"When you have educated mothers, you will almost certainly have educated future generations. So if you educate girls, you educate generations" - Aqeela Asifi
©UNHCR / S. Rich
Aqeela Asifi is the 2015 winner of UNHCR’s Nansen Refugee Award, recognised for her tireless efforts to provide education to hundreds of refugee girls.
A refugee herself, she fled Kabul, Afghanistan, with her family in 1992 during the Mujahedeen siege and found refuge in Kot Chandana refugee village in the Punjab province of Pakistan.
As a former teacher, Asifi was struck by the lack of schooling for girls – a consequence of the conservative culture in the refugee village – and was determined to teach them.
Winning the backing of the village elders, she bravely went door-to-door to convince reluctant parents to let her tutor their children. She began with just a handful of students in a makeshift school under a tent, writing out worksheets for the students by hand.
Over the next two years her tiny school blossomed and her accomplishments led to much-needed funding from the Pakistani Government. This allowed Asifi to expand the school to six tents and include local Pakistani girls too.
Now, 23 years after she arrived, her tent-school is a permanent building, and has transformed the lives of more than 1,000 girl students who have reached eighth grade and received a nationally endorsed certificate. Her teaching legacy has even had a cross-border impact, with two of her former students taking up the profession in Kabul.
Asifi is a true symbol of triumph over adversity. With her quiet patience and determination, she has changed the lives of hundreds of young refugees, offering them a pathway out of poverty, and a chance to build themselves a future.