Pakistan-based Afghan educator wins UN award

Aqeela Asifi honoured with the Nansen prize and to be awarded $100,000 prize money

Afp September 16, 2015
Aqeela Asifi, was given the Nansen Refugee Award for her dedication to education for Afghan refugee girls. PHOTO: AFP

GENEVA: Aqeela Asifi, who has dedicated her life to bringing education to Afghan refugee girls in Pakistan, was on Tuesday awarded the UN refugee agency’s annual Nansen prize.

Asifi, a 49-year-old teacher, fled from Afghanistan with her family in 1992. She was given the prestigious award for “her brave and tireless dedication to education for Afghan refugee girls,” UNHCR said in a statement.

Before she arrived in the Kot Chandana refugee village in Mianwali, strict cultural traditions had kept most girls at home. However Asifi slowly managed to convince the community to allow her to teach them.

She initially began teaching a handful of girls in a tent, copying out worksheets by hand.

“Despite minimal resources and significant cultural challenges, Asifi has guided a thousand refugee girls through their primary education,” the agency said. It was pointed out that her efforts came while she was herself facing the challenges of life in exile.

“When you have mothers who are educated, you will almost certainly have future generations who are educated,” Asifi said in the statement.

“So if you educate girls, you educate generations,” she said. “I wish for the day when people will remember Afghanistan not for war but for its standard of education.” she added.

Afghanistan represents one of the largest and most protracted refugee crisis in the world. Over 2.6 million Afghans currently living in exile and more than half of these Afghan refugees are children, according to UN numbers.

Globally though only one in every two refugee children are able to go to primary school and only one in four attend secondary school.

And for Afghan refugee children in Pakistan the numbers are even more dire with around 80 percent of them out of school, UNHCR said.

Published in The Express Tribune, September 16th,  2015.


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