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100 People, 100 Places: Rays of Hope

The Human Rights Watch Film Festival has kicked off in London and on Saturday night I went to see What Tomorrow Brings, a documentary by Beth Murphy about a remarkable teacher in Afghanistan and the students in her school for girls. The struggle for education and equal rights may be well-worn territory, but the story of courageous women fighting against overwhelming odds and fiercely determined girls never gets old. These are Afghanistan’s true heroes, the women and girls.  They struggle for a better life, some for themselves, some for their children, they struggle to stay alive despite brutality, physical and mental, and cling onto hope when barely any exists.

Razia Jan has fought to bring first-rate education to the girls at the Zabuli Education Centre in Deh’Subz, a remote village in an extremely conservative part of Afghanistan. She and her colleagues not only teach girls, but also nurture and inspire them to learn, empowering them with knowledge and rays of hope, the name of this visionary woman’s non profit organisation.

What Tomorrow Brings follows the school, its teachers, pupils, and villagers over the course of a year at a time when women’s rights are very much in the balance and going to school is still denied to more than a million and a half girls.

In the documentary we meet a mother who is determined that her daughter will have an education and a better life than hers no matter what. There is a 15-year old girl who wants nothing more than to go to school and complete her education. She is already engaged to a cousin she cannot stand, tries to kill herself when she is not allowed to return to class and faces opposition from a conservative uncle who doesn’t believe girls should be educated.  Another girl’s father wants her to marry a 70-year old man so he can marry his 16-year old daughter.  The horror  stories go on and what you remember, what is constantly reinforced, is how tough life is, how determined these girls are, and how smart and dedicated, inspirational and exceptional they are. They can teach us as much as we can teach them.