Afghan We Can: Razia’s Ray of Hope hosts fundraiser

Rachel Brown

CNN Hero Razia Jan and award-winning filmmaker Beth Murphy visited Bartlesville Saturday Oct. 17, 2015, for Afghan We Can, a local fundraiser benefiting Razia’s Ray of Hope Foundation and the Zabuli Education Center in Afghanistan.

Razia’s Ray of Hope Foundation was founded just after Sept. 11, 2001, when Jan returned to Afghanistan, her native country. Upon her return, she was shocked to find the condition of Afghan education and treatment of women declining.

“Every Friday, they would gather the women who had been arrested doing simple things, like wearing one red sock and one white sock because they were too poor, and stone them to death,” Jan said.

Jan wanted to change these conditions and started the Zabuli Education Center for girls.

“My inspiration was that when I was younger, I had a chance at an education,” Jan said.

However, building the school was not easy. Jan said that in order to start the school, she had to gain support from the elders in the community.

“When we built the school, the community was not with us,” she said. “But, if we get them to send their daughters, it might show other men in the community.”

Afghan We Can featured a bazaar where people could purchase handmade Middle Eastern clothing, a Middle Eastern dinner and a preview of Beth Murphy’s documentary “What Tomorrow Brings” followed by a question and answer session.

“What Tomorrow Brings” is a cinéma-vérité, meaning it is very intimate film.

“I want you to feel like you are in the school with the students…” Beth Murphy said. “I want to transport you to Afghanistan.”

The documentary focuses on the girls’ life both in and out of school.

“One of the things I love is that the girls are telling their own stories, when a lot of the people in their lives don’t care what they think or feel.” Murphy said.

“What Tomorrow Brings” will be played on the film festival circuit for 2016, and it is expected to air on PBS in 2017.

One of the biggest reasons the girls are not finishing school is early marriages.

“You know the average age for marriage [in Afghanistan] is 11-13,” Jan said. “We try to prevent that.”

One of the scenes in “What Tomorrow Brings” shows a girl talking about her fiancé. There are currently four girls who are married attending the Zabuli Education Center.

“Still there is hope that these girls will get an education,” Jan said. “These girls are doing well.”

Bartlesville Daybreak Rotary has sponsored Razia’s Ray of Hope for six years now, donating over $35,000 for the school in Afghanistan. The Bartlesville Daybreak Rotary was the first to donate for a new community college that is being built.

Razia is now building a two year community college for her first graduating class. The Razia Jan Institute will have a program to train the girls as midwives.

“It is going to be opening doors and it is needed,” Jan said.

Safety of the girls is one of Razia’s priorities, but Afghanistan is still vulnerable to terrorism, mainly from the Taliban.

“You never know when they are going to blow it up,” Jan said.

She said that the men in the village try to stop anyone who seems suspicious.

“There has to be a reason for them to come,” she said.

“I think the success of the students is my inspiration,” Razia said. “When I go there, just the happiest moment of my life is seeing the girls laughing, and playing, and being young children, young women.”

Also some Interact Club students had the opportunity to attend Afghan We Can. They got to talk to Jan before the event, Jan told them about the Zabuli Education Center and the situation in Afghanistan.

She closed their discussion by telling the students that if they cannot help anybody, do not hurt them.

Published in The 4th Estate on Oct. 30.