Right now, in the small village of Deh'Subz, Afghanistan, the first private, free, rural women's college in the nation's history is being built.
The pioneer behind the project?
71-year-old Razia Jan, an educator who grew up in a more liberal Afghanistan before Taliban occupation. She later moved to the U.S. to attend Harvard University and then settled in Massachusetts.
After the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, Razia was determined to return to Afghanistan for the first time to support the women on her native soil.
In 2008, she started a free, private K-12 school for girls in Deh'Subz. When the men in the conservative village said they wanted the school to only teach young boys, Razia pushed back. “Women are the eyesight of this community," she said. “You are blind."
In order to convince skeptics in the village of the importance of the school, Razia had every first-year student learn to write not only her own name, but also her father's. The men in the village were impressed that the girls could interpret English and read letters sent from the government.
It took time, but soon Razia had the support of the community.
The Zabuli Education Center has been providing free community-based education as well as uniforms, food, shoes, and warm coats for seven years now.
During its first year of operation, the Zabuli center taught 91 girls; today it educates nearly 480 between the ages of 4 and 21. The only problem? The young women who are about to graduate don't want to stop studying. So Razia Jan decided it was time to build another school.
If they can't go to college, she said, the college will come to them.
Jan's foundation, the Razia's Ray of Hope Foundation, launched an Indiegogo campaign. By August, they successfully raised over $117,000 to fund the building of the Razia Jan Technical College. The two-year program will train women in computer science, midwifery, literature, English as a second language, and teaching. The goal is for the young women to return as teachers at the Zabuli Education Center or serve as nurses in the community.
Only nine days after the Indiegogo campaign ended, the center's building foundation was laid in the village.
“Razia moves fast," says Beth Murphy, who has been working on a film about the Zabuli center.
The seven girls who will attend the college in the spring will graduate from high school this November. Murphy says the success of the school is so dependent on the support of the community. And it sounds like they've got it. Says Murphy: “Men in the community are already verbalizing that their daughters will graduate with careers."
And if Taliban occupation were to infiltrate the area again?
Murphy says a shopkeeper across the street from the education center told her: “If anyone tries to do anything at the schools, they'll have to put the bullet through me first."