Displaced from her homeland as a child, Alinesa first went to school when she was 11 and quickly made up for lost time. Now 32, she has become a teacher and a champion of education for refugees, especially girls.

Alinesa fled Myanmar with her family 26 years ago and found safety in Cox’s Bazar, Bangladesh. She grew up in Kutupalong refugee settlement, taking advantage of the educational opportunities she was denied back home.

So when she heard that evening classes run by volunteer teachers were being set up for newly-arrived Rohingya refugee children, she didn’t hesitate to sign up.

“I was keen to teach them,” she explains. “They were from our communities and had no opportunity to go to school. I felt a strong responsibility to teach them … They could be our relatives, our neighbours. I wanted to help.”

Children all over the world need great teachers, but refugees need them all the more. For these children, teachers are not just tutors but mentors, motivators, protectors and champions.

World Teachers’ Day on 5 October celebrates the work of teachers and their contributions to society. It also serves as an important reminder that every child has the right to an education – a right that cannot be fulfilled without qualified teachers. Education empowers refugee children by giving them the knowledge and skills to live productive, fulfilling and independent lives.

After teaching all day, Alinesa takes on an additional two classes of 40 students at the nearby Ideal Primary School, run by a UNHCR partner in Kutupalong camp.

This last shift, known as the evening class, caters to newly arrived refugees. Among them is 12-year-old Rosina Akhter, who had never been to school at home in Myanmar.

“I’m so happy to get this chance to study,” Rosina says. “I didn’t know how to read or write before I came here. Now I’m learning.”

Alinesa teaches newly arrived Rohingya refugee children at Ideal Primary School in Kutupalong camp. © UNHCR/C. Gluck

She explains that there was no school in her village, and that security concerns and lack of money meant that she and her siblings never got the chance to go to school.

It is estimated that 50 per cent of Rohingya refugee girls and 42 per cent of boys have never attended school.

Girls are also frequently taken out of school in Myanmar to help their parents run businesses or smallholdings. But since she has been accepted as a student, Rosina says she has never skipped a class. She now dreams of becoming a teacher like Alinesa.

For her part, Alinesa says her new students are even more enthusiastic than her other pupils.

“They have a strong desire to learn because they lacked opportunities to go to school in Myanmar,” she says.

“My students can learn and teach others in their community. They can grow and become leaders of their community, to show others a pathway.

“Hopefully, when they become adults, they can grow up with more opportunities.”

Over half of the 720,000 Rohingya refugees who fled to Bangladesh in 2017 are children. These massive numbers have caused an educational crisis – there are simply not enough classrooms, or teachers, to serve children’s needs.

Packed classes, short hours and limited materials are just some of the obstacles facing Rohingya refugee children. UNHCR is working hard to construct learning centres and libraries in the settlements, but much more needs to be done to ensure this generation of Rohingya children have the opportunity to access education and realise their potential.

Teacher Alinesa (left) with her 12-year-old student Rosina, who has never attended school before now. © UNHCR/C. Gluck 

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