Peshawar: UNHCR Goodwill Ambassador in China, Yao Chen today inaugurated the newly constructed classrooms at the Government Elementary School for Boys in Union Council, Khadozai, Mianwali.
The school has been upgraded under the UN’s Refugee Affected and Hosting Area (RAHA) initiative funded by the US Bureau of Population, Refugees, and Migration and implemented by the Rural Empowerment and Institutional Development (RAPID).
The project, Yao Chen inaugurated is one of the five schools, upgraded in Mianwali under RAHA by UNHCR which will benefit more than 2000 Pakistani and Afghan refugee students.
In Pakistan, the Refugee Affected and Hosting Areas (RAHA) initiative serves as an important vehicle for improving access to and quality of education for both Afghan refugees and their host communities. In 2015 alone, nearly 1 million people (23 % of whom are Afghan refugees) benefitted from 62 RAHA humanitarian projects (39% in the sector of education).
Yao Chen appreciated the progressive approach of the Government of Pakistan for adopting Article 25A in the Constitution of Pakistan that guarantees the right to free and compulsory education for all children between the age of 5-16 regardless of their race and nationality.
She also emphasized that Afghan refugees in Pakistan should also be provided the opportunity to benefit from the constitutional provision. During her day-long engagement in the refugee village, Yao Chen was accompanied by the Representative, UNHCR in Pakistan, Indrika Ratwatte; Chief Commissioner for Afghan refugees in Islamabad, Dr. Imran Zeb and Commissioner for Afghan Refugees in Punjab Chaudhry Riaz Hameed.
Yao Chen expressed solidarity with the people of Pakistan over the tragic incident of Army Public School and send her heartfelt condolences to the families of victims.
Speaking at the occasion of school inauguration UNHCR Representative said, “Every child should be in school and UNHCR endeavours to provide them with access to quality education so they can build a future for themselves and their communities. This investment needs continued support from the international community.”
At Kot Chandana Refuge Village on Wednesday, Yao Chen also visited refugee schools and spent time with Afghan students. She distributed presents among them and discussed their future aspirations. The students were delighted to see Yao, who also played rope skipping with them.
Yao Chen paid visit to Aqeela Asifi; the 2015 UNHCR Nansen Refugee Award winner. An Afghan refugee herself, Aqeela pioneered girls’ education in Kot Chandana refugee village in 1992 and has been promoting it since. Yao Chen said meeting with Aqeela and her students was one of the best moments of her life.
“Aqeela is the real life superhero of Kot Chandana; she is a teacher, who become an inspiration worldwide for all those who want to work for the betterment of education.” Yao said and added, “How hard it must have been for Aqeela to start her journey, this, I only realized this after visiting the refugee village and meeting with communities, who live in abject poverty.”
Ms. Yao emphasized that when families are forced to flee their homes, children are severely impacted. Torn from school, children are often deprived of education leaving them exposed to exploitation and abuse.
Her other engagements in the refugee village included, visit to a technical vocational training institute for boys and men, a handicraft exhibition by Afghan women and visit to schools. Yao also met with a group of young Afghan refugee girls, dropped out from school.
Talking to the girls Yao, stressed on eliminating gender disparities in education. In a world where women constitute 50 percent of the population, they should be given equal access to all levels of education and vocational training.
Yao Chen is the first Chinese super-star and GWA in China, visiting Pakistan and promoting refugee education. Yao expressed her interest to support UNHCR’s interventions for education after learning about Aqeela Asifi’s committed work and expressed her interest to advocate for refugee education in Pakistan.
Pakistan hosts the largest protracted refugee pollution for over 35 years and children and youth constitute 70 percent of the 1.5 million registered Afghan refugees who currently reside in Pakistan. Education and youth empowerment through skills training is the centre of UNHCR’s intervention in Pakistan.