The United States and UNHCR inaugurate education project in Punjab for Afghan and Pakistani students
April 28, 2015, Islamabad: The UN Refugee Agency in collaboration with the United States Embassy inaugurated two education projects under the Refugee Affected and Hosting Areas (RAHA) initiative that will benefit more than 1,850 Pakistani and Afghan school students in Rawalpindi and Taxila.
U.S. Department of State Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary of the Bureau of Population, Refugees, and Migration Simon Henshaw and UNHCR’s Representative in Pakistan, Indrika Ratwatte, participated in a ground breaking ceremony at a Government Girls’ High School in Rawalpindi. They also had an informal discussion with a group of Afghan and Pakistani students who talked about what education means to them. Under the RAHA funding, the Government Girls’ High School in Rawalpindi will receive additional furnished classrooms and new latrines, and the Government Elementary School in Taxila will have three additional furnished classrooms, a new veranda, and extra latrines. Enrolment campaigns and a capacity building workshop for teachers are also included in these projects which are expected to be completed by August 2015.
In September 2014, the United States contributed nearly $9 million to the RAHA programme in Pakistan, supporting 40 projects throughout the country which will benefit nearly 300,000 people. This includes 19 education projects helping around 12,000 Afghan and 53,000 Pakistani students gain better schooling. In Punjab province alone, there are seven other projects being implemented which, together with the two schools in Rawalpindi and Taxila, are worth $2 million. The UNHCR Representative in Pakistan, Indrika Ratwatte, said that the RAHA initiative is an effort to improve livelihoods, rehabilitate the environment, and enhance social cohesion within communities that have been hosting refugees for more than three decades.
The RAHA programme is a major component of the regional Solution Strategy for Afghan Refugees (SSAR) endorsed by the Islamic Republics of Afghanistan, Iran, and Pakistan and UNHCR in May 2012, which provides a predictable roadmap for solutions and the better management of Afghan refugees not only back in the country of origin but also in the countries of refuge.
“Through the SSAR, we are not only supporting the Government of Pakistan with the voluntary return of refugees to Afghanistan, but also helping refugees and local host communities benefit from quality services,” Ratwatte noted. “This is one way of showing solidarity with these communities that have generously hosted refugees for many years.” Ratwatte added that he personally takes a keen interest in empowering youth through the provision of quality education and skills training which will enable them to lead productive lives and support their communities in future. “Investment in youth is an investment in the future; these young girls and boys could be our ambassadors of a brighter tomorrow,” Ratwatte said.
Speaking at the occasion, Simon Henshaw said, “It is such a pleasure to see Afghan and Pakistani children learning and playing together at this school. Even more importantly, it is so good to see the cooperation – between ourselves, the government of Pakistan, the agencies carrying out assistance, and the people that this aid helps. This cooperation is making a concrete and important difference in people’s lives.”
The RAHA initiative seeks to improve social cohesion, promote co-existence, and provide both the host Pakistani communities and Afghan refugees with development and humanitarian assistance. It also aims to reduce economic and social vulnerability of the most disadvantaged sections of society living in refugee hosting areas. Since 2009, some 3,500 RAHA projects have been implemented in the sectors of health, education, infrastructure, livelihoods, water and sanitation for the benefit of around five million individuals, four million of which are Pakistani citizens.