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Against All Odds in the Pursuit of Higher Education

Twenty-year-old Tamanno is a third-year student at the Tajik Commercial University specialising in international economics. As a child, she dreamed of becoming a politician, inspired by the women politician she saw on television. A seemingly ordinary young girl with dreams and ambitions, Tamanno’s story is anything but ordinary.

Three years ago, Tamanno’s family fled their native Balkh district in Mazar-i-Sharif of Afghanistan, after an attempt on her father’s life and receiving constant threats from unknown people. The family sought asylum in neighboring Tajikistan where they have been residing as refugees. Tamanno’s positive spirit belies the difficulties she had to endure to rebuild her life, where every day was constant struggle for a better future.

Tamanno credits her father for her success, once a successful lawyer in Afghanistan who rose to become a judge. He often told her that; "A good lawyer should be able to answer questions correctly, be eloquent and under no circumstances, lose self-control." When the question arose around the continuation of their daughter’s education, Tamanno’s parents did not hesitate to encourage her to attend university. Thanks to the opportunities afforded by UNHCR’s higher education scholarship programme, through the Albert Einstein German Academic Refugee Initiative Fund (DAFI), generously supported by the Federal Government of Germany, Tamanno was able to enrol in one of the universities in Tajikistan to study international economics.  

"If I were in Afghanistan, I don’t think that I would get a higher education. Girls attending schools in Afghanistan are usually in serious danger-they could even be kidnapped on the way home. Educated girls are also negatively perceived in the society. Here, in Tajikistan, educated girls are valued and respected. Tajik girls are independent and have all opportunities for personal fulfilment,"- says Tamanno.

On 25 February 2017, Tamanno was able to recount her inspiring story at the Living Library event, where she was featured as the living book entitled “Refugee”. Organised by a youth NGO in Dushanbe, visitors of the Living Library had the opportunity to ‘read’ Tamanno by speaking to her and posing questions. Tamanno was asked about how she became a refugee and her life in Tajikistan. Tamanno bravely answered the questions despite the painful memories they brought back to her.

Tamanno says that she sometimes thinks of giving up her studies to work, in order to assist her family. Nevertheless, she perseveres, guided by her father who inspires her to excel.

"I am amazed by many students who have everything, but lack the persistence and desire to learn, while many others do not even have the opportunity to pursue higher education."

In marking International Women’s Day on 8 March, the United Nations Secretary General, Antonio Guterres in his speech, said:

‘’On International Women’s Day, let us all pledge to do everything we can to overcome entrenched prejudice, support engagement and activism, and promote gender equality and women’s empowerment." 

UNHCR’s own focus this year is the promotion women’s right to decent work, for which equitable access to education is key. Tamanno’s journey serves to remind us that refugee girls can succeed despite the numerous challenges before them. With dreams of learning several languages in order to widen her opportunities, Tamanno looks forward to a bright future and career ahead, in the hope of making her parents proud of her achievements.