AFGHANISTAN: If you want to run a school for girls in Afghanistan, you might have to check your water for poison each morning. Is it worth it?
Educating women is a sensitive subject in Afghanistan. Attacks from insurgents opposing women education are common, but often the fundamental challenges lie within the families of the girls in question, and the communities to which they belong. The search for solutions to this predicament might seem futile, but American documentarian Beth Murphy’s film What Tomorrow Brings tells a different story. The film brings hope around what often seems a hopeless struggle, and makes you realize that the true danger is not necessarily the struggle itself, but rather the compassion fatigue that we give in to when facing difficult matters which we don’t perceive as our own.
It is exactly this compassion fatigue that director Murphy seeks to change. Filmed over a period of eight years, What Tomorrow Brings chronicles the daily life in the Zabuli Education Center, a school for girls in the district of Deh Sabz, near Kabul, Afghanistan. During the Q&A at the Movies That Matter Festival in The Hague, Murphy says: «I wanted the film to be a very intimate portrayal of teachers and students, both in their homes and at school». And that is exactly what the film has become.
Sisterhood. The school was founded by Razia Jan, an Afghan woman who lived in the United States for decades and decided to return to Afghanistan to help rebuild the country. Jan had the courage and tenacity to build a school for girls, against all local pressure to build one for boys. From the very beginning she needed the approval of the village elders – a group of men with low education who told her men should be educated because they are the backbone of Afghanistan. Jan refused to give up, and replied that if men are the backbone, women are the eyes of the country, and without them, all men are blind.
«The struggles are different, but the goals are the same,» says Jan, referring to the universal goal of every teacher to give her students the best chance in life. Yet the challenges that arise on the road to reach that goal can be very distinct. At the Zabuli Education Center, the water is checked every morning to make sure it is not poisoned, and the bags of the schoolgirls are examined at the entrance.
But if there is one word to define the atmosphere in the film, «sisterhood» is it. There is a bond between the girls, and between them and their teachers. And there is a certain feeling of «girl power» that transpires from this bond.
In many ways, the Center is much more than just a school. «For each one of these girls, school is some sort of heaven. At home they are always scolded or slapped by their brothers because they didn’t bring a glass of water, or their uncles are mad because they came in the room without covering their head. The message they always receive is that they are no good. And they come to school and we tell them they are the best and we are there to help them, and that makes all the difference, and makes them grow and find that strength to stand up for themselves,» says Jan.
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