At the Head of the Class
The Zabuli Education Center and the Razia Jan Institute are ahead of their time, providing an education on par with Western schools — for free. Our success begins with the school-building philosophy. As many organizations have learned the hard way, a school will not last long without the community’s support: a 2009 study by CARE found that schools built by NGOs with community participation are much less vulnerable to attack. Our founder Razia Jan, a native Afghan, worked tirelessly to gain the community’s acceptance. Although villagers initially rejected the idea of a school for girls, today Razia is hailed by village elders — with whom she meets on a monthly basis — as the “Mother of Deh’Subz.”
The most important distinction of our schools are the level of continued support they receive from our administrative organization, Razia’s Ray of Hope Foundation. Nearly 75% of our students live below the poverty line and cannot afford to pay for education at all, let alone the exorbitant fees charged by most private schools in the region. Your sponsorship enables us to provide our students the education they need for free, as well as uniforms, shoes, warm coats, and meals. But our organization’s involvement means more than providing full financial support; it also means guaranteeing that the quality of our education meets the standards we set.
We begin by hiring dedicated, qualified teachers, a difficult task, as competent teachers are rare in Afghanistan. Our team searches for individuals that meet our requirements, and we pay them 40%-60% more than typical schools in Afghanistan. Each of our teachers has graduated high school and many are credentialed or completing teacher training. We hire locally when possible, but the majority of our teachers live in Kabul. We provide transport to and from school every day.
Zabuli Education Center students attend class for 5.5 hours daily and for 182 days per year in the primary school and 187 in the upper grades. In addition, K-12 students are encouraged to attend class during the three-month winter break. Our largest class has only 25 students, and our educational resources include a fully equipped computer room and science lab.
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There are several ways we measure success: the academic record of our students, audits by the Ministry of Education, and the qualitative change we effect in the community. Our school has the distinction of high standards and high passing rates. Our passing rates have remained well above 90% every year of our operation, and last year, every single one of our tested students passed. Perhaps even as impressive for a school in Afghanistan, our attendance rate of 93% is on par with American schools. The Ministry of Education has taken note of our school as the top performer in the area, remarking, “It is perfect.”
Unlike many students in America, our students love to come to school, and many walk miles even in winter to attend. Families have begun to move to Deh’Subz just to give their daughters a chance of attending the Zabuli Education Center. “When we were in eighth grade, I don’t think we knew as much as they have learned in one year here,” said a father with multiple daughters enrolled at the school.
Educated young Afghan women are already starting to change their world. In a poignant example, one of our students struggled against an arranged marriage to a much older man. For six months, she endured beatings from family members in their efforts to coerce her into complying. The support of classmates seemed to help this student endure; they rallied her spirits, even on days when laughter hurt because her ribs had been broken. After six months of steadfast refusal, her family finally relented. This heartwarming tale demonstrated the immense challenges women in Afghanistan face, and the only way through them: the education and empowerment of young women and girls. This was no small victory.
In an overwhelmingly positive indicator of progressive change manifesting in the district we serve, all 22 students from our first two graduating classes comprise the inaugural class at the Razia Jan Institute, where they will acquire marketable skills to further their paths toward empowerment.