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In 2015, the Varkey Foundation launched the Global Teacher Prize to highlight and celebrate outstanding teachers across the globe.This year, the ten finalists came from several different countries including Pakistan, Palestine, the United States of America, the UK, Finland, Australia, Japan and India.

Being included in the top ten of the Global Teacher Prize was a humbling experience for each of these outstanding teachers.

Aqeela Asifi was one of this year’s finalists. Originally from Afghanistan, she was educated in Kandahar and trained as a teacher before the Taliban took over in 1992. When she arrived at a refugee at Kot Chandana camp in Pakistan, there were no schools in operation in the local area. She borrowed a tent and despite negative attitudes and resistance, she created a place where girls could be educated. With no money for resources, she stitched together pieces of cloth with handwritten text to tent walls and wrote books by hand at night.


Today, there are nine schools in the camp with many female teachers and over 1500 students including nine hundred girls.

Some of Aqeela’s students have gone on to become doctors, engineers, government officials and teachers in Afghanistan. Aqueela shared with Teach UAE Magazine her insight on the importance of educating girls.

What are two key challenges that need to be overcome in order for all girls to be educated?

Social and cultural issues are factors. Many people are still enslaved to cultural values of old. They believe that if their ancestors did not believe in supporting something, this was for a wise reason. You have to be tactful when it comes to the social cultural issues of others. Girls’ education is still considered to be taboo by some people. They believe that it will bring a bad name to the family.

Another factor is poor economic conditions. Families may not be able to afford education even if education is free. The priority is to ensure that the family is fed first. When you think about the needs of a family, priority will be given to other things. Education requires having the right resources, so that learning continues at home. Resources cost money and people will always attend to their basic needs first.

Is there a shift in perception with girls’ education that is happening now?

Yes, there is a slow change that is happening. We have to be patient. Twenty-five years ago, I could never imagine that I would have over a thousand girls in school. Many years ago, girls would have been engaged when they were babies and married by the age of 12 or 13. Today, girls are able to say if they agree with the choice for a husband that their family has made. This is a huge change. Now, families are more supportive. Child engagements have become a thing of the past.

Aqeela was presented with the UNHCR’s Nansen Refugee Award in 2015. She continues to work with students at the Kot Chandana Refugee Camp, Punjab in Pakistan. As one of the finalists in the top ten of the Global Teacher Prize, she has joined a prestigious class of outstanding teachers who are changing the world, one child at a time; one lesson at a time.

Aqeela Asifi is a top ten finalist of the Global Teacher Prize 2016.

By Carolyn Lee

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