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Meet Aqeela Asifi, the Afghan Woman Who Devotes Her Life to Educating Girls in Refugee Villages

Meet Aqeela Asifi, the Afghan Woman Who Devotes Her Life to Educating Girls in Refugee Villages

By Jennifer Memmolo

This year, the number of refugees and people seeking asylum from war-torn countries has reached levels not seen since World War II, and while much of the news is heartbreaking, there are a few stories of hope. Aqeela Asifi's is one of them.

Asifi is the winner of the 2015 Nansen Refugee Award, an annual honor given out by the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) to award exemplary service toward those who have been displaced from their homes because of war and violence. Asifi is a former teacher who fled Kabul with her family in 1992 to a refugee settlement, where she was dismayed at the lack of educational options for girls in the village. Over time, she convinced the community to relax the strict cultural traditions that kept girls from school, and started teaching in a makeshift school tent. She went from teaching in a tent and copying worksheets out by hand to establishing permanent schools in the village that serve more than a thousand refugee children.


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 in a statement. “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.”

UN High Commissioner for Refugees, Antonio Guterres paid tribute to the efforts of the winner of the global humanitarian award: "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."

Currently, 5.7 million Afghans have been able to return to Afghanistan since the fall of the Taliban, and the UNHCR is embarking on a strategy to assist remaining Afghan refugees to return home, and a key element of their strategy is to ensure they have access to quality education at home.

"Access to education is a basic human right. Yet for millions of refugee children it is a lifeline to a better future which they have been heartbreakingly denied," said UNHCR Goodwill Ambassador, Khaled Hosseini.

"I have met many young refugees who have been torn from everything that makes them feel safe: their homes, their families, their friends and their schools. Investing in their education is an investment in their future, giving them hope and the chance to one day be a part of rebuilding their broken home countries."

"UNHCR is working to give all refugee children the chance to go to school. Aqeela Asifi has shown us all that with courage change can happen. We must continue her fight."

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