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Pakistani teacher wins global award for educating underprivileged students

Sister Zeph received her award on November 8, 2023 at a ceremony that took place at UNESCO’s General Conference in Paris. — X/@AAzoulay

Pakistani teacher Sister Zeph, who founded her own school for underprivileged children in the courtyard of her home in Gujranwala, has won the Global Teacher Prize 2023.

“We are delighted to announce that Sister Zeph, an English, Urdu, culture, inter-faith harmony, climate change teacher at Gujranwala, Punjab in Pakistan, has been named the winner of the Varkey Foundation Global Teacher Prize 2023..,” the orgnisation announced in a statement.

The award was organised in collaboration with UNESCO and in strategic partnership with Dubai Cares, a UAE-based global philanthropic organisation.

Sister Zeph was selected from over 7,000 nominations and applications for the Global Teacher Prize from 130 countries around the world.

The Pakistani teacher accepted her award on November 8, 2023, at a ceremony that took place at UNESCO’s General Conference in Paris, as per the official statement.

UNESCO Director-General Audrey Azoulay congratulated the Pakistani teacher on receiving the prestigious award.

“We all remember a teacher who has had an impact on our life and changed our future. It may sound like a truism but it’s true: teachers are life-changers. Congrats to Sister Zeph from Pakistan, 2023 Global Teachers Prize Winner. Thanks to her for her commitment as a life-changer!” she wrote on her X handle.

Who is Sister Zeph?

Pakistani teacher Sister Zeph founded her own school for underprivileged children in the courtyard of her home at the age of just 13 for children whose parents cannot pay fees.

She worked eight-hour days to fund the school, then taught students for another four hours, and then stayed up at night teaching herself.

Twenty-six years later, the school, now housed in a brand-new building, provides free education for more than 200 underprivileged children. From a young age she faced adversity, and emerged as a beacon of hope for underprivileged children in her wider community.

Many of her students from humble backgrounds have gone to work for her education and empowerment foundation while others have gone on to very successful professional careers.

As well as running the school, she runs self-defence classes for girls, having herself been attacked and threatened.

She also provides financial assistance to families choosing between educating their children and paying their bills and runs a vocational centre that has helped more than 6,000 women gain skills in ICT, textiles, and the English language.

Her dedication to education and empowerment has touched countless lives and earned her numerous awards, recognizing her as a true change-maker and advocate for women’s rights and children’s education around the world.

With the Global Teacher Prize funds, Sister Zeph plans to build a school on 10 acres where children from the poorest families in the country can be educated without discrimination.

She would also like to create a shelter for orphans, where food would be grown on the property and teachers from all parts of the world would be invited to instruct them in a range of subjects. 

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