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A day of pride for Afghan girl grads amid growing threats

It was a very special day for the Zabuli Education Center, located about 100 miles north of Kabul. For the first time, girls in that village graduated from high school. Special correspondent Beth Murphy of the Ground Truth Project reports on the hopes and challenges for students and educators there.

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  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    Now a different look at the war in Afghanistan, through the lens of inspiring young women, making history by way of education.

    Last year, we brought you the story of the Zabuli girls school about 100 miles north of Kabul. Just before Christmas, the first class graduated.

    Beth Murphy of The GroundTruth Project has their story.

  • BETH MURPHY, The GroundTruth Project:

    Winter in Afghanistan signals that the school year is ending. In this village, this unprecedented graduation comes at a difficult time in the country.

  • RAZIA JAN, Founder, Zabuli Education Center:

    Today is a very special day for us. It is beyond my thoughts, beyond my dreams that we will be sitting here with our first graduating class.

    (APPLAUSE)

  • BETH MURPHY:

    This is the first time girls in this village have ever graduated from high school. When the Zabuli Education Center opened in 2008, the villagers wanted it to be a boys school. But attitudes here have changed.

  • RAZIA JAN:

    This is our first young woman who get married and she is still in school. And she wants to continue her education.

    (APPLAUSE)

  • MAN (through interpreter):

    And thanks to the people of this village, who really supported and helped the school. Without your help, this wouldn't be possible.

    RAZIA JAN (through interpreter): And, also, you really helped us. Without your help, this wouldn't be possible.

    MUHAMMAD MALANG ATAYE, Director, Deh Sabz Ministry of Education (through interpreter): It is my duty, and I feel a strong responsibility. These are our students, and they are like my daughters. Coming to this ceremony will help convince them to continue their education, and also help to convince their parents.

  • BETH MURPHY:

    This first graduation followed many of the traditions you would expect, parents overcome with pride and lots of time spent reminiscing.

  • RAZIA JAN:

    You have opened a door that, at one time, I couldn't even imagine. This is truly a dream come true.

  • BETH MURPHY:

    Highlights from their high school years include field trips to Kabul, videoconference calls with girls in Massachusetts, where Razia called home in the U.S., and the groundbreaking of the Razia Jan Institute, that will allow them to go to college right in their own village.

    Despite the successes, challenges remain.

  • RAZIA JAN:

    When we started, there was great hope that things will get better. But within these eight years, things have gone worse. Many schools have been burned. Many girls have been poisoned. Believe me, we are very cautious. We can't put our guards down.

  • BETH MURPHY:

    2015 has not been a good year for Afghanistan. According to a new Pentagon report, things have gotten worse since Afghan forces took over the U.S. and NATO-led mission one year ago. Taliban attacks in Kabul alone jumped nearly 30 percent.

    MAYOR ROUALLAH SAHIB, Deh Sabz (through translator): The security of this village is better than a lot of places, because, here, we support the government and police. We are supporting them. The international community and Obama decided to get out of the country. They decided to leave. At the time, ISIS wasn't in Afghanistan and the Taliban was weak. But now ISIS is here, and the Taliban is getting stronger.

  • BETH MURPHY:

    Stronger and more deadly, 54 people dead after a 24-hour Taliban assault on the Kandahar Airport, an attack that was staged from a nearby school, and then another attack.

  • MAN (through interpreter):

    There was an explosion here. It was really powerful. And right after the blast, this area was shaking.

  • BETH MURPHY:

    Amidst all the danger, graduation, a pocket of relative peace and a success to celebrate, it's the kind of investment the U.S. wants to protect and a reason for troops to remain on the ground.

    The administration made an about-face on pulling U.S. troops, a recognition that there's no end in sight to increased threats from insurgent and terrorist groups.

    President Obama announced the change in October.

  • PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA:

    I have decided to maintain our current posture of 9,800 troops in Afghanistan through most of next year, 2016. This modest, but meaningful extension of our presence, while sticking to our current narrow missions, can make a real difference.

    ROUALLAH SAHIB (through interpreter): Without their help, we will have more terrorists here. Regional security and world security will be at risk. We need them to be here.

  • RAZIA JAN:

    America has and other international countries have invested so much here. It is really something that they cannot lose completely, because there are such great other supreme powers that will come in a very passive way, like Russia and China.

    I think America will never leave. America is going to be always. I think there is a great interest of America in this country for their own security.

  • BETH MURPHY:

    For the PBS NewsHour, I'm Beth Murphy in Deh Sabz District, Afghanistan.

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