This year’s Nansen Refugee Award was given to Aqeela Asifi, an Afghan refugee living in Pakistan. Aqeela works every day to educate the young refugee girls in her village. To learn more about Aqeela and her work, see this article. It goes without saying that Aqeela – and other women like her around the world – continue to fill me with inspiration.
The award was more than well-deserved. Aqeela started out giving classes in a tent, with no chalkboard or standard teaching amenities. She would sew papers onto the tent for her students to copy from; at night, she would make copies of worksheets by hand because she lacked a printer.
What struck me most about Aqeela is that she can talk your ear off. But then again, why would that surprise me? You need to be a confident, outspoken woman to garner respect and demand change from your community.
There is also an important detail that Aqeela mentioned during her acceptance speech at UNHCR that we shouldn’t underestimate: Aqeela acknowledged that her husband was instrumental in her ability to convince the men in her community that girls should be educated, too. Male allies are key.
Aqeela was given the award on World Teacher Day, aptly enough. That same day, the Norwegian Refugee Council (NRC) released a report on Afghan refugee education.
As Aqeela reminds us, we still have a long way to go in making education accessible to every child, including refugee children and especially refugee girls. Her words will stick with me, her melodic words in Dari, and most of all – her kind, relentless spirit.