My name is Razia Jan,
I am the Founder and Director of the Zabuli Girls High School.
I was born outside Kabul. I left in the 70’s to study, and returned in 2002. My wish was to come back here and work with the women because I know that women and girls have suffered the most in Afghanistan.
The school was built in 2008 in historic Deh Sabz, with a free piece of land from the Ministry of Education. In the 1900s, Amir Amanullah Khan built the first boys primary school here. After almost a century we built a girl’s school, which is amazing.
There were many elders that I had to face. Many times that I came to look at the location, and men said to me, “Please go inside and sit with my wife and have a cup of tea, and we will decide what to do.” And I said listen, if you can’t deal with me, then you are a loser. I am not interested to have a cup of tea with your wife. I am interested in standing next to you and deciding how this place is going to be built.”
After a while they were ok with it, and they could talk to me. We have meetings two or three times a year at the school. There are twenty-five men that come and I am the only woman. I am very determined and I know what’s best for the girls. They now agree with me.
The school is in the heart of community and they look out for the school – who is coming in, who’s going out. They take care because we have a lot of families that come from these communities. One family has four daughters here; another has twelve grandchildren here. These past four years we never had any problems.
We are the only private school that is 100% free. Our school is also number one in record keeping of any school. We have about 370 girls this year. The teachers come from Kabul or were refugees in Pakistan or Iran, where they could not study. They are now in teacher’s training at university, and I pay for them to take computer and English classes so they can teach the students. We also pay their transportation.
My philosophy is to keep the girls in school as long as I can, so the school operates eleven months a year. If I let them go home for three months, they will not return. Every child should have a basic education. If she can do more, that would be wonderful.
I want every woman, every girl to know how to write their name. The first day of school, I teach the kindergarten children how to write their father’s name. They write it one hundred times. When they go home and show their father his name, and the father can’t read or write, it makes all the difference. Talking to their fathers, their uncles and grandparents, they are very proud. It is great for them to see what the child knows.
The girls behave exactly like students in any other part of the world. They are so happy, active, and positive. They want their rights and have started the same thing with their families; they question them and try to stand up for something. In Afghanistan a woman has no place, so this makes me happy and grateful.
I work maybe twenty hours a day, seven days a week. I have a regular job, and I work for my nonprofit foundation, Razia’s Ray of Hope. I also design and make clothes to sell. All the funds go to the school. The board members of my foundation are Afghans and foreigners. Whether I am here or not, this school should keep on going.
I have a five-year old girl, and somebody asked, “What do you want to be?” She said, “engineer” and then she said, “Do you know what an engineer is?” She said, “No, when I become an engineer then I will come and tell you what is an engineer!” My girls have ambition. And I am there to help them. My goal is to help them fulfill their dreams. Hopefully one day some of them will do what they want to. It’s a slow process, one day at a time.