Aqeela Asifi hold her UNHCR’s Nansen medal during an awards ceremony in Geneva, Switzerland, October 5. (Photo: UNHCR/Mark Henley)
An Afghan teacher who has dedicated her life to educating refugee girls in Pakistan, has won the 2015 the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) Nansen Refugee Award.
Aqeela Asifi, herself a refugee, was recognised in an award ceremony in Geneva, Switzerland, on October 5. The 49 year-old was recognised for her dedication to education for Afghan refugee girls in the Kot Chandana refugee village in Mianwali, Pakistan. Despite minimal resources and significant cultural challenges, Asifi has guided a thousand refugee girls through their primary education.
Video ofUN High Commissioner for Refugees, António Guterre’s presentingt the UNHCR’s Nansen medal to Aqeela Asifi during the awards ceremony in Geneva, Switzerland, October 5. (Video: UNHCR)
UNHCR’s Nansen Refugee Award honours extraordinary service to the forcibly displaced, and names Eleanor Roosevelt, GraçaMachel and Luciano Pavarotti among its laureates.
Afghanistan is the largest, most protracted refugee crisis in the world. 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. And for Afghan refugees in Pakistan this falls further, with approximately 80 per cent of children currently out of school.
UN High Commissioner for Refugees, António Guterres, paid tribute to Asifi: “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. 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.”
Asifi is a former teacher who fled from Kabul with her family in 1992, finding safety in the remote refugee settlement of Kot Chandana. Asifi was dismayed by the lack of schooling for girls there. She 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.
She believes that 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.”