Teacher who educated Afghan refugee girls wins UN prize


A teacher who has dedicated her life to educating Afghan refugee girls, challenging cultural sexism by setting up classes in a makeshift tent, has won a special prize awarded by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR).

Aqeela Asifi, 49, left Kabul with her family in 1992, and ended up living in the remote refugee settlement of Kot Chandna in the Punjab region of Pakistan, where most girls were excluded from the classroom.

Despite few resources, she won over the community and persuaded parents to send their daughters to school.

Today more than a thousand children attend permanent schools in the village, said UNHCR, although around 80 per cent of Afghan refugee children in Pakistan are still out of school.

The Nansen Refugee Award has been won in the past by Eleanor Roosevelt and Luciano Pavarotti.

The award ceremony takes place next month in Geneva, and the winner gets $100,000 to fund a project complementing their existing work.

“When you have mothers who are educated, you will almost certainly have future generations who are educated,” said Asifi.

“I wish for the day when people will remember Afghanistan, not for war, but for its standard of education.”