Saturday, January 25, 2014

Razia'a Ray of Hope: One Girl's Dream of an Education by Elizabeth Suneby (Illustrated by Suana Verelst)

Published 2013

Elizabeth Suneby’s book Razia’s Ray of Hope: One Girl’s Dream of an Education is definitely a book that I could use in my high school English classes. The book is well-written in first-person point-of-view and is beautifully illustrated, but more importantly, it has an important message that I would like to share with my students: Getting an education is important, and not everyone has the same opportunities to receive an education that we have in America.

The story is set in a small village in Afghanistan, and the protagonist is a girl name Razia who goes to sleep every night dreaming of going to school like her brothers Jamil and Karim. When she discovers a new school being built nearby and realizes it is a school for girls, she is filled with hope.  There’s just one problem; she lives in a country where girls were once forbidden to attend school by the Taliban, and change comes slowly. The Taliban does not believe that girls should be educated, and they often use violence to enforce their beliefs. Even after the Taliban’s fall, Razia’s father, older brother, and uncles are not convinced girls should be educated.

Despite their views, every night Razia sits by her brothers who attend a boys’ school in a nearby village and tries to learn how to read and write.  Amazingly, she memorizes the Dari alphabet and learns how to spell her name, but she fears that if her brothers find out, they will not let her sit with them. However, Razia is determined to learn.

As the story progresses, Razia confides in Babi gi, her grandfather, and tries to persuade him to convince her father and older brother to allow her to attend the new school. She also turns to her mother for help, but months pass with no response from anyone.

Finally, Baba gi calls her father, brothers, and uncles to a family meeting in an attempt to change their minds. Baba gi supports Razia’s desire to go to school and reminds the family of how it used to be when the Taliban were in control, but their response breaks Razia’s heart: “Razia is not going.” The next day after her morning chores, Razia courageously walks to the school and enters the building.  She discovers a woman who works at the school is named Razia, too, Razia Jan. 

Razia explains to the woman that she wants to go to school but her brother and father will not grant permission.  The woman offers to go with Razia in an attempt to change their minds, but it’s not easy. It takes an unexpected turn of events to finally convince her brother Aziz that Razia’s ability to read can actually benefit their family and him in particular.

At the end of the book, Suneby provides supplementary materials that raise excellent questions regarding the importance of everyone receiving an education. She also provides a brief biographical sketch of the “real” Razia Jan who built the school after the fall of the Taliban in 2001. She concludes the book by defining terms that may be unfamiliar to readers and by providing a list of classroom activities that could be used by teachers.

This book would be an excellent way to facilitate classroom discussions on the importance of getting an education and could help students realize that the opportunities we have in America shouldn’t be taken for granted. Students could also research the true story of Malala Yousafzai who was shot in the head for pursuing an education in Pakistan, but survived; she now travels the world telling her story to anyone who will listen. The battle for educational equality is not over, and as American forces continue to withdraw from Afghanistan, there are fears the Taliban could return to power. What would happen to Razia Jan’s school then?

This story is particularly meaningful to me because I realize how important it is for everyone to receive an education. When my husband was diagnosed with colon cancer in 1993, I chose to return to school. I’m the first person in my family to receive a college education, and if I hadn’t gone back to school when I did, I wouldn’t have been able to raise my three children on my own after my husband’s death.

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