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South Asia

Aqeela Asifi: Refugee and tireless champion for education

Yann Doignon's picture
Aqeela Asifi is the 2015 winner of UNHCR’s Nansen Refugee Award, recognised for her indefatigable efforts to help girl refugees access education.
Aqeela Asifi. Credit: UNHCR

Aqeela Asifi is the 2015 winner of UNHCR's Nansen Refugee Award, recognized for her indefatigable efforts to educate Afghan girl refugees. She was a guest panelist at the "Managing Displaced Populations—Lessons From Pakistan" discussion with President Jim Yong Kim during his two day visit to Pakistan last week.



Her car broke down during her long journey to Islamabad from Kot Chandana, a refugee village where she lives in the south-eastern Punjab province of Pakistan.

Tired she may be, and notwithstanding a panel discussion on the Afghan refugee situation still ahead of her, she has a story to tell and nothing will stop her.

Her quiet, almost shy demeanor belies her fierce determination: Aqeela Asifi is a refugee, teacher, champion of girl’s education, an inspiration to thousands of her students, and a 2015 winner of UNHCR’s Nansen Refugee Award.

Her story is one of resilience against all odds.

Like hundreds of thousands of other Afghans, she was forced to flee Afghanistan in 1992 when civil war broke out in the country. She left everything behind: her family, her house, and a job as a teacher in Kabul, and ended up in Kot Chandana, a village in Pakistan, which then hosted nearly 180,000 other refugees. By the early 1990s, more than three million exiled Afghans had crossed Pakistan’s border, putting additional pressure on the country’s infrastructure and social services, notably health services and schools. What Asifi witnessed was a complete lack of learning facilities and opportunities for girls in her newfound community. “When I started living at a refugee camp I saw girls’ education was the most neglected area,” she says. “Girls were not even aware of education and its importance in their lives. They didn’t know anything about books, pencils, and it was then when I realized that this community needed my help.”
 
 

Lead pollution robs children of their futures

Ernesto Sanchez-Triana's picture
Vicki Francis/Department for International Development

When the water is poor, people get sick: they have diarrhea; their growth is stunted; they die. When the air is poor, people get sick: they cough; they cannot leave their beds; they die. However, they do not look sick when there is lead in their blood. You cannot look at a child who has an unhealthy blood lead level (BLL) and say, "This is not right. Something must be done," because in most cases, there is nothing to see.

Lead (Pb) exposure—which is making headlines in the U.S. because of recent events in Flint, Michigan-- is a major source of critical environmental health risks. But the problem is subtle: Affected children do not perform as well in school. They are late to read. They are slow to learn how to do tasks. Perhaps a few more children are born with cognitive deficits. Perhaps these children have less impulse control. Perhaps they exhibit more violence.

These symptoms are not always understood as an environmental or a public health problem – or indeed a development problem. Instead, people will say it is an issue of morals or of education. They will discipline the children, and then they will take themselves to task and ask how and why they are failing to raise these children correctly. Furthermore, they will have no idea that the problem is in the children’s blood.

Young children are particularly vulnerable to lead exposure. Studies have documented that exposure leads to neuropsychological impacts in children--including impaired intelligence, measured as intelligence IQ losses--at blood lead levels even lower than 5 micrograms of lead per deciliter of blood (µg/dL).  So, clearly, the effect occurs at even very low BLLs. 

Second Chances: Giving Dhaka’s slum children an opportunity to go back to school

Mabruk Kabir's picture
12-year old Rafiq, selling ‘chotpoti’, a popular snack in Bangladesh. Photo Credit: Mabruk Kabir/World Bank

Deep in the winding alleys of a Dhaka slum, business was booming. Rafiq, an entrepreneurial 12-year-old, was selling snacks out of a makeshift food cart – and his customers couldn’t get enough.

On the “Road to Resilience”: protecting India’s coastal communities against natural disasters

Ede Ijjasz-Vasquez's picture
Teams from the World Bank and the Global Facility for Disaster Reduction and Recovery (GFDRR) have embarked on a 40-day, 10,000-km journey along the entire Indian coastline. The objective of this "Road to Resilience" trip is to support the implementation of 6 coastal disaster management and climate resilience projects covering all 10 coastal states of India. Some of those projects aim to enhance resilience and mitigate the impact of future disasters, while others are intended to help the country recover from previous events such as Cyclone Phailin (2013) and Cyclone Hudhud (2014).
 
The "Road to Resilience" initiative is also a unique opportunity to raise awareness about risk mitigation and to interact more directly with local communities, who play a crucial role in preventing and responding to disaster.
 
In this video, Ede Ijjasz and Saurabh Dani take you on the road with them to showcase some of the work the World Bank is doing to protect India's costal states against natural hazards.

When urbanization is messy, students fall through the cracks

Mabruk Kabir's picture
Student in Urban Slum Learning Center
A student at an Urban Slum Learning Center
in Dhaka. Photo: Mabruk Kabir/World Bank

On a foggy winter morning in Dhaka, 41-year-old Jahid was sipping tea by a roadside stall.

“Life was very peaceful back in my village,” he reminisced, “but there was no work, so I moved to Dhaka. Even if I live in a slum, my children are better off here.”

Jahid is one of the 500,000 people that move to Dhaka city each year. Driven by the promise of economic opportunity as well as poverty in rural and coastal areas, it is estimated that half the population of Bangladesh will migrate to urban areas by 2030. 

The Rocky Road to Urbanization

Urbanization can be catalyst for growth. Density – the clustering of firms and workers – can drive productivity, innovation and job creation. It is the benefits of agglomeration that once drew the country’s most important industry – the ready-made garments sector to Dhaka city.

However, it is the costs from congestion that are now pushing factories away, mainly to peri-urban areas. Why are factory owners leaving?


For starters, the tide of new migrants has overwhelmed urban infrastructure, basic services, as well as the stock of affordable housing – eroding the both the livability and competitiveness of Dhaka city. A recent World Bank report described South Asia’s urbanization trajectory as “messy and hidden” – reflected in the large-scale proliferation of slums and urban sprawl.

The most effective services for well-rounded higher education students in India

Jessica Lee's picture
The blogger (back row, second from right) joined discussions with several university students in India.

A few months ago, I met with over 100 undergraduate and graduate students at seven different technical institutions in the Indian states of Maharashtra and Karnataka, as part of the Government of India – World Bank supported Technical Education Quality Improvement Program (TEQIP II). It took a bit of time for all of us to feel comfortable – how awkward can it get when you are summoned to participate in a meeting with a guest visitor? But, ultimately, we were able to talk freely and even joke a bit.

How to become a digital innovator in Pakistan

Anna O'Donnell's picture
Students Learning at the Earn through Freelancing Training
Students learning at the Earn through Freelancing training. Credit: Empower Pakistan/World Bank
It is possible today to be sitting almost anywhere in the world and -- provided you have access to a computer and the internet -- you can be working on international projects, learning through online courses, or collaborating with other young people worldwide.

These kinds of connected communities can be a great short-term solution to some of Pakistan’s challenges in creating jobs.  

Pakistan is home to a large youth population, with nearly 100 million youth under the age of 24. Creating more and better jobs for this new generation will be a major development challenge. According to Pakistan’s own estimates, the country will need to grow at around 7 percent a year to absorb all these young people into productive economic participation. But constraints on energy supply as well as budget and capacity constraints on government are going to make this challenging in the short term.

What we have seen working in Pakistan over the last few years is that there is an emerging cultural shift that is becoming more accepting of self-employment and entrepreneurship as legitimate employment pathways for young people.

Given the constraints of the domestic economy to absorb all these young people, many of the employment opportunities will come through the establishment of new businesses. And the tech industry in Pakistan has shown a steady and healthy growth rate in recent years, with the potential both to drive growth through the development of new business models, startups and innovation.

One of the major issues we have seen working here is that many young people are curious about how the internet and technology can offer employment, but are not sure where to start.

Want a digital career? Here’s how to get started:

For those interested in learning some skills and linking to work through international marketplaces—also called freelancing—there are resources available to help with training.
Many of the top freelancing sites offer introductory materials to learn basic freelancing, such as Upwork and SamaSchool. Independent online learning sites also offer courses and certificates, most notably Coursera.

Addressing the silence around menstruation through partnership and positive association

Jaydeep Mandal's picture

As urban India strives to emerge as the next superpower, rural India continues to suffer in the absence of access to adequate health and hygiene facilities.

Hygiene and health go hand-in-hand. Maintaining proper hygiene is indispensible for maintaining good health and this holds true for women undergoing menstruation. Although menstruation is a natural process, there are several misconceptions and practices, which sometimes results in adverse health outcomes. In India, the problem is much more prevalent and accentuated in rural parts of the country. Lack of awareness and the stigma around menstruation causes women to refrain from seeking medical advice. Serious infections are often left untreated. Women across our country are forced into silence, and thus, into unhealthy behaviors.

In order to create the necessary behavior change needed to ensure healthy menstruation practices we strictly do not touch the myths and taboos connected with menstruation. Given that many of these taboos are connected to local cultures and religions, addressing these taboos would create a barrier to open discussion as target communities could feel under attack. Forming a positive discussion around how menstruation is normal, can be clean, and providing multiple options for sanitary pads for these women is far more impactful than shame.

Chart: Pakistan Leads South Asia in Mobile Money

Tariq Khokhar's picture

In 2014, an average of 3% of people in South Asia used a mobile phone to send or receive money. While there are still gaps between how often men and women use these services, Pakistan leads the region with 9% of men and 2% of women moving money on their mobiles. You can find more data on financial inclusion in the Global Findex Database
 


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