Monday, October 5, 2015

‘You educate girls, you educate generations’
(My article in The Gulf Today)
SHARJAH: When Afghan refugee teacher Aqeela Asifi, 49, who has dedicated her life to bringing education to refugee girls in Pakistan, receives the 2015 UNHCR Nansen Refugee Award in Geneva on Monday, it will be a triumphant moment for all countries, including the UAE, that relentlessly strive to empower women and girls.
Asifi’s is an inspiring story of a woman who has remained committed to her noble mission despite all odds.
She is being recognised for her 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.
She fled Kabul, Afghanistan, with her family in 1992 during the Mujahedeen siege and found refuge in Kot Chandana refugee village.
As a former teacher, Asifi was struck by the lack of schooling for girls — a consequence of the conservative culture in the refugee village – and was determined to teach them.
She courageously went door-to-door to convince reluctant parents to let her tutor their children.  She started with just a handful of pupils in a makeshift school under a tent.
Her hard work paid dividends and brought in the much-needed funding from the Pakistani government.
This allowed Asifi to expand the school to six tents and include local Pakistani girls too.
Now, 23 years after she arrived, her tent-school is a permanent building, and has transformed the lives of more than 1,000 girl students who have reached eighth grade and received a nationally-endorsed certificate.
It is not just that. Her teaching legacy has had a cross-border impact with two of her former students taking up the profession in Kabul.
About winning the Nansen Refugee award Asifi says the recognition is a shared one. “My reward is seeing a student learning to read and write. So each day is a reward day.”
Her message is powerful: “When you have educated mothers, you will almost certainly have educated future generations. So if you educate girls, you educate generations.”
UNHCR’s Nansen Refugee Award honours extraordinary service to the forcibly displaced, and names Eleanor Roosevelt, Graça Machel and Luciano Pavarotti among its laureates.
UN High Commissioner for Refugees António Guterres has also paid tribute to the efforts of the winner of the global humanitarian award: “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.”


  1. The Sultan of Oman also believes in this message. Its true that when you educate a woman, you educate a generation and that creates a better future for all.

  2. From one tent to six tents to a building. Wish there were more ladies like her.