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Children's Education

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.”
 
 

The future is in her hands

Bassam Sebti's picture


She is described as having strong ideas. A spirited and energetic girl who dreams of a big future, Shams helps children and encourages them to learn and play.

But Shams is not a real child. She is a Muppet and one of the most popular fictional characters in the children’s show Iftah Ya Simisim, the Arabic version of the popular, long-running US children’s show Sesame Street, which was introduced in the Arab world in the 1980s.

#7 from 2013: A New Kind of Female Superhero: Burka Avenger

Shamiela Mir's picture

Our Top Ten Blog Posts by readership in 2013
This post was originally published on August 29, 2013


Have you heard of a new superheroine called “Burka Avenger”?  Burka Avenger is a new animated series for kids in Pakistan. Burka Avenger fights corrupt politicians and Taliban-look-a-like thugs who try to shut down a girl’s school in a village. She is fully trained in martial arts and uses pens and books to fight the bad guys. During the day, her alter-ego Jiya is a teacher at an all-girls school. All in all, she represents a female vanguard of girl’s education. So why would there be any criticisms coming from certain feminists circles in Pakistan?  Her burka.
 
To hide her identity, she wears a flowing black burka to fight the bad guys. Those who have issues with it say Burka is a sign of oppression and cannot be used to empower women. Some also say that it sends a wrong message by implying a woman can only be successful if she is invisible.