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DAFI Scholars: Afghan girl studies to become a lawyer in a break with tradition

News Stories, 10 November 2011

Students with DAFI scholarships attend a workshop at UNHCR's office in Tehran.

TEHRAN, Islamic Republic of Iran, November 10 (UNHCR) Ameneh is engaged to be married, but there's something more pressing that she wants to complete her law degree. That thinking is unusual for a girl from Afghanistan, where marriage is the height that most girls can aspire to.

But the 25-year-old Afghan refugee's family is very supportive, agreeing that a good education is vital for a good life. Some of her male siblings have sacrificed their own prospects, working as day labourers to help pay for Ameneh's university costs in the Iranian city of Qom, where she was born after her parents fled conflict in Afghanistan.

It would have been difficult to pursue a higher education without the help she has been receiving from the Albert Einstein German Academic Refugee Initiative, more commonly known as DAFI. The German-funded project is run by UNHCR and aims to promote self-sufficiency among refugees and boost their chances of finding a durable solution. It has helped thousands over the past two decades.

"UNHCR encourages and supports education for refugees to become professionals such as doctors, engineers, teachers," said Bernie Doyle, UNHCR's representative in the Islamic Republic of Iran. "A young educated workforce is needed to help rebuild a country," he added.

Ameneh would agree, and that's why she applied for a DAFI scholarship after finishing high school in Qom. She was accepted for a grant and is now in the third year of a four-year BA law course. "We use the money to cover my tuition costs. Without it, I would not be able to attend university and would just be sitting at home doing housework," said Ameneh, who lives with her family.

She does plan to get married after graduating but has no desire to become a stay-at-home wife, which is the tradition for most women in conservative Afghanistan. She and her fiancé also plan to eventually live in Afghanistan and help rebuild the country that her parents fled from after the 1979 Soviet invasion. More than 850,000 people have returned to Afghanistan from Iran with UNHCR help since early 2002, but parts of the country remain insecure.

Ameneh's fiancé, Esmaiel, supports her ambitions and her decision to wait until she has graduated before getting married. They have been engaged for 18 months and Ameneh was attracted by his open mindedness on education for women. He is studying in Tehran for a physiotherapy degree.

"He hopes to continue with postgraduate studies in physiotherapy and then return to our country, where there is a big need for this profession," Ameneh explained, before adding: "I too would like to help, but as a woman my plans are dependent on his."

Her own family and five brothers and sisters have also always supported Ameneh, the oldest child in the family. Despite having high school diplomas, two of her brothers work as labourers to pay some of the costs faced by Ameneh and her eldest sister, who is also at university. Their father was injured in a factory accident and cannot work, while the two youngest children are at school.

Education is very important to all Afghan refugees as it brings hope of a brighter future. UNHCR also puts a priority on helping all forcibly displaced children gain access to primary education at the least. The refugee agency's DAFI programme is its biggest tertiary education engagement.

In Iran, between 30 and 60 refugees with UNHCR-supported scholarships graduate every year from universities around Iran in a variety of subjects, including medicine, agriculture and languages. This year, the DAFI programme is helping about 160 students from Afghanistan and Iraq in Iran. UNHCR's office in Iraq organizes an annual gathering for all the DAFI scholarship students in the country.

By Dina Faramarzi in Tehran, Islamic Republic of Iran





Education is vital in restoring hope and dignity to young people driven from their homes.

DAFI Scholarships

The German-funded Albert Einstein German Academic Refugee Initiative provides scholarships for refugees to study in higher education institutes in many countries.

Seeds of Hope

20 Years of DAFI: A UNHCR exhibition highlights the impact of higher education for refugee communities.

Chad: Education in Exile

UNHCR joins forces with the Ministry of Education and NGO partners to improve education for Sudanese refugees in Chad.

The ongoing violence in Sudan's western Darfur region has uprooted two million Sudanese inside the country and driven some 230,000 more over the border into 12 refugee camps in eastern Chad.

Although enrolment in the camp schools in Chad is high, attendance is inconsistent. A shortage of qualified teachers and lack of school supplies and furniture make it difficult to keep schools running. In addition, many children are overwhelmed by household chores, while others leave school to work for local Chadian families. Girls' attendance is less regular, especially after marriage, which usually occurs by the age of 12 or 13. For boys and young men, attending school decreases the possibility of recruitment by various armed groups operating in the area.

UNHCR and its partners continue to provide training and salaries for teachers in all 12 refugee camps, ensuring a quality education for refugee children. NGO partners maintain schools and supply uniforms to needy students. And UNICEF is providing books, note pads and stationary. In August 2007 UNHCR, UNICEF and Chad's Ministry of Education joined forces to access and improve the state of education for Sudanese uprooted by conflict in Darfur.

UNHCR's ninemillion campaign aims to provide a healthy and safe learning environment for nine million refugee children by 2010.

Chad: Education in Exile

Education for Displaced Colombians

UNHCR works with the government of Colombia to address the needs of children displaced by violence.

Two million people are listed on Colombia's National Register for Displaced People. About half of them are under the age of 18, and, according to the Ministry of Education, only half of these are enrolled in school.

Even before displacement, Colombian children attending school in high-risk areas face danger from land mines, attacks by armed groups and forced recruitment outside of schools. Once displaced, children often lose an entire academic year. In addition, the trauma of losing one's home and witnessing extreme violence often remain unaddressed, affecting the child's potential to learn. Increased poverty brought on by displacement usually means that children must work to help support the family, making school impossible.

UNHCR supports the government's response to the educational crisis of displaced children, which includes local interventions in high-risk areas, rebuilding damaged schools, providing school supplies and supporting local teachers' organizations. UNHCR consults with the Ministry of Education to ensure the needs of displaced children are known and planned for. It also focuses on the educational needs of ethnic minorities such as the Afro-Colombians and indigenous people.

UNHCR's ninemillion campaign aims to provide a healthy and safe learning environment for nine million refugee children by 2010.

Education for Displaced Colombians

Afghanistan: Rebuilding a War-Torn Country

The cycle of life has started again in Afghanistan as returnees put their shoulders to the wheel to rebuild their war-torn country.

Return is only the first step on Afghanistan's long road to recovery. UNHCR is helping returnees settle back home with repatriation packages, shelter kits, mine-awareness training and vaccination against diseases. Slowly but surely, Afghans across the land are reuniting with loved ones, reconstructing homes, going back to school and resuming work. A new phase in their lives has begun.

Watch the process of return, reintegration, rehabilitation and reconstruction unfold in Afghanistan through this gallery.

Afghanistan: Rebuilding a War-Torn Country

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War forced Lim Bol Thong to flee South Sudan, putting his dreams of becoming a doctor on hold. As a refugee in the Kule camp in Gambella, Ethiopia, he has found another way to serve. Just 21 years old, Lim started teaching chemistry at the school's primary school and last year was promoted to Vice Principal.
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The subject of the best-selling book What is the What, Valentino Achak Deng's journey has taken him from Sudanese 'Lost Boy' to education minister in his home state in South Sudan. He talks here about the causes of displacement, the risks of politicizing refugee resettlement, and the opportunities that come with staying positive.