SOCIETY

The UNHCR celebrates International Women’s Day: The story of Nesime

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Every day we listen to their stories. Every day we are inspired, shocked, humbled, and driven to work harder. Women and girls, forced to flee their home or trying to make their home a better place for all, advocate for equality, humanity and dignity in their communities.

Seventeen-year-old Nesime from Afghanistan is one of the seven global winners of the first Youth with Refugees Art Contest, organized by UNHCR, the UN Refugee Agency.

The contest was launched in early 2020 as the first wave of the COVID-19 pandemic engulfed countries across the world with a call to young people to reflect creatively on the theme “everyone counts in the fight against the virus, including refugees.”  More than 2,000 young people took part in the global contest, while one in four were themselves refugees or asylum-seekers.

Nesime, an asylum seeker living in Grevena, in northwestern Greece, believes that despite difficulties everyone faces amidst the global pandemic, we must do our best and never give up the fight.

Drawing upon the rich history of her home and host country of warriors triumphing over adversity, she was inspired to paint an anti-COVID19 warrior, holding a sword and a shield standing ready to battle the virus. Her artwork impressed the jury and Nesime managed to feature among the seven winners.

“I did not expect to win, although I always try in my life to make the most of my efforts. My sketch sends a message of hope and determination. The enemy, the virus, is strong, but we must not surrender. If we join forces, we will succeed”, she says.

Nesime believes that the pandemic has helped us appreciate the concept of freedom. “We spend a lot of time indoors and away from our loved ones. We have learned that nothing should be taken for granted,” she says.

Nesime writes and paints because she needs to express herself. She draws inspiration from her own experiences, but also from what she discusses with her friends and older people.

Her recognition in UNHCR’s contest gives her strength to continue painting, but the young girl has another aspiration. She wants to study law and become a lawyer. Unfortunately, Nesime had to drop out of school more than four years ago, so her priority now is to return to the classroom.

“Refugee and asylum-seeking children need access to education and language training to help them integrate better in their host communities and feel more accepted,” says Philippe Leclerc, UNHCR Representative in Greece.

“I want to fill the gap as soon as possible and go to university. In the country where I grew up, women are disadvantaged, their rights are not being respected,” Nesime declares. “I want to become a lawyer and fight for the rights of Afghan women. This is my dream and I believe I can help,” the young Afghan says with unusual maturity for people of her age.

“In my country, there are areas where women do not have the right to go to school, they are not even allowed to laugh. Many things have to change in my country,” she adds.

Her maturity may be due to the many difficulties she faced from a very young age. The young girl had to drop school and work to support the income of the family, while she hasn’t seen her beloved siblings for years.

Last year Nesime crossed from Turkey to Greece to seek asylum with her mother. For the last months, they have been living in a hotel outside Grevena in the densely forested Pindus mountains of northern Greece which is operated by the International Organization for Migration. The 17-year-old asylum-seeker hopes that one day she will again meet her seven siblings living in different countries.

“What I have experienced has made me much stronger”, Nesime explains. “I am determined to continue my studies and move on with my life. The point is not to give up.”

“So many of the children who flee to Greece bring a strong passion and drive to succeed,” says UNHCR’s Philippe Leclerc. “Channeling their ambitions is much-needed no matter the length of time they will spend here.”

“Life has difficulties and obstacles. I feel like I have never been a child, I do not remember playing and laughing,” Nesime says. “Yet, I’m not afraid. I roll up my sleeves, work hard and strive for the best for myself and others. It’s not easy, but it’s the only way.”