Julia Bolz is a women’s rights activist providing social guidance to countries in the Middle East, Africa, Central America, and Central Asia. She founded the Journey with an Afghan School program after 9/11 to help bridge the cultural divide between the U.S. and Afghanistan particularly by increasing the educational opportunities afforded to young women. Before joining the grassroots movement for gender equality, she worked at one of Seattle’s most prestigious law firms, Ryan, Swanson & Cleveland. She received Seattle’s Tom C. Wales Citizenship Award for her combined humanitarian efforts. Bolz graduated from Smith College.
Question: What are we doing right in Afghanistan?
Julia Bolz: If I could use Afghanistan as an example, I’d love to tell you a little story about one of the girls in our communities. She’s about nine years old. I’m going to call her Purvhana. And after the Taliban, for the first time the girls could go to school; but Purvhana’s father wouldn’t allow her to go. And day after day, Purvhana would watch her friends go into school but she had to stay home. One day Purvhana shows up at school.
And I remember one of the teachers approached her. They were very concerned because if Purvhana’s father had learned about this, she might have been killed. And despite the fact that she could have been killed, or the risks involved, she continued to come to school. One day she doesn’t show up, and everyone at the school was just sick about this because they were worried what would happen to this little girl. Well the story is this. She was with a family that had never gone to school before. They were all illiterate. Her father had received a letter from a relative in Pakistan. The father couldn’t read it. Well this little nine year old girl steps up to the father and says, “Dad, I can read that letter.”
And instead of killing her, he embraced her. And that story just had a ripple effect throughout our entire community. We went from having 420 girls to over 1,000. We went from having eight teachers to over 20. And then we went from having that one little school to multiple girl schools all over the region. And so for me, I’m just utterly convinced that it’s not the U.S. military that’s gonna make changes in these countries. It’s these nine year old little girls who are so convicted about the importance of education that they’re literally willing to risk their lives in order to make this work.
July 4, 2007