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Children love to learn. If they are denied access to knowledge, we also deny them the opportunity to change their lives for the better.


Higher Education is a Bridge to Hope for Refugee Students

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First appeared on University World News by Yosuf Ayni and Shafiqa Mogul published on Feb 3rd, 2024.

The Taliban attacked our university in 2016. They killed some of our friends, injured others and kidnapped two of our professors.

We were studying at the American University of Afghanistan (AUAF) in Kabul. Going to school was an act of courage and resilience. AUAF was the only co-ed university in Afghanistan, and it operated under constant threat. The Kabul campus eventually had to close for almost a year. Even when the campus reopened, our families feared for our safety and were hesitant to let us go back.

In Afghanistan, conflict and limited access to quality education are the unfortunate reality for many – even most. Schools and universities have been threatened by violence. Students and teachers are doing their best in makeshift classrooms, fearing for their safety. Young people must work or get pulled out of school by the Taliban for reasons they might never even know. All because we were born into a land consumed by conflict.

Students gathered at campus

The lucky ones?

Now our lives have completely changed. We are among just 7% of refugees worldwide who have access to higher education. Not a day goes by when we don’t think of our fellow students in Afghanistan – fighting against the odds to continue their studies – and the 93% we had to leave behind.

While we have had a chance to build our dreams, they are suffering in circumstances they cannot hope to control. And we often wonder: when so many other talented, dedicated young people are deprived of this opportunity, why are we the chosen ones? What gives us the right to be here when our friends back home cannot be?

We have had to prove ourselves academically, yes. And our families have supported us and given us an unwavering belief in education and democracy. But the truth is that we are also lucky.

In 2021 our tutors told us about a new scholarship programme that would allow us to study in the United States: the Qatar Scholarship for Afghans Project (QSAP) – a partnership between the Afghan Future Fund, Institute of International Education, Education Above All Foundation and universities across the United States. We applied, and we were accepted. Our lives changed forever.

As Allan Goodman, CEO of the Institute of International Education, said: “Programmes like the QSAP are building human capital, collaboration and peace. At all times, but especially in times of conflict, it is critical for students to have the opportunity to continue their education as soon as they can to avoid a lost generation.”

Arriving in the US, we met some of the other 250 students attending over 40 different institutions across the United States on full scholarships, thanks to QSAP. We compared stories with the other Afghan scholars and learned that getting here has meant struggles, resilience and tenacity for all of us.

We all shared a desire for knowledge – and we all buzzed with hope, finally grasping a way out of the constraints of conflict through this precious access to education.

A sense of responsibility

We are still buzzing with this opportunity. Not only the chance to study, but also to make new connections and learn new skills like creative thinking and entrepreneurship. We helped create a network of like-minded Afghan and international students.

When we came together, we came up with a social enterprise concept called Sahara Brand, a venture that will provide the latest products to local creators in Kurdistan, Iraq and Afghanistan.

It is challenging to support Afghanistan due to the many issues the country faces, but we want to help those back home to have dignified work and income. We, and our fellow QSAP students, also feel a deep sense of responsibility to contribute to the development of education in our homeland.

We are committed to facilitating better and improved access to education in Afghanistan, particularly for Afghan women. We view education as a significant tool for empowerment and progress.

In the words of Fahad Al-Sulaiti, CEO of the Education Above All Foundation: “High quality education creates opportunities for a sustainable future.”

We will try to live up to this promise and hope you will keep doing more to help others like us.

Our message to colleges and universities is this: find sustainable and creative ways to accommodate and support displaced students like us. We’re grateful to our own host universities, Rutgers University New Brunswick and Indiana University Bloomington, and the other 38 institutions that have opened their doors to QSAP students.

Now we want to see this opportunity extended to all students who cannot continue their education in their homeland. Not just for their benefit, but for everyone’s. As Jonathan Becker, vice-chancellor of the Open Society University Network, told us: “This is not charity. Our entire student body benefits from the presence of displaced students on campus.”

A message to young people

With horror we have seen the recent events unfolding in Gaza and Sudan. It’s so hard to watch, because we know what it’s like to grow up surrounded by war and fear. Our advice to the young people in Gaza, and young people around the world affected by conflict, is this: ‘Hold on to hope. Keep seeking alternative learning paths and connect with support networks. Remain resilient, and never give up on your dreams.’

We are due to graduate from our degrees, in political science and environmentally sustainable studies, in 2025. Like any new graduates, we don’t know exactly what the future holds for us. But we do know that our aspirations can flourish despite the challenges we have faced.

School has been our bridge – from turmoil to optimism. It’s a tragedy that only 7% of young people like us get to cross that bridge. Now it’s our job to build bridges for the other 93%, too.

Yosuf Ayni is majoring in political science at Rutgers University New Brunswick, United States. Shafiqa Mogul is majoring in environmentally sustainable studies at Indiana University Bloomington, United States.


"Humanity will not overcome the immense challenges we face unless we ensure that children get the quality education that equips them to play their part in the modern world." -- HH Sheikha Moza bint Nasser


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