September 16th, 2015 12:15 EST
Afghan Refugee Teacher Honoured For Tireless Efforts to Educate Girls
Afghan refugee teacher Aqeela Asifi, who has dedicated her life to bringing education to refugee girls in Pakistan, has been named as the winner of the United Nations annual Nansen Award.
The 49-year-old is being recognised for her brave and tireless " dedication to education for Afghan refugee girls in the Kot Chandana refugee village in Mianwali, Pakistan " while herself overcoming the struggles of life in exile, according to the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR).
The agency added that despite minimal resources and significant cultural challenges, Ms. Asifi has guided a thousand refugee girls through their primary education.
Access to quality and safe education helps children grow into adults who go on to secure jobs, start businesses and help build their communities " and it makes them less vulnerable to exploitation and abuse, " High Commissioner for Refugees AntÃ³nio Guterres said in a news release.
Investing in refugee education will allow children to play a part in breaking the cycle of instability and conflict. People like Aqeela Asifi understand that today`s refugee children will determine the future of their countries, and the future of our world. "
Ms. Asifi is a former teacher who fled from Kabul with her family in 1992, finding safety in the remote refugee settlement of Kot Chandana. She was dismayed by the lack of schooling for girls there, according to UNHCR, which noted that before she arrived, strict cultural traditions kept most girls at home.
Determined to give these girls a chance to learn, Ms. Asifi slowly convinced the community, and began teaching just a handful of pupils in a makeshift school tent. She copied out worksheets for the students by hand on sheets of paper. Today the tent school is a distant memory and over a thousand children are attending permanent schools in the village thanks to her early example.
According to Ms. Asifi, instilling a belief in the power of education for girls in this generation will transform the opportunities of the next. When you have mothers who are educated, you will almost certainly have future generations who are educated, " she said.
So if you educate girls, you educate generations. I wish for the day when people will remember Afghanistan, not for war, but for its standard of education. "
Afghanistan is the largest, most protracted refugee crisis in the world, according to UNHCR. Over 2.6 million Afghans currently live in exile and over half of them are children. Access to education is vital for successful repatriation, resettlement or local integration for refugees.
Yet globally it`s estimated that only one in every two refugee children are able to go to primary school and only one in four attend secondary school, the agency added. And for Afghan refugees in Pakistan this falls further, with approximately 80 per cent of children currently out of school.
Coinciding with today`s announcement, UNHCR released a contextual report Breaking the cycle: Education and the future for Afghan refugees, which outlines the challenges that children, especially refugee girls, face in accessing education in Pakistan.
Since the fall of the Taliban in 2001, 5.7 million Afghans have returned home, yet insecurity still remains. UNHCR has embarked on a strategy to assist remaining Afghan refugees to return home and a key element of this is ensuring they can access quality education. A ministerial level meeting in early October in Geneva will seek to advance this strategy with key regional partners.
Previous laureates of the annual Nansen Refugee Award, which honours extraordinary service to the forcibly displaced, include Eleanor Roosevelt, GraÃ§a Machel and Luciano Pavarotti. This year`s award ceremony will be held on 5 October in Geneva and will feature several celebrity UN Goodwill Ambassadors.
Photo Credit: Wikipedia