Access to education can open up a world of opportunity for children across the globe. But refugee children are often forced to drop out of school during conflict and fall behind on their studies as they flee. This problem is even more prominent among refugee girls, who frequently take on roles at home supporting their families during times of hardship.
GET THE FACTS: Despite gains in access and enrollment in school for refugee children, refugee girls continue to lag behind refugee boys. While 70 percent of refugee boys are enrolled in primary school, only 67 percent of refugee girls are enrolled in primary school. At the secondary level, 35 percent of refugee boys are enrolled compared to 31 percent of refugee girls.
But even with the odds stacked against them, refugee girls have proven they can work hard and build the futures they want through education. They are resilient, persistent and smart, and the possibilities for what they can achieve are limitless.
As people around the world advocate for the rights and protections of girls and celebrate girls’ achievements on this International Day of the Girl Child, we celebrate inspiring young refugees—like Shukria, Shaima, Rachel, Sondous, Maria, Thérèse and Parissa—who are overcoming odds, working hard and achieving their dreams.
While people in Afghanistan continue to flee their homes every day, neighboring countries like Pakistan have become a safe haven for Afghan refugees, providing them with hope and opportunity. For refugee girls like Shukria, that means the opportunity to go to school for the first time.
Four-year-old Shukria started going to school this year in Zer Karez refugee village in Balochistan, Pakistan. She likes her new school, teacher and friends, and she is learning to speak Urdu. In Pakistan, she has opportunities for learning that she may never have had back in Afghanistan.
Syrian refugee Shaima is only 12 years old, but she is already becoming a brilliant engineer and scientist. As part of her learning, she works in the Innovation Lab at Za’atari refugee camp, where she builds and inspects robots.
The Innovation Lab at Za’atari was designed to encourage creativity and get refugee youth to think outside of the box. Every month more than 40 refugee students learn basic programming and robotics at the lab. After participating in this program, Shaima went on to partake in international robotics competitions. Her future in science and engineering is bright.
For people around the world—refugees and non-refugees alike—the COVID-19 pandemic has caused a major setback in achieving their educational goals. This was the case for Rachel. In 2021, Rachel's school was closed for nine months due to COVID-19. Rachel was forced to stay home in Dzaleka refugee camp in Malawi and could not continue her studies. As a result, she did not pass her high-school final exam.
But Rachel did not give up hope. Today she is taking a computer literacy course offered by UNHCR and its partner Jesuit Refugee Service (JRS), where she is developing vital skills that can help accelerate her pathway to future studies.
Rachel dreams of one day becoming a doctor, and now, thanks to UNHCR’s support, she is back on track to make her dreams come true.
Eight-year-old Sondous is a Syrian refugee living in Za’atari refugee camp. She has lived in Za’atari her whole life and has never experienced what it’s like not to be a refugee. The challenges she faces have been exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic over the last year and a half, and she has missed months of in-person schooling. But in September 2021, Sondous joined more than 22,000 other refugee children in Za’atari in returning to the classroom.
Even at 8 years old, she is eager to continue her education. “I'm really happy and excited to go back to school because I'll be able to see my friends and my teacher,” she shared.
Fifteen-year-old Maria and her family left Venezuela three years ago after it became difficult to obtain the insulin she needed to treat her diabetes. When she first left Venezuela, Maria was not sure where she would end up or if she would be able to continue her education. Fortunately, the family made their way to Trinidad and Tobago, where there have been new opportunities for Maria to thrive.
Every day, Maria logs onto online classes from her living room through the Equal Place program, which helps refugee and migrant children keep up with their education. She has always wanted to become a doctor to help sick kids like herself and now nothing stands in her way.
Thérèse thought her dream of studying to become a doctor was over when violence forced her, her three sisters and her parents to leave their home and community in Burundi behind and seek asylum in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. But thanks to a scholarship from UNHCR and its partners, this 16-year-old’s dreams have come back to life.
"I have returned to school and I now feel at home," says Thérèse, excited about what the future has in store.
Sixteen-year-old Parissa arrived in Iran with her family over ten years ago after fleeing from their home in Herat, Afghanistan. Her father, Besmellah, decided the family had no choice but to leave Afghanistan after the Taliban threatened to abduct girls who went to school.
In Iran, Besmellah works as a construction worker to support his wife and nine children and saves money to send his daughters to school. Thanks to her father’s support, Parissa attends classes in Isfahan, Iran, where she is proud to continue expanding her education and following her dreams.
With new roadblocks making it harder for refugee girls to stay in school, it is more challenging for girls to receive an education today than it has been for years. But that has not stopped UNHCR or the inspiring young girls it serves from persevering and following their dreams.
Refugee girls have proven time and time again that no matter what challenges they face, they will tackle them head-on and build brighter futures.
How you can help…
You can help refugee children continue their educations and achieve their dreams by becoming USA for UNHCR’s newest monthly donor today. Your support could mean the difference between a refugee girl staying at home and returning to school. Join us in ensuring that girls have the opportunity to succeed, no matter the difficulties of their pasts.