Pakistani teacher Aqeela Asifi among world’s top ten

Aqeela Asifi, winner of the prestigious 2015 UNHCR Nansen refugee award, talks to journalists at a press conference in Islamabad. Photograph: Sohail Shahazad/EPA

WEB DESK: Afghan refugee teacher Aqeela Asifi, who has dedicated her life to bringing education to refugee girls in Pakistan, has won the UNHCR Nansen Refugee Award last year. She is now in the top ten best teacher’s race.

When Aqeela Asifi accepted the Nansen refugee award in Geneva in 2015, the 49-year-old Afghan teacher appeared with her husband, Sher Mohammed, and youngest daughter, Sawera, 11. It was a moment to celebrate Asifi’s “brave and tireless dedication to education for Afghan refugee girls” in Pakistan.

“There are many talented girls who could become professionals, but that is only possible if there are facilities for them. If a woman is not allowed to walk far from her home to go to school, this is a talent wasted. I had many brilliant students but since they had no option to continue their education, they are just sitting at home, doing nothing,” she said.

2She 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.”

Asifi fled Afghanistan in 1992. With her husband and two small children, the teacher, then aged 26, settled in the remote Kot Chandana village. She was dismayed by the lack of schools and determined to do something about it, but realised she had to tread carefully in this conservative society.

She went door-to-door, persuading refugee parents to let her tutor their children. She began with just 20 pupils, but soon had permission to open a tent school. She worked hard – copying out worksheets by hand – and eventually got funding from the Pakistani government. Her tent school expanded and Asifi started taking in local girls as well.

aqeelaaaaAqeela set up her first school in a borrowed tent and worked hard to overcome the resistance and negative attitudes of people in the society. Today, there are nine schools in the camp with countless female teachers and over 1,500 students, including 900 girls.

Aqeela’s school has produced over 1,000 graduates (mainly Afghan refugee girls, but also local Pakistani children). Some have become doctors, engineers, government officials and teachers in Afghanistan.