A conversation with four young refugees who did not allow the problems they faced to come in the way of their education

A collaboration between Duolingo English Test (DET) and the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) helped these youngsters fulfil their dreams of higher education

February 24, 2024 12:45 pm | Updated 04:33 pm IST

Refugees find it difficult to rise to the top, and it is no different when it comes to accomplishing their dreams of education.

Refugees find it difficult to rise to the top, and it is no different when it comes to accomplishing their dreams of education. | Photo Credit: Getty Images/iStockphoto

It was just another day for Zabihullah Alimee, a Class 5 student in Afghanistan. He was on his way home from school when a sudden explosion near his home changed his life forever. The sight of dismembered bodies, blood flowing everywhere and the chaos that followed, remain etched in his memory. Now 22 years old, he fled his country and has been a refugee in India for the past two years.

(Clockwise from top left) Fauziya, Zabihullah Alimee, Yalda Sadri, and Shaik Obaidullah.

(Clockwise from top left) Fauziya, Zabihullah Alimee, Yalda Sadri, and Shaik Obaidullah. | Photo Credit: Special Arrangement

It was to help youngsters like Alimee, who lost access to education due to strife and other issues, that Duolingo English Test (DET) collaborated with the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) to support refugee students in applying to universities. The partnership not only helps students secure study visas and travel documents, as they transition to new host countries, but also enables them to gain access to quality education.

“To be called a refugee is a burden,” says Alimee. “While in Afghanistan, my family and I had to constantly shift between provinces because of multiple conflicts. We moved seven or eight times in 12 school years. Finally, when I was in class 9, I moved to Kabul where I remained till I completed schooling.” Not only did this take a toll on his education, he admits it was also difficult to make friends.

“Since class 6, I have been interested in Computer Science. After we fled Afghanistan and came to India, without proper documentation, I couldn’t continue my studies here. I got admission into Delhi University, but couldn’t join due to financial constraints.” However, he has now received an offer from Georgetown University, the U.S.

Another refugee from Afghanistan, 23-year-old Yalda Sadri has been in India since 2019. “Women were discriminated against and troubled by men who wouldn’t let us pursue education or a career unless we belonged to a tribe they favoured,” she says, Sadri aspires to work in healthcare. “Afghanistan lacks quality healthcare facilities and I want to become a gynaecologist and help women so that they never have to go out of Afghanistan for treatment. I also want to create a cost-free system that enables individuals who, like me, are passionate about education, but lack the financial resources.”

Fauziya, now 21, was six years old when her Rohingya family was forced to leave Myanmar when their agricultural lands were seized by the government. “We lived in refugee camps in Bangladesh until 2012, when we came to India to seek asylum. I completed my class 12 in Telangana but was unable to pursue higher education due to financial constraints. But now, due to the Scholar programme, I will be starting my course with a major in Biochemistry/Biology at Smith College, Northampton, Massachusetts, the U.S., in September.”

Like Sadri, she too aspires to pursue a career in healthcare, but wants to be a radiologist. This stems from her observations during her time in the refugee camps. “There was no diagnostic centre for someone with kidney stones or brain tumours, for instance,” she recalls, “and they had to endure multiple problems to go to other provinces for diagnosis. I want to complete my education, open a diagnostic centre, and help such people.” Fauziya tutors and mentors young Rohingya students and is an advocate for girls’ and women’s rights, encouraging families to educate their girls and to seek formal healthcare.

Another refugee from Myanmar is 22-year-old Shaik Obaidullah. He has been in India for the last nine years and initially lived in a camp in Haryana. “I had no access to education until I went to Hyderabad, where I studied till 2022 and completed my class 10 in the Telangana Scholar’s School,” he says.

An aspiring entrepreneur, Obaidullah is all set to pursue higher education at Northwestern University, the U.S., in September. “Business is a family tradition; we used to transport rice in Myanmar,” he says, explaining his entrepreneurial dream. In Hyderabad, the family ran a grocery store, which eventually closed down. Obaidullah volunteers with Modern Architects for Rural India (MARI) and Save the Children, and is a leader of UDAAN, an advocacy programme that he founded in Hyderabad, in 2019, to motivate Rohingya families to send their children to school.

The common thread uniting these youngsters is that they have not given up on their dreams to not only better their own lives but also that of their communities’, despite the problems they faced.

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