Razia’s Ray of Hope: One Girl’s Dream of an Education by Elizabeth Suneby, illustrated by Suana Verelst
The newest title in Canada’s Kids Can Press‘ vital CitizenKid series – “books that inform children about the world and inspire them to be better global citizens” – is also quite possibly the best thus far.
“‘This is where my school once stood … It was destroyed by seventeen years of war,'” Razia’s grandfather gently explains about Afghanistan’s too-recent history. In an empty lot where a lone cornerstone now stands, change is coming: “‘They are building a new school … for girls,'” Baba gi reveals, causing Razia to beg her grandfather to convince the other men in their family to allow her to attend. Already, clever young Razia has taught herself to read just by listening to her younger brothers’ nightly studying – she only needs the chance to learn more.
“‘Some of you are too young to remember, and some of you were not even born,'” Baba gi opens a family meeting, “‘but before the occupation of our country, before the civil wars and before the Taliban, women in Afghanistan were educated. They were doctors, government workers and journalists. It is time to give your daughters and granddaughters … the chance to read and write. Our family will be stronger for it.'” Yet Baba gi’s eloquence is not enough to get Razia enrolled, as her oldest brother ends the discussion with “four simple words [that] made [her] heart sink”: “‘Razia is not going.'”
In spite of his decree, Razia refuses to give up: after finishing her chores the next morning, she walks to the newly-built school and knocks on its red door. A smiling woman who not only shares Razia’s name, but her commitment to education, invites Razia in … and changes her life forever.
Beyond the book’s title, Razia’s Ray of Hope is also the name of a real-life foundation, founded in 2007 by a Afghan-born American woman named Razia Jan, who returned to Afghanistan to run her Zabuli Education Center which thus far has provided “free education to more than 400 Afghan girls who were previously denied educational opportunities.” Meeting Razia Jan in livetime inspired author Elizabeth Suneby to write this uplifting story; artist Suana Verelst manages to capture just the right blend of past and future with her mixed media collages she describes as “‘a quilter combining recycled elements with modern technology.'”
With 69 million school-age children out of school, the numbers are clearly daunting. By providing education to hundreds of girls, one woman is creating better lives for the thousands more who will also benefit: “women who are literate tend to have better incomes, housing and health care. And in turn, they provide these things for their families and communities. Everyone benefits from educating women.” Join Razia and create hope: girl power will make the world a better place.