Afghan rights activist Aziza Rahimzada has already surmounted legal hurdles preventing 25,000 refugee children from attending school, and cajoled authorities into providing tap water to a camp housing more than 100 families. The 14-year-old has been nominated for the International Children's Peace Prize and hopes to spread her message of universal education and fundamental rights for Afghanistan's youth.
Aziza said, "These children are the products of war. They have suffered a lot during the war years. I give them advice and council them on the value of education. Their families are also uneducated so sometimes we have to convince them too."
Aziza's confidence impressed the Mobile Mini Circus for Children (MMCC), an international humanitarian group founded by Danes Berit Muhlhausen and David Mason. The group moved to Afghanistan shortly after the fall of the Taliban regime in 2001. The group works throughout Afghanistan with a local partner and aims to bring children together through play. They identify young leaders who can represent the needs of their communities.
Mason said, "She was very special from the beginning. She was thinking more than the others, advocating for others, asking questions. Gradually she became a representative for the other children."
In 'shuras' (consultative councils) organized by the group, Aziza quickly identified pressing issues faced by the 500 or so children in her camp, and others like it in Kabul. Foremost among these was the lack of running water, which meant children were sent far away to fetch heavy pails of waters for the family. Aziza intervened and secured a pipe that pumps water into the camp and serves 144 families.
Another key issue was education. Children of refugees lacked the necessary documentation for admission into the capital city's schools, with Kabul authorities viewing the internally displaced people as temporary migrants who would eventually return to their home districts. Helped by the MMCC, Aziza led the children in lobbying local officials and then parliament.
Mason said, "Her persistence eventually led to a breakthrough allowing some 25,000 children living in Kabul's 59 refugee camps to register in the capital, making them eligible to attend school. This was an achievement of astronomic scale. I saw those kids in school uniform, and I couldn't recognize them. It was such a relief to see them, it was such a radical transformation."
Aziza is among the final three nominees for the award along with Abraham Keita, 17, from Liberia and Jeanesha Bou, also 17, of Puerto Rico, with the winner announced in the Hague on November 9, 2015. The teenager said, "My work is far from complete. What I have achieved so far is nothing. As time goes on, my country will have to stand on its own feet. The foreign NGOs will one day stop their aid. That's why we need to strengthen our own institutions and improve social justice for our people."