Afghan women but the country as a whole. Her work comes from the heart and expects nothing in return but the good results. All of her hard work has definitely paid off.

I hope that one day these girls… will come back and teach, because I’m not going to be there all my life. I want to make this school something that will last 100 years from now.

It has been proven – when you educate a girl, you educate her mother, her family, her community and open up her world, so that she can fulfil her hopes and dreams. Help Razia Jan bring a ‘ray of hope’ trough the Zabuli Education Center for a community of Afghan girls by supporting her efforts. To get involved, check out the Razia’s Ray of Hope Foundation website at www.raziasrayofhope.org and see how to help.

Kakoli Mahanta

Kakoli Mahanta

A post graduate in Economics, Kakoli Partha Mahanta worked for corporate finance sector for about 7 years. Mother of a cute 2 year baby girl, Kakoli is currently located in Bangalore, India, flourishing her writing skill.