A Pakistani Christian teacher who as a teenager founded a school for underprivileged children in her home has won the $1 million Global Teacher Prize.
Riffat Arif, also known as Sister Zeph, embarked on her educational journey at the age of 13 when she established a school in her home’s courtyard, aiming to provide free education to underprivileged children. Confronting challenges such as insufficient funding, lack of infrastructure, and teacher shortages, Sister Zeph’s determination shone through.
Devoting eight hours a day to secure funding for the school, followed by four hours of teaching, and additional self-guided study at night, Sister Zeph’s dedication has yielded significant results. Over the span of 26 years, the school has evolved into a new facility, offering free education to over 200 underprivileged children.
“Teaching is not merely a profession; it is a vocation, a calling to inspire, nurture, and empower the next generation,” remarked Sister Zeph on the Global Teacher Prize website. “Let us collaborate to ensure that every child has the opportunity to learn, dream, and positively impact our world.”
Sister Zeph plans to utilize the $1 million prize money to construct a larger learning facility, intending to educate an even greater number of students.
In Pakistan’s small towns, education grapples with various challenges, including inadequate funding, insufficient infrastructure, teacher shortages, and quality issues, gender disparities, and high dropout rates.
Acknowledged with the $1 million prize on November 8 at UNESCO Headquarters in Paris, Sister Zeph views the recognition as a collective achievement, stating, “This recognition is a reminder that when we work together, we can overcome obstacles.”
“It is a call to action, urging us to redouble our efforts and a call for the world to unite in our commitment to ensuring that every child, regardless of their background or circumstances, has access to quality education.”
Sister Zeph expressed her intent to use the prize to advocate for quality education, gender equality, and the empowerment of every child, especially those in marginalised communities. She emphasised the need for continued innovation, collaboration, and investment in education to shape a brighter future for all.
Looking ahead, Sister Zeph plans to use the Global Teacher Prize fund to construct a school and shelter for orphans, incorporating on-site food cultivation. She envisions a global initiative where teachers from diverse parts of the world are invited to instruct children in a wide array of subjects.
Malala Yousafzai, the world’s youngest Nobel Peace Prize laureate, shares Sister Zeph’s dedication to education and has actively promoted educational opportunities in Pakistan and globally.
Prime Minister Anwaarul Haq Kakar also extended congratulations to the Pakistani teacher, stating, “A great moment of pride for Pakistan. Our very own Sister Zeph has won the Global Teacher Prize 2023.”
He emphasised the significance of education, expressing that it uplifts individuals, contributes to national achievements, and shapes better citizens. “I once again congratulate Sister Zeph on this remarkable achievement,” he remarked.