16 September, 2015
Aqeela Asifi, who fled to Pakistan as a young woman, has spent her life teaching other Afghan refugees.
For her efforts, Ms. Asifi, who is 49, has won the 2015 UNHCR Nansen Refugee award. She also gets $100,000 to help pay for her education projects.
Asifi faced many problems in Afghanistan before she fled to Pakistan. Resources were limited and education for women was discouraged.
However, in Pakistan, the 49 year old was able to bring change to her conservative Afghan community. She persuaded parents to send their daughters to school in a tent at the Kot Chandana refugee village. The village was in the Punjab province of Pakistan.
Since then, Ms. Asifi has guided more than a thousand refugee girls through their primary education.
"When I began my mission to educate Afghan girls, I could not have imagined that one day it will win me this award. I cannot express my happiness," she told VOA.
There are almost 1.5 million recorded Afghan refugees in Pakistan, the United Nation High Commissioner for Refugees says. Nearly half are school-aged children. But almost 80 percent of them don't attend school.
Ms. Asifi was a teacher in Kabul when she fled with her family in 1992.
"In Afghanistan I was teaching both boys and girls," she told VOA. "When I left Afghanistan and ended up in this refugee village with my family, I was [saddened] to find out there were no facilities here, particularly for women and girls."
They made their home in the distant refugee community in Kot Chandana. There she began teaching a small number of students in her tent. She made teaching materials by hand.
Her tent school has led to the opening of several permanent schools in the village. These schools teach more than one thousand children. Support from the UNHCR, local government, and non-governmental organizations helped make these new schools possible.
UNHCR's Nansen Refugee Award honors extraordinary service to people who have been forced from their homes. Eleanor Roosevelt, Graca Machel and Luciano Pavarotti are some of the other winners of the award. The 2015 award ceremony will be held on October 5 in Geneva.
Ms. Asifi is a mother of six children. She has worked hard to pay for their education. She spends almost all her income to pay her son's tuition to study engineering at Kabul University.
But seeking higher education for her four daughters is difficult. There is not enough money or secondary schools for girls in the village.
The Afghan teacher hopes more and more children will receive an education in Afghanistan. She hopes her home country becomes better known for higher levels of education, instead of war.
"I want my [goal] to be introduced in parts of Afghanistan where conservative traditions and customs still prevent parents from sending their daughters to outdoor schools," she said.
I'm Peter Musto.
Ayaz Gul reported and wrote this story for VOA news. Pete Musto adapted it for Learning English. Kathleen Struck was the editor.
Words in This Story
tent – n. a portable shelter that is used outdoors, is made of cloth and is held up with poles and ropes
province – n. any one of the large parts that some countries are divided into
primary education – n. the first level of education that provides students with a simple understanding of many different subjects as well as the skills they will use throughout their lives
facility – n. something that makes an action, operation, or activity easier
tuition – n. money that is paid to a school for the right to study there
introduce – v. to cause someone to learn about or try something for the first time
outdoor – adj. done, used, or located outside a building
Now it's your turn. Are there any famous educators from your country? Is education available to everyone in your country? Let us know in the comments section.