In the realm of education and empowerment, there are individuals whose dedication transcends boundaries and leaves an indelible mark on the world. Sister Zeph, born Riffat Arif in 1983, hails from Gujranwala, Pakistan, and stands as a shining example of resilience, compassion, and tireless commitment to education. Her remarkable journey has recently been crowned with the prestigious Varkey Foundation Global Teacher Prize for 2023.
Sister Zeph’s story begins with her own experiences as a student, where she faced adversity and mistreatment from her teachers because of her religion. Belonging to the Christian minority, it was these challenging moments that fuelled her dream of becoming a teacher who treats every child with respect and love, without any discrimination. Unable to find such a teacher, she decided to be that change herself. In 1997, at the tender age of 13, she took a bold step and founded a school in the courtyard of her home, open to all children and free of cost.
Fast forward to 2023, Sister Zeph’s unwavering dedication and transformative work have been globally recognised. Out of over 7,000 nominations from 130 countries, she emerged as the winner of the Varkey Foundation Global Teacher Prize, accompanied by a significant $1 million award. The trophy was presented to her at a prestigious dinner held in her honour in Paris.
In the illustrious journey of Sister Zeph, we witness the power of an individual’s passion to ignite change.
Sister Zeph’s impact reaches far beyond the walls of her school. Her foundation, Zephaniah Women’s Education and Empowerment Foundation (ZWEF), has become a beacon of hope for countless lives, particularly women and children. Her policy of love and respect for all children and strict prohibition of corporal punishment has earned her respect among her students and the community. In addition to the Global Teacher Prize, she has been bestowed with numerous other awards, establishing her as a true change-maker and a staunch advocate for women’s rights and children’s education worldwide.
Recently, Sister Zeph had the honour of meeting the President of PML-N Mian Shehbaz Sharif, who congratulated her on making the nation proud. As PML-N leader Nawaz Sharif has stated, the commitment to education and progress remains at the forefront of their agenda.
In the illustrious journey of Sister Zeph, we witness the power of an individual’s passion to ignite change. Her story serves as an inspiration for educators, activists, and policy-makers alike, underscoring the transformative impact of education on society and the profound difference one person can make in the lives of many.