Razia’s Ray of Hope, a picture book geared towards ages 8 -11, by Wellesley resident Elizabeth Suneby and illustrated by Suana Verelst, tells about the journey one Afghan girl undertakes to gain admission to the world of learning and literacy.
Razia wants to go to her Afghan village’s new all-girls school, but she is up against some powerful forces. As her male relatives discuss the matter at a family meeting, Razia’s one family advocate, her grandfather, unsuccessfully tries to persuade five obstructionists that educating the village’s girls, including Razia, is beneficial to all of Afghanistan. The thought of losing Razia’s labor in the orchards and her help at home, however, proves too concrete a hardship to sacrifice to the ideals of education. Her eldest brother, the deciding voice in the home, agrees with his father and uncles that Razia’s place is at home.
But that’s just Round One.
No slouch in the self-advocacy department, this would-be student manages to call a meeting of her own, this time between the school’s female teacher, her grandfather, her mother, her father, and her brother, at home, with herself in attendance as an onlooker.
Here’s where illustrator Verelst, from Montreal, uses her art (a collage technique made up of photography, fabric, and pencil) to draw dramatic distinctions. During the first meeting she shows burqa-clad women clustered together on one side of the page, while on the other side of the page the men discuss the important matter. A thick stone wall separates them. Here, the men are deciding the fate of the girl with no women in attendance, a literal wall between the genders.
The second meeting, in contrast, is shown taking place in the hospitable environment of the family’s main living area, where a guest (the teacher) has come to pay a visit. Now we’ve got a co-ed crowd, and a wild card thrown in. This wild card, the person who would potentially be interacting almost daily with Razia, is actually there, in immediate proximity to the family members closest to the girl, explaining the details of the school curriculum. Suddenly what seems abstract is the hardship of taking Razia out of the orchards and the home, whereas the ideals of education start to appear as solid as the stone her eldest brother quarries.
This once-unyielding brother ends up willing to excavate a new attitude from within himself when it comes to his little sister. With a changed perspective, but no shortage of face-saving, he tells his sister, “I learned this morning that stones from my quarry are being used to build a wall around the girls’ school. Now I trust you will be safe in that building, my precious sister.”
Author Suneby became interested in writing about The Zabuli Education Center while doing fundraising work for the school. Open for five years, the Center educates 400 girls. Patti Quigley of Wellesley serves as Executive Director of The Razia’s Ray of Hope Foundation, which raises funds for the school.
Look for Razia’s Ray of Hope at Wellesley Books on Sept. 1.