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Janet Shih and mother, Cecilia, talk about education and sports for refugee girls


Janet Shih and mother, Cecilia, talk about education and sports for refugee girls

8 January 2021 Also available in:

The mother-daughter duo has been joining hands with UNHCR, the UN Refugee Agency, in supporting refugee education, following an inspiring first-hand encounter with children in displacement in Iran.


Share the Key to Change and Success

As a female leader chairing her family business and the charitable Shih Wing Ching Foundation, Janet Shih regards education as an influential agent for change. “Girls and women are as capable as boys and men. Providing girls and young women with equal opportunities to education helps create a fairer and more sustainable society,” Janet explained.

From her previous voluntary experience in giving tutorials to students from low-income families, she was stunned by the challenges facing the underprivileged. “Obtaining a quality education is never easy, especially for the majority of refugees living in displacement. According to UNHCR, there are about half of all refugee children of school age who are out of school. The chance of receiving education is even slimmer for many girls and young women. They are deprived of the possibility of understanding the vastness of the world and realizing their ambitions. This is such a shame!” Janet said. “Refugees are indeed just like us. If they are given the same opportunities, they can also thrive.”


Act Together to Bring Education for All

With a daughter and son, Janet cannot imagine her daughter receiving less education than her son. She firmly believes that education should be accessible for all and therefore continues the Foundation’s support for UNHCR’s education programme by providing learning opportunities for refugee students, essential training for new teachers and education facilities.

In 2018, her parents Cecilia Shih and Shih Wing Ching, joined UNHCR in visiting Amir Kabir Primary School in Iran, which was co-funded by UNHCR and Iranian authorities. Cecilia attended a class with Afghan refugee girls who were thrilled to have the chance to go to school.

施陳佩霞及施永青在伊朗Amir Kabir小學的教室與難民女童一同上課。

Cecilia Shih and Shih Wing Ching joined refugee girls in a class at Amir Kabir Primary School in Iran.

“Iran is a leading example in refugee integration,” she commented. “Knowing that the learning opportunity was precious, these girls were very proactive in lessons. I was so moved to see their genuine smiles – they just could not conceal their eagerness to study and grow,” she recalled.

For many Afghans, the cultural norms which do not prioritize girls education have stacked up obstacles for generations of girls and limited their potential. The lack of access to education for girls can result in early marriage and pregnancy, reduced social capital and independence, as well as worsened health and well-being. UNHCR takes part in community work to help sensitize conservative parents and works to ensure quality protective education for refugee children and youth, particularly girls.


Sports as a Powerful Tool to Heal and Shine

As a former physical education teacher, Cecilia understands the magical power of sports. “Sports not only lets children and youths learn to be more focused, but also brings happiness. At the same time, this allows them to believe in their own unlimited potential, which helps them overcome the challenges they face in their studies and daily lives,” she pointed out. 

It’s not surprising that Cecilia made sure her three children were engaged in sports regularly when they were growing up. She also finds the story of Rozma Ghafouri inspiring.

Iran. Sports coach wins Nansen Refugee Award regional prize for Asia

As an Afghan refugee, Rozma helps refugee children access education through sports. She has been chosen as the regional winner for Asia for UNHCR’s Nansen Refugee Award in 2020. © UNHCR/Fatemeh Forootan Torkamani

Rozma, an Afghan refugee living in Iran, is an aspiring football coach who uses her enthusiasm for sports to get refugee children off the streets and back into the classroom.

“Sport is the best way I have found to help children in a vulnerable situation to open up. After every practice, I speak to them about everything… until they feel comfortable to talk to me about the issues they are facing at home,” Rozma said.

Every day, she and other volunteers go door to door in the neighbourhoods that are mostly populated by Afghans to talk to the parents of children who have either never gone to school or have had to drop out. Rozma and her team build trust with the parents and invite their kids to go to her weekly sports practice.

As they witness the positive impact sports activities have on their children, the parents become more open to her pleas to let them go to school. With the backing of UNHCR and its Iranian government counterpart, Rozma’s project now helps some 400 children a year, many of them are out-of-school girls.


Bring Them to Schools, Bring Them Hope

There are many hurdles in the path of providing education for all, especially displaced children. Nevertheless, with support from the Shih family and others who are willing to share kindness and step with refugees, the vision of building a future with access to education for everybody, regardless of one’s gender and legal status, has been brought closer to reality.

“Education has the power of enlightenment. Not only does it help build self-reliance and social cohesion, it also lets everyone unleash their talents,” the duo shared.

To create an inclusive society, the underprivileged including refugees should be given the opportunities and platforms to get educated, and hence choose their own paths in life and pursue their dreams. Stepping into the 70th year of establishment on 14 December 2020, UNHCR is planning to support 70 refugee scholars as they complete their final year of tertiary education. The goal is to raise the enrolment of refugees in higher education from 3% to 15% by 2030. Even though the goal seems to be progressive, it is still way less than the current enrolment rate in Hong Kong which is close to 80% and the global figure of 37%.

Janet and Cecilia hope that more people will be joining them and UNHCR to ensure that quality education be given to all young refugee women and men, enabling them to bring positive impacts to their lives, and to the world. 

Click here to learn more about our education work



The Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) was established on 14 December 1950 by the United Nations General Assembly. The agency is mandated to lead and coordinate international action to protect refugees and resolve refugee issues. It strives to ensure that everyone has the right to seek asylum and find safe refuge in another state, with the option to voluntarily return home when conditions are conducive for return, integrate locally or resettle to a third country. UNHCR has twice won the Nobel Peace Prize, in 1954 for its ground-breaking work in helping the refugees of Europe, and in 1981 for its worldwide assistance to refugees.