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Meet the Director: Beth Murphy Talks Inspiration, Razia, and Free Afghan Girls School

This article was contributed by Beth Murphy, the Director of Films at The GroundTruth Project and founder of Principle Pictures. Her film “What Tomorrow Brings”, a recipient of the Gucci Tribeca Documentary Fund, airs on PBS’s POV series October 31st.​ Join Beth Murphy and Razia Jan as they share their story LIVE on AOL starting at 1PM ET Friday Oct. 28.

Beth Murphy was kind enough to answer a few questions from Global Citizen on what inspired her to produce and direct this inspiring story, with support from the Gucci Tribeca Documentary Fund. 

GC:  What brought you to Afghanistan and the Zabuli Education Center?

Murphy: I met Razia Jan, the founder of the Zabuli Education Center, a few years before she opened the school.  I was making another documentary – BEYOND BELIEF – that offered a glimpse into the lives of Afghan widows, and explored the deep bonds women and widows share across geographic, ethnic, and socio-economic lines. At the time, the Taliban had recently fallen, and Razia – who was born and raised in Afghanistan but had now spent 38 years in the United States – was thinking about going back and helping rebuild her country.  When she told me she was starting a school in a village that had never before allowed its daughters to be educated, I was immediately inspired.

GC: What was your first impression of Razia and the work she is doing?

Murphy: The feeling it gave me to my core was the feeling of hope – hope for girls, for women, for Afghanistan, for our world community, for the future. I know it sounds expansive – and it was. It’s a really special feeling to be reminded why hope is the most powerful human trait and why it’s right and rational to have it.

GC: What was the biggest challenge you faced in making "What Tomorrow Brings?"

Murphy: The biggest challenge I faced—and continue to face—is simply that I don’t want to stop filming.  There are so many “firsts” happening, and I want to capture them all.  On March 1, the new college will open next to the K-12 school, and I’m looking forward to celebrating that day with Razia, the girls, the teachers, and the whole community. Get ready for What Tomorrow Brings 2!

GC:  How have the girls in Afghanistan's first free private girls school changed your perception of education?

Murphy: When I started filming in 2009, I questioned how far the girls could really go in this community. Patriarchy here is deeply, deeply entrenched.  I knew the girls would learn to read and write, but I worried about how long they’d be able to stay in school and how much learning would go beyond the books.  What the girls taught me is that education creates change that extends so far beyond the classroom. It’s breathtaking.

Ten years ago it was unimaginable a girls’ school could exist here; the men in this village had never allowed their daughters to go to school. Once the school was built, it was unimaginable that a girl who got engaged—never-mind married—would be able to continue her education. Today, there are five students who are engaged.  More incredible, one student was able to graduate after getting married.  Girls still need permission from their fathers, brothers, uncles, fiancés and husbands to go to school and stay in school, but what’s so powerful is how the girls are making sure they get that permission.  Their education has given them the confidence to stand up for themselves and the ability to advocate for themselves and get results.

GC: What advice do you have for global citizens who want to make a difference for girls’ education?

Murphy: There are lots of ways to have an impact. One of the most powerful things you can do is put a girl in the classroom. There are easy ways to send a Zabuli student to school through Razia’s Ray of Hope Foundation, and lots of other similar programs (although I’m partial to this one!). It’s so powerful because when a girl is educated, she’s able to improve her own life and the lives of the people around her. She’s more likely to earn a decent living and raise children who are healthy and educated. I think we should be shouting that from the highest rooftops! I also think it’s important to spread the word to let people know that 130 million girls are still being denied education globally, and to help people understand why girls’ education matters. One way to do that is to host a screening of the film in your community or classroom, and let people “meet” these precious girls, hear their stories, and be inspired by their accomplishments.