by Mona Gable
Although it was a Sunday evening in Afghanistan thousands of miles away, I could hear Razia Jan begin to softly cry over the phone from Kabul. “It is so difficult to have something good happening here because there are so many bad things,” said Jan. “And so you can’t really celebrate. There’s a lot of killing of innocent people.”
I had just asked Jan how she felt when she heard she’d been named a finalist for CNN’s Hero of the Year. It still seemed unbelievable to her. And no wonder. In 2006, after living 35 years in the United States, Jan returned to her native Afghanistan with a seemingly impossible idea: to open a free private school for girls. Then the Taliban was launching horrific attacks on girls and schools throughout the country.
But Jan, who fled Afghanistan during the Soviet invasion in 1979 and built a successful tailoring business in Duxbury, Massachusetts, wasn’t about to let a little thing like the Taliban get in her way. Using her contacts, she approached the Ministry of Education and convinced them to donate a piece of land for the school.
Today the school she opened four years ago, Zabuli Education Center, has a roster of 350 girls in kindergarten through eighth grade. Even so the Taliban continue to be a huge threat to girls throughout Afghanistan. This spring in two separate incidents the Taliban poisoned dozens of girls. It’s something Jan worries about constantly, so she has chosen to live in Afghanistan, where she serves as project director of Arzu,a socially conscious nonprofit that sells beautiful rugs made by Afghan women.