Five years ago Razia Jan left the security of life in Duxbury to return to her native Afghanistan and build a school for girls in a region of the embattled country where women have not been educated.
Supported by fund-raising in Duxbury and the surrounding community, Jan’s foundation, Razia’s Ray of Hope, built a small school for young girls and, as funding allowed, expanded until the Zabuli Education Center now educates more than 400 students in a two-story, 14-room building. Since the school charges no tuition, the cost of students’ education is borne by the foundation.
Back in the United States this week for fund-raising and visits, Jan will provide an update on the school at a reception and art show at the Framers Edge custom frame shop and art gallery in Braintree on Saturday.
“Razia has campaigned tirelessly to improve the plight of women in Afghanistan,” said Annette Wilson, co-owner of Framers Edge with Sue Dobbels of Norwood. “We are so pleased to be able to put together this reception to help call attention to the cause and raise funds on their behalf.
“We were impressed with the idea that a woman by herself was able to put this together just for the benefit of the girls,” Wilson said last Friday.
Others have been impressed as well. Razia’s humanitarian efforts won her recognition as a CNN Hero of 2012. The Zabuli Education Center was built on the site of a former boys’ school where seven small villages make up the Deh’Subz district, CNN reported. In a country that suffers almost 200 attacks on schools and hospitals a year and where illiteracy is common in both men and women, Jan’s plan faced some early opposition from men who thought the school should be only for boys.
But Jan is “well connected in Afghanistan,” said Karen Wong of Duxbury, a freelance news photographer who traveled to Afghanistan a year ago to record the progress made on the school. Wong said she thought photos of the school and its students would help fund-raising efforts in the United States.
The students’ parents and the whole community were proud of how quickly their girls have progressed academically since they began going to school, she said.
“The village elders have seen how well the girls are doing in school,” Wong said. “They are extremely supportive” of Jan.
Wong said she was excited about going and talked the idea over with her husband, an Army veteran, who thought it would be safe to go to Afghanistan — a country still in conflict with the Taliban — in Jan’s company. But caution was still the rule. She didn’t walk around by herself taking pictures of the bazaars, Wong said. She shot photos of bazaars, but from inside a car with Jan beside her.
“When you first get there, it looks like you’ve gone back in time a couple thousands of years,” she said.
She was on site when a team from CNN arrived to do a story about the school for the network’s recognition of Jan as a CNN Hero. The designation is international in scope and highly competitive, with the public invited to make nominations. The network profiles a CNN Hero each week.
“It’s a big deal,” Wong said.
Her photos of Jan and the girls in the school’s green head scarves will be on display at the reception. The photos, Wilson said, “capture the feel of the country.”
The store has pledged a portion of all art sales from its current gallery show not only from the night of the show but also for the following week to the Razia’s Ray of Hope foundation. Monetary donations will also be accepted.
Framers Edge is currently showcasing work by local artists, including oil paintings, watercolors, pastels, and photography by Lynne Atwood of Sharon, Max Mattei of Plymouth, Dianne Panarelli Miller of Abington, Ann Musto of Cohasset, and Karole Nicholson.
Saturday’s reception will also feature a visit by Elizabeth Suneby, author of a children’s book about Jan’s school. The book, “Razia’s Ray of Hope: One Girl’s Dream of an Education,” is based on the true story of a girl in Afghanistan who desperately wants an education and convinces the men in her family to allow her to go to school. Suneby will be at the reception to sell and sign copies of her new book, published this month.
Jan, who once owned a tailoring shop in Duxbury, will be selling her own handmade jewelry and textile art at the reception as well. But her greatest work is weaving together a school from Afghan and American support for a community that lacked one.
“One can feel the joy of accomplishment when everyone is walking on the same path toward the same ultimate goal,” Jan wrote on her blog on the Razia’s Ray of Hope website. “That is the feeling I have.”Robert Knox can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.