News about the foundation, girls' education, and women's rights in Afghanistan
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Mahnaz is the youngest of six children. At birth, she weighed just 2 pounds. Mahnaz's mother held the baby girl the palm of her hand — and fed Mahnaz with an eye dropper. As Mahnaz grew, her limbs appeared entangled. She could not use her hands or legs. Before her first birthday, she was diagnosed with polio. Over time, with the love and care of her family, Mahnaz's condition improved. She learned to use her hands, but remained unable to sit or stand.
Afghanistan is not a welcoming place to those with physical abnormalities. In the past, it was commonplace for village children like Mahnaz to be shuttered away at home by parents who were ashamed of having a crippled child. Fortunately for Mahnaz, she was born to sensitive, progressive family.
As the years passed, Mahnaz saw her five older siblings head off to school every day. She wanted to know when she would be able to school. She persistently questioned her parents: "When will I go to school?" It became clear that Mahnaz was undaunted by her physical challenges and was not going to be satisfied by staying at home. But her parents had difficulty imagining how their youngest child would ever be able to attend school like her older siblings.
In 2016, Mahnaz's father carried her into the Zabuli Education Center. He begged us to admit his daughter, who wanted nothing more than the opportunity of education among her peers. Razia Jan shared Mahnaz's parents' determination to provide Mahnaz an education. We admitted Mahnaz, resolving to accommodate her physical needs. With Razia's creativity and inspiration, we built a special desk that supports Mahnaz comfortably while sitting in the classroom, and she quickly became part of our school community.
Today Mahnaz is in the first grade. Her energy and commitment are extraordinary. She struggles just to get to school; someone must carry her from home to the bus; upon arrival at school, one of the other students carries Mahnaz to her classroom. This routine is reversed at the end of the day. Mahnaz doesn't complain; she always has a smile on her face.
Mahnaz dreams of one day becoming a doctor. Our dream is to help Mahanz become everything she wants to be.
When you read about our various goings-on, keep Mahnaz in mind. She is the embodiment of all that we're working to accomplish.
Shabnam is a 19-year-old senior at the Zabuli Education Center. She began at our school in 2008 as a third grader. Shabnam is a very pleasant and well-behaved student. Her favorite subjects are English and Dari.
Shabnam has three sisters and three brothers. Her two eldest sisters are married; one has six children. Her third sister stays at home to help their mother with domestic work. Shabnam’s father works in a brick factory in Deh’Subz. Two of her brothers are married with children and work as taxi drivers in Deh'Subz. Her third brother studies computer science at a private university.
Shabnam enjoys cooking in her spare time and wants to become a journalist when she finishes school.
Zarafshan joined the Zabuli Education Center in 2009. She is now in 18 years old and is in the twelfth grade. She is a pleasant, punctual, and driven student. Her favorite subjects include Islamic subjects and biology.
Zarafshan has two sisters and four brothers. Her mother is a homemaker. Zarafshan's eldest brother works in a brick factory, and her second eldest brother is a personal driver for members of parliament. Zarafshan’s youngest brothers attend public school in Deh’Subz. Her sisters used to attend school but are now married with children.
Zarafshan wants to become a teacher when she finishes school. She enjoys reciting the Holy Quran and reading in her spare time.
Aseena is a 17-year-old student at the Zabuli Education Center. She started attending our school in 2008, and is now in grade 12. Aseena is a polite, intelligent, and well-behaved student. Her favorite classes are English, biology, and math.
Aseena has five brothers and her mother is a homemaker. Four of her brothers attend public school in the second, fifth, and ninth grades.
In her spare time, Aseena likes to work on her computer skills. She wants to becomes a doctor when she grows up in order to serve her homeland and people.
Nadera is a 16-year old student at the Zabuli Education Center. She enrolled in 2014 and is now in the eleventh grade. Nadera is very punctual, polite, talented, and well-behaved. She can also read and write English well. Her favorite classes include religious studies, English, and math.
Nadera has three sisters and one brother. Her mother is a homemaker and two of Nadera's older sisters are married. Nadera’s younger sister, Nadia, studies at the Zabuli Education Center and is in the third grade. Her brother is 15 years old, and attends a public school in Deh’Subz.
Nadera wants to become a doctor when she grows up so she can serve her people. In her spare time, she enjoys reading and styling hair.
Nazeefa came to the Zabuli Education Center in the sixth grade. Today, she is a 17-year-old high-school senior. She is polite, punctual, and kind. Her favorite classes are the Holy Quran, English, and mathematics. She wants to go to medical school and become a doctor.
Nazeefa's father is a doctor and her mother is a homemaker. She has ten siblings. None of Nazeefa's three oldest sisters went to school; all three are married and between them they have 16 children. Nazeefa's fourth sister graduated from high school and studied midwifery in Kabul.
Nazeefa's eldest brother graduated from nursing school and has two children. Her second eldest brother graduated from pharmacy school and works at a pharmacy in Kabul along with the third eldest brother, who graduated from a private medical institute. Nazeefa's fourth brother recently graduated from high school. Her two youngest brothers attend public school in Deh'Subz.
In her spare time, Nazeefa enjoys cooking. Her greatest wish is for Afghanistan to have peace and stability.
We're pleased to highlight several teachers in the US — as well as one of our own — who instill in their students the importance of Afghan girls' education. Through fundraising, providing resources, or facilitating teleconferences between their American students and peers at the Zabuli Education Center, these students forge unforgettable bonds and come to understand that we really are all the same in the ways that matter. This is important work — but it requires these teachers to go well beyond the call of duty in time and commitment. We're deeply grateful for all that these special teachers do to make our world a better place.
Laura Smolcha, grade 7 social studies teacher at Sharon Middle School in Sharon, MA, is also the co-advisor for the school's Girls Learn International Club. Laura has been a long-time supporter of Razia's Ray of Hope — and she's our most active social media champion! Her students recently attended a conference to share their experience interacting with Afghan peers via tele-conference. Read the girls' words here.
The photo at right was taken at the most recent videoconference: Laura Smolcha is in the middle row, second from the left, seated next to Patti Quigley who is in turn sitting next to Razia Jan.
Liz Gray is a grade 6 teacher at Carlisle Middle School in Carlisle, MA. She is also faculty sponsor of the EarlyAct Club under the Rotary Club of Concord. Initiated one year ago by a student who wanted to do a project for her bat mitzvah, the club started with 8 members. This year the group has more than 30 participants! They meet for breakfast before school every Friday to promote goodwill, understanding, and peace through committed citizenship.
Liz Gray is pictured fourth from the right with her enthusiastic EarlyAct Rotary Club selling Afghan
scarves and jewelry at an Ocktoberfest event this fall.
Tracey Menten teaches English at Central High School in Omaha, NE. She is a co-coordinator of the school's sister relationship with the Zabuli Education Center. For many years, Central High has done an enormous amount to support the Zabuli Education Center, including a gift of 20 solar-powered lamps that charge during daylight hours and allow our students to study at night — previously a luxury for students whose families are unable to afford or access electricity.
Tracey notes that she's somewhat camera shy; while she delighted in the group hug that her students bestowed upon her in the photo at right, she maintained a stoic camera face!
Nahid Alawi joined the Zabuli Education Center in November 2012 as an English and science teacher for grades 4-9. The next year, Nahid because our school's Executive Administrator. She also teaches English and science to grades 7-11. Nahid is tireless in her efforts to support her students, our school, and our administrative team. "My greatest wish," she says, "is for peace and stability in Afghanistan, so that my students can continue their education." We can't thank Nahid enough for all that she does.
Nahid (middle of back row) is pictured here with the 15 graduates of the Zabuli Education Center's Class of 2016. She is beloved by students and faculty.
In October 2016, six students from the Girls Learn International Club (GLI) in Sharon went to the Student Showcase at the annual MassCUE Conference at Gillette Stadium in Foxborough, Massachusetts. There, they explained to educators from around the state how they connect with the Zabuli Education Center in Afghanistan through videoconferences facilitated by the Global Nomads Group, and work to support the center by raising awareness and money. Following the conference, five of the girls wrote about the experience.
Today was amazing! We got to share our love for changing the world with others. We went to the MASSCUE conference to share how we video call with the girls who go to school at the Zabuli Center of Education in Afghanistan. We were told by one women that we were the best presentation there. We explained how we fundraise by having bake sales, a figure skating event, and a movie showing. We also got to tell people about the problem the girls in Zabuli face. Like child marriage and not being safe to go to school since there are some people in Afghanistan who do not approve of it.
I have presented about the Zabuli Center many times in my four years as a member of GLI and today at the MassCUE conference was by far the most meaningful presentation we have ever given. The room was full of educators – people who truly grasp the importance of education – and speaking with some of these people was amazing because we were able to share about everything we do and stand for as a club and were met with enthusiastic reactions and stories of other schools making a difference in the world. We talked of our fundraisers, videoconferences, and how we advocate for girls education. Several people asked what our takeaway from GLI is.
Up until today, I hadn’t really thought about it but as soon as the question was posed, I realized that this club and connecting with the Zabuli Center has really shaped who I am and I am a completely different person because of it. I joined GLI not really knowing what I was signing up for but soon as I got involved, I realized that anyone can make a difference and being a member of GLI has opened my eyes to the world. The connections forged with the girls in Afghanistan at the videoconferences are what motivates me to keep striving for change. Hearing how different their lives are – how everything they don’t have we take for granted – that is what makes the work we do important. This contrast was drawn by several educators we talked to today, including one woman who told us a story about a girl from the Middle East who fell in love with a man living in the states and was prevented from ever seeing him again by her father. The girl didn’t even have the power to choose her love, similar to many girls living in Afghanistan. This lady we talked to seemed to feel as passionately about girls education and equal rights as we do, because she understands the importance of education and the doors it can open. Speaking with her and people like her was what made today so meaningful for me.
On October 19, 2016, students from the high school and middle school GLI Club went to the MassCUE Conference at Gillette Stadium. I went in very nervous and jittery for I was afraid to present in front of educators and other prestigious people. I thought that it would be nerve wracking and scary but ended up being one of the most meaningful experience in my life. I not only talked about our club but how it has impacted me. I realized only there, how much I loved participating in this club and being able to help the girls in Afghanistan. I learned so much from the people who talked to us. They gave us suggestions on how to advocate more and about people they knew themselves who went through the same types of hardships. Some of their stories were absolutely amazing. We explained our fundraising methods like the ice skating event we held last year, bake sales, and the upcoming movie, What Tomorrow Brings. We were told by many people that what we were doing was great and how it impressed them. I was inspired to do more by going to the MassCUE Conference and hope to do it again next year.
Going to MassCUE was a great experience! We were given the opportunity to present about our club and what we do. Some of the main points we focused on were fundraisers, videoconferences and advertising about the upcoming film. Many people pointed out that we were doing a really good deed for the world. Up until now I never realized how big of an impact I am making on the world. One lady asked us what we took away from the club, and I have to admit never really thought about what I took away. But now I realize how very fortunate we all are to have easy access to education, and to live in such a diverse community. Also, I never really thought about further “studies” in social justice, now I probably will want to do something for the world and make a difference. MassCUE was a great and inspiring experience, and it taught me so many things! I am glad to have gone and definitely want to go next year.
MassCUE was an awe-inspiring experience. It was a great chance to speak, and tell other curious members how we use the technology to communicate with the girls of Zabuli. We told people about our fundraisers, our video conferences, and what we do and contribute to the wonderful students. MassCUE, and the people there helped me realize what we really are doing. I finally learned that even though we have done small things to help them, every step of the way matters. Many of the people that asked us questions, also told us that we were doing something extraordinary. People here take many things for granted-especially their education. For girls at Zabuli, just going to school safely is a big deal. The girls there want to go to school, and they want to get educated. Even though MassCUE was meant for me, Nikita, Rachel, Riley, Hannah, and Samyuktha to present our way of communication to Zabuli, we learned much more. The smallest things that you do in life, make a big difference, and MassCUE helped us realize this.
Asiya enrolled at the Zabuli Education Center in 2008 as a third grader. Today she is 19 years old and is in the eleventh grade. Her father is a driver and her mother is a homemaker.
Asiya has 2 sisters and 4 brothers. Two of her sisters are students at the Zabuli Education Center: Nargis (third grade) and Marwa (kindergarten). Asiya's brothers are 16, 14, 13, and 3. The three oldest brothers all attend public school in Deh'Subz.
In 2015, Asiya was married to her cousin. Her in-laws are eager for the young couple to have children, but Asiya wants to complete her education first.
Asiya is calm, polite, punctual, and well behaved. Her favorite classes are biology and mathematics. In her spare time, Asiya likes to read and write essays.
She wants to become a judge.
Soma started attending the Zabuli Education Center in 2008. She is calm, polite, well-behaved, and eager to learn new things. Her favorite classes are Islamic studies and biology. She wants to become a journalist.
Soma is one of eight children. Her mother is a homemaker. One of her oldest brothers works in TV and studies pharmacy, while another is abroad. Two of Soma’s brothers attend public school in Deh'Subz, grades nine and six.
Soma’s three sisters all attend the Zabuli Education Center: Uzma in grade twelve, Nadeema in grade ten, and Marwa in grade five.
Soma enjoys listening to music and sewing in her spare time. Her greatest wishes are for peace, stability, and happiness around the world.